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Combating transnational crime

Transnational organized crime undermines sustainable development and the achievement of targets across the agenda – including those fundamental to peace, security, the rule of law, growth, equity and domestic resource mobilization. It is multifaceted in nature, comprising a variety of criminal sectors, crimes and criminal behaviors and typologies. It can have not only a pernicious impact on rule of law and governance but also a deleterious impact on domestic resource mobilisation –including through money laundering, corruption and other economic crimes which impact on fiscal policies.

International normative framework on organized crime

The normative framework for combatting transnational organized crime is broad. At the heart of this framework is the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), which was adopted in November 2000. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) is equally important.  In addition, the Financial Action Task Force International Standards on Combatting Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism & Proliferation provides recommendations for effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures to prevent money laundering and combat the financing of terrorism. Data and information on money laundering are covered in more details in a dedicated cluster in the domestic public resources action area.

The UNTOC entered into force on 29 September 2003 and is further by three Protocols.  The UNTOC has 147 signatories and 187 States Parties. The UNCAC entered into force on 14 December 2005 and has 140 signatories and 181 States Parties.

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The UNTOC entered into force on 29 September 2003 and is further by three Protocols, which target specific areas and manifestations of organized crime: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air; and the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition. Countries must become parties to the Convention itself before they can become parties to any of the Protocols.  The UNTOC has 147 signatories and 187 States Parties. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Organized Crime has 117 signatories and 170 States Parties;  Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime has 112 signatories and 143 States Parties; and the  Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime has 52 signatories and 114 States Parties. Pursuant to article 32 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, a Conference of the Parties to the Convention was established to improve the capacity of States Parties to combat transnational organized crime and to promote and review the implementation of this Convention.

In addition to commitments made in the framework agreements of the Sustainable Development Agenda, Member States of the United Nations have made numerous commitments to combatting transnational organized crime and strengthening criminal justice systems in the context of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), as a subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.  Specific CND and CCPCJ resolutions / decisions request the ECOSOC to recommend these resolutions and decisions for adoption by the General Assembly. In addition to these, the General Assembly also adopts a number of drug-related and crime-related resolutions and decisions.

Selected trends in transnational organized crime

Building a capacity to collect, analyses and disseminate data and information on Transnational Organized Crime is extremely difficult, as highlighted in a note prepared for the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The data which does exist cannot be aggregated and is not comparable across criminal markets or across countries and regions. Over the course of many years, according to the provisions of the Conventions and in response to resolutions, UNODC has advanced the collection of data related to Transnational Organized Crime - via questionnaires and surveys, and the development of data sets.

The approval of the Sustainable Development Goals and the related framework of indicators will require additional efforts to improve statistical data on crime and criminal justice at the country level. The ambitious set of targets and goals embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals needs to be accompanied by ambitious plans and activities to enable countries to produce the much-needed high-quality data for indicators selected to monitor targets under Goal 16 and other relevant targets.

Trafficking in persons – IOM data

The International Office for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have different systems for tracking data on trafficking in persons.  IOM collects data on victims of trafficking in persons through its Global Human Trafficking Database. The database is a standardized anti-trafficking data-management tool available to all IOM missions and is actively used throughout all regions of the world. The structure follows the format of the accompanying IOM Victims of Trafficking questionnaires, used by IOM missions and partnering organisations involved in direct assistance, and containing information both of a quantitative and qualitative nature on victims, traffickers, routes, and patterns of exploitation.

IOM’s global database has approximately 46,000 cases of victims of human trafficking which were identified from 2002 until the first half of 2016, 66 per cent of whom are women. Victims of human trafficking assisted by IOM from 2002 to 2016 are of 140 different nationalities, and they were exploited, identified and referred in 150 different countries of destination. About two-thirds of the identified and assisted victims of human trafficking are female. The numbers of identified victims of human trafficking who are men has increased significantly over time, which challenges the notion that it is mostly women who are vulnerable to human trafficking.  The percentage of children assisted by IOM from the total number of victims assisted varied over the years, from 4 per cent in 2001 to almost one-third of all victims assisted in 2010.

Trafficking in persons – UNODC data

As the guardian to the UN Protocol on Trafficking in Persons, UNODC’s data collection is framed within the structure of this international instrument and uses its definitions. More than 90 per cent of countries have trafficking in persons legislation that in whole or in part, is based on these definitions,  making the data collected more consistent and comparable than for many other crimes. Statistical information on trafficking in persons is collected by UNODC through a short, dedicated questionnaire distributed to Governments and by the collection of official information available in the public domain. Monitoring trafficking in persons is particularly challenging because of its hidden nature and the complexity of identifying affected victims.

For 2012-2014, the UNODC database includes information on more than 63,000 detected victims, and more than 81,000 suspected, prosecuted or convicted trafficking offenders. From this data, it emerges that the levels of detected victims (calculated per 100,000 population of the country where victims are detected) have been relatively stable over the last few years, although significant differences between regions emerge. The higher levels in Europe can be partially explained by the better identification and recording capacities in that region.  Analysis of the data shows that child trafficking has been increasingly detected, with the share of children among total detected victims increasing from 13 per cent recorded in 2004 to 33 per cent in 2011.

Illicit trafficking of firearms

The size, patterns and routes of illicit trafficking of firearms remain largely unknown, as it is a highly hidden and complex trade whose points of departure from licit manufacturing and trade (diversion) remain difficult to detect. To address this lack of knowledge, the first UNODC study on firearms was published in 2015, and that exercise, although not global in coverage, has highlighted the value of international collection of this data.  The limited responses indicate that a large proportion of firearm seizures by law enforcement agencies are conducted in relation to other offences, such as drug trafficking. The study also highlighted the existence of major challenges related to the collection and analysis of data on seized firearms.

The Arms Trade Treaty and the UNTOC Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition provide the international legal instruments to regulate international trade in firearms. The pillars of that regime are the creation of national registries of firearms, proper marking of all firearms produced and imported, systematic recording and tracing of all seized firearms to identify the point of diversion from legal to illegal ownership and use, and international collaboration in firearms tracing.

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Illicit trafficking of firearms, which is explicitly addressed in target 16.4 of the Sustainable Development Goals, is another criminal offence intrinsically linked to organized and other serious crimes including terrorism, as firearms serve as a facilitator of violent crimes, as tools to project power and as lucrative trafficking commodities that fuel armed conflicts, crime and insecurity.

The size, patterns and routes of illicit trafficking of firearms remain largely unknown, as it is a highly hidden and complex trade whose points of departure from licit manufacturing and trade (diversion) remain difficult to detect. Also, it remains challenging to determine the origins and destinations of the manifold types of firearms, a long-lasting commodity that can be re-used almost endlessly. The fact that very little evidence and statistical data are collected and internationally shared also contributes to the lack of understanding.

To address this lack of knowledge, the first UNODC study on firearms was published in 2015, and that first collective exercise, although not global in coverage, has highlighted the value and usefulness of collecting this type of data at the international level.  For example, although the limited number of responses for the study does not allow for drawing conclusions on a global scale, the results indicate that a large proportion of firearm seizures by law enforcement agencies are conducted in relation to other offences, such as drug trafficking, the smuggling of goods and/or participation in organized crime. This indicates that illicit trade in firearms is often connected with other forms of illicit trafficking perpetrated by organized criminal groups. The study also highlighted the existence of major challenges among several States related to the systematic and comprehensive collection and analysis of data on seized firearms.

The Arms Trade Treaty and the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime,  provide the international legal instruments to regulate international trade in conventional arms and on the means to establish a comprehensive framework to exercise effective control on firearms and their movements. The pillars of that regime are the creation of national registries of firearms, proper marking of all firearms produced and imported, systematic recording and tracing of all seized firearms to identify the point of diversion from legal to illegal ownership and use, and international collaboration in firearms tracing.

Organized crime/gang-related homicide

Transnational organized crime is related to violence, insecurity, internally displaced persons and migration. Data on homicide is found in the Global Homicide Book. The increase in homicide levels in Central America, for example, in recent years is largely a result of violence related to the control of drug trafficking routes, turf wars between criminal groups and to conflict between organized criminal groups and the State.

Trafficking in wildlife

UNODC, with the support of other international organizations, is developing a global database of seizure incidents, known as “World WISE”, which currently contains information on some 164,000 seizures from 120 countries. Between 2004 and 2015, nearly 7,000 species were seized, including not only mammals but also reptiles, corals, birds and fish. Detected trafficking refers to several types of flora and fauna, and no single species is responsible for more than 6 per cent of the seizure incidents. While significant attention is often devoted to combating illegal trafficking in mammals, some 70 per cent of the recorded seizures involve non-mammal species. No single country is identified as the source of more than 15 per cent of the total number of seized shipments recorded in the database. In connection with seizure incidents, traffickers of some 80 nationalities have been identified, illustrating the fact that illicit trafficking in wildlife is truly a global issue. All regions of the world play a role as a source or transit area or destination for contraband wildlife, although certain species are strongly associated with particular regions.

Efforts to improve data

The United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, with an expanding network of national focal points covering 130 countries, can provide a good overview of global crime trends, though more work is needed to improve the quality and availability of data collected and disseminated. Additional efforts are needed to improve statistical data on crime and criminal justice at the country level. The work undertaken to implement the 2013 road map to improve crime statistics has laid the foundations for better data on crime and criminal justice. In 2015 the International Classification of Crime for Statistical Purposes was adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission and its implementation plan was endorsed by the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. As the custodian of the International Classification, UNODC stewards work to produce methodological guidance on its implementation; a technical advisory group has been established and the first volume of the implementation manual for the International Classification is expected to be finalized in 2017.