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Transnational Crime

U.S. Joins Global Convention
Against Transnational Organized Crime

By Elizabeth Verville
Senior member of the U.S. delegation that negotiated the
United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime

Nations of the world have acted with unusual speed and unanimity to develop a global accord to obstruct the activities of criminal enterprises, and to improve international cooperation in investigation, apprehension, and prosecution of suspects.

The United States and 123 other countries signed the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime during a high-level signing conference December 12-15, 2000 in Palermo, Italy. The impetus for the United Nations to begin negotiations on this first multilateral treaty to fight organized crime was the post-Cold War realization that many forms of transnational organized crime pose a serious threat to democracy. This is particularly true in the developing world and in countries with fragile economies in transition.

The convention will enable governments to prevent and combat transnational organized crime more effectively through a common toolkit of criminal law techniques and through international cooperation. It requires member states to outlaw some of the most prevalent types of offenses committed by organized crime groups. These include obstruction of justice, money laundering, corruption of public officials, and conspiracy.

The convention encourages cooperation among states to assist each other in catching suspects from organized groups involved in serious crimes that have a transnational element.

The convention will significantly expand the ability of the United States to work with other states around the globe on organized crime investigations and prosecutions. This is especially important in countries where the United States does not have a mutual legal assistance treaty already in place. Cooperation can include seizing and confiscating assets that are proceeds of illegal activities, conducting joint investigations, employing special investigative techniques, and exchanging information on organized criminal groups.

The convention will broaden the scope for extradition of fugitives between the United States and other countries with which we have existing extradition treaties by incorporating organized crime-related offenses into those treaties.

The convention has three protocols: to combat trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, and illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms. Each of the protocols focuses on a particularly dangerous type of organized criminal activity for which coordinated international efforts are essential. The protocols require that member states have laws criminalizing these activities, all of which have become more and more dangerous and widespread in recent years.

The United States and 80 other countries signed the protocol addressing trafficking in persons. Seventy-nine countries, including the United States, signed the protocol on migrant smuggling. The third protocol was completed in May and opened for signature in July 2001. Countries that also become parties to the protocols will be able to utilize the convention's mechanisms for international cooperation in these specialized areas of organized crime as well.

Developing countries need technical assistance to implement these instruments, and this kind of assistance is a central element of the convention and protocols. Donor countries, like the United States, will contribute funds to a special U.N. account to support the work of experts in this regard. They will assist developing countries to adopt laws and regulations and to establish or improve enforcement capabilities.

The convention will enter into force when at least 40 countries become parties to it. The same is true for each protocol. To be a party to a protocol, a state must be a party to the convention.

Texts of the convention and protocols are on the Internet at www.uncjin.org/Documents/Conventions/conventions.html

Ms. Verville is currently serving as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.