United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC): A Million Reasons to Act Now

By Tariq Parvez, President NIOC Advisory Board

Convention. In the year2000, the UN General Assembly passed a United Nations  Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), to tackle the issue of transnational organized crime which was increasingly becoming a serious threat,  not only to the global financial system but also to good governance and rule of law. The implementation of UNTOC by all signatories started in 2003. Pakistan was one of the 189 signatories of the Convention.

The Convention represents a major step forward in the fight against transnational organized crime and signifies the recognition by the Member States of the seriousness of the problems posed by it, as well as the need to foster and enhance close international cooperation in order to tackle those problems. States that ratify this instrument commit themselves to take a series of measures against transnational organized crime, including the creation of domestic criminal offences (participation in an organized criminal group, money laundering, corruption and obstruction of justice); the adoption of new and sweeping frameworks for extradition, mutual legal assistance and law enforcement cooperation; and the promotion of training and technical assistance for building or upgrading the necessary capacity of national authorities.

The Convention is further supplemented 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. Pakistan has yet to ratify the three protocols.

Review: In its meeting held from 15-19 October 2018,the Conference of Parties (COP) to UNTOC in its 9th session adopted a country review mechanism, to evaluate the status of implementation of the UNTOC. In the following session held in Oct 2020, the COP, through resolution 10/1 titled Launch of the review process of the Mechanism for the Review of the Implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols thereto[1].

The country review process comprises of the following steps:

  1. A self-assessment questionnaire is shared with the country’s government and the country responds to the questions contained in the questionnaire.
  2. Two other countries peer review the responses and share their feedback for any amendments or questions. Tonga and Djibouti will conduct the peer review of Pakistan
  3. In parallel, a coalition of CSOs also conducts an independent review using a standardized questionnaire as a tool. The Civil Society Report serves as a shadow report to augment or contest government responses as the case may be. The coalition of CSOs is being established by CGR/NIOC and initial contacts have been made.

Pakistan’s review is of significant importance and Government of Pakistan has already nominated a focal person for this review: Dr. Ehsan Sadiq, Additional Inspector General of Police, an officer of impeccable repute and knowledge. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is steering the process in Pakistan and I am happy to state that  Centre for Governance Research (CGR) is partnering with UNODC in this national effort.

Importance of TSOC: It may be pertinent ,  to very briefly, discuss the importance of transnational organized crime, and how it affects the economy, governance, society and the country’s repute.

The global economy and well-being are  adversely affected by TOC.  According to UNODC’s estimates 870 billion USD were generated through organized crime operating in illicit markets, which is 1.5% of global GDP[2]. This is alarmingly large and can vary from country to country depending on local contextual factors like effectiveness of the regulatory authorities, demand and supply of illicit services/goods and state of competition. It is also argued that this may be the tip of the iceberg, because of the secretive operations of organized crime. There is an associated transactional cost to the TOC economy. The money being earned, stashed, laundered and used, elbows out the legitimate business and trade. No taxes are paid hence the fiscal space of governments shrink, curbing spending on human welfare. The economic negativities notwithstanding, there are social and human costs. Often young and poor individuals are lured in to transnational organized crime as foot soldiers. Social capital which can fuel the economic growth of countries end-up, spending a dangerous life. Many fall victims to the vagaries of this evil enterprise. South America leads the world in gun related homicides, with Honduras at the top with a ranking of 60 homicides per 100K population This high rate has been made possible because of firearm smuggling[3]. Similarly, trafficking in persons is another form of TOC, which destroys lives and darkens the future of victims. The most common form of trafficking is for sexual exploitation and according to a UNODC report about 155 countries, 79% victims of trafficking are women and girls. Another form of trafficking is forced labour and the victims are almost always children. The same report reveals that 20% of trafficking victims are children. Women and children are the most vulnerable and TOC preys on the vulnerable and weak.

Pakistan Challenge of TOC and response: Pakistan faces serious challenges from TOC. Its geographical location has an unusually large impact on TOC in Pakistan. Being in the immediate neighbourhood of Afghanistan, which is not only the largest producer  in the world of  poppy and manufacturing of heroin, but has also been continuously involved in conflict in the last 42 years,  led to large scale migration to neighbouring Pakistan and also resulted in abundant availability of small arms. That makes Pakistan an attractive destination as well as transit for not only drugs and arms trafficking but also illegal migration and human trafficking. Not only that, the low per capita income in Pakistan, creates a demand for migrant smuggling as well as human trafficking from Pakistan to greener pastures. According to Global Organized Crime Index (2021), Pakistan falls in the category of countries which have a high risk of criminality of organized crime and low resilience to combat it. Also, Pakistan was placed on the “grey” list of FATF in 2018,  due to non compliance with some conditions of the FATF in dealing with money laundering and terrorist financing. The positive development, however, is that in 2018, the Pakistan government, showed a very strong political resolve to address the concerns of FATF as well as to improve its tackling of TOC including illegal migration, human and arms trafficking, drugs trafficking, money laundering and terrorist financing. Not only were new laws passed but also enforcement of these laws was significantly improved .

Acknowledging the efficacy of the measures of these measures taken, FATF has given positive signals in its plenary meetings in June 2022,  about moving Pakistan out of the grey list and into the white list. The final decision is expected in the forthcoming visit from FATF experts to Pakistan, later in 2022. Thus, it can be said that while the challenge of TOC remains huge in Pakistan, the government has shown political resolve to address it very seriously by taking very significant steps, in line with the UN Convention and that national effort is continuing with greater earnestness and vigour.

The current UNTOC review being undertaken by UNODC in partnership with the Government of Pakistan, CGR and the civil society accompanied by peer review by Djibouti and Tonga, is in line with the UNTOC Review guidelines. The objective of the Review is not only to evaluate the progress made so far by Pakistan, in countering the TOC, within the guidelines of UNTOC and the three protocols but also to identify the way forward to tackle the global challenge of TOC, making the world, a better and a safer place to live in. Pakistan stands strongly committed to ensure the success of this global endeavour.

[1] https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/organized-crime/intro/review-mechanism-untoc/home.html

[2] https://www.unodc.org/toc/en/crimes/organized-crime.html

[3] https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/gun-deaths-by-country