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Fighting Organized Crime

United Nations launches major international effort

by David Johnson

This article was posted on December 15, 2000.

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Recognizing that technology and globalization have created new opportunities for organized crime, the United Nations recently concluded a four-day conference that included the signing of several treaties intended to fight international criminal syndicates.

Some 15 heads of state and a number of leading law enforcement officials were among the delegates from 150 countries at the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, held in December 2000 in Palermo, Italy.

Money Laundering Leads the List

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said technology and internationalizations have allowed crime bosses to keep one step ahead of authorities in many countries.

One hundred and eighteen countries have signed a treaty helping authorities tackle international organized crime. The treaty seeks to:

  • prevent countries from offering safe havens to suspected criminals
  • make it easier for prosecutors to pursue suspects across national borders
  • combat money laundering with more financial regulations
  • end bank secrecy laws
  • outlaw the opening of accounts anonymously or with false names
  • establish financial intelligence units to track money and share information.

Among other things, the treaty aims at certain financial practices in such tax havens as the Bahamas or Monaco, whose banking laws facilitate money laundering, according to critics.

The treaty also wants to facilitate extradition proceedings. For instance, a number of Italian Mafia suspects have fled Italy for Spain, which does not allow the extradition of people sentenced by foreign courts in their absence.

Balkan Leaders Endorse Crime Fighting

The instability in the Balkans, and its location connecting Europe and the Middle East, has spawned an enormous increase in organized criminal activity. Therefore, law enforcement officials were pleased that the presidents or prime ministers from several Balkan countries—including Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina—signed the protocol.


Trafficking in human beings is now the third most profitable activity for international criminal gangs, according to the convention. Only illicit arms sales and drug dealing bring in more money.

 

More People Smuggled

Trafficking in human beings is now the third most profitable activity for international criminal gangs, according to the convention. Only illicit arms sales and drug dealing bring in more money.

Most people being smuggled are migrants seeking to illegally enter another nation. Mexicans trying to sneak into the U.S. have been found suffocated in the backs of trucks. Chinese gangs may charge $30,000 to smuggle Chinese migrants into Western Europe, often confining them in dangerous cramped trucks.

Held Captive in Brothels

Women and children destined for (usually unpaid) work in brothels constitute the second main category of human cargo. Human rights activists claim some 75,000 women from Brazil, a leading exporter of sex slaves, work in European brothels against their will.

A UN conference in Thailand in March 2000 estimated that thousands of children are forced to work in Asia's flourishing sex industry.

Seventy-two nations have signed a second protocol against trafficking in persons for the sex trade, while 69 countries have signed a treaty against the smuggling of migrants.

Nations Must Ratify Treaties

Once the treaties have been ratified by 40 nations, which in most cases means endorsed by legislatures, they will become international law.

Palermo Embarrassment

The convention was held in Palermo to illustrate the success of Italian law enforcement against the Sicilian Mafia. Yet, as the gathering got underway, officials were embarrassed by press reports speculating that a company with ties to organized crime had built the conference center itself, indicating that defeating organized crime is easier said than done.

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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