Friday, July 19, 2024

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Growing international organised crime requires a global strategy to counteract it

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Organised crime has become a threat to international peace and security, with more than 80 per cent of the world’s population living in countries with high levels of criminality, and the problem is growing worse. This requires a global strategy to counter it, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GITOC).

In a new report, GITOC said organised crime harms so many fundamental aspects of people’s lives – from governance to the environment and from health and safety to online activities. As demonstrated by the Global Organised Crime Index 2023, more than 80 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of criminality, and the problem is getting worse. “Indeed, over the past few decades the geographical reach, diversity of markets and impact of illicit economies have increased dramatically. Organised crime is manifesting itself in places and ways never seen before. And the omens for the future are menacing,” the initiative warned.

Currently, there is no global strategy against organised crime. To reduce the harm to our communities and future generations, this needs to change, it added.

“Organised crime should not be looked at as an isolated phenomenon. It intersects with global megatrends as well as violent conflict and terrorism. It thrives in a blurry ‘mezzosphere’ – that often ignored zone at the intersection between the criminal underworld and the upperworlds of business and politics.

“Since organised crime operates within an ecosystem, it is important to use systems thinking to analyse it and to identify pressure points to disrupt it. It is vital to change the conditions in which illicit economies operate, rather than just pursue criminal actors. Therefore, in addition to changing market forces and drying up the pool of potential offenders it is important to change attitudes and behaviours,” GITOC stated.

The Ecosystem of Organised Crime

Organised crime is often hard to identify because it operates discreetly, lurking in the same institutions, businesses and practices as licit actors. Organised crime will flourish as long as there is demand for illicit goods and services. It depends on the exploitation and commodification of people, animals and the environment.

Corruption prevents law enforcement, governments and businesses from taking action against organised crime. Criminal groups use corruption to infiltrate political institutions and to co-opt enablers.

State-embedded actors use the trappings and privileges of their power as well as connections and corruption to profit from illicit activities; they make use of cybercrime as a tool to gain political advantage. They also engage with criminal groups to carry out the dirty work of statecraft under a cloak of deniability, which destabilizes international relations.

Organised crime is a threat multiplier that aggravates climate stress and resource scarcity. Crimes that affect the environment are often hard to detect, as they happen at the intersection between the licit and illicit. However, they have severe implications for our global commons, for human health and security, GITOC stated.

Violence and instability

Instability caused by violent conflict or weak governance creates a conducive environment for criminals to provide protection or exploit people and natural resources. Violence is a tool that criminals use to prove authority, gain control over illicit markets, structure their operations, silence communities, and instill a culture of fear. Violence is also evident when there is competition for markets, or in heavy-handed law enforcement crackdowns on criminal groups.

Vulnerable communities

Underdevelopment in urban neighbourhoods or rural communities often attracts criminality as people turn to illicit activities to survive. Such communities are often more vulnerable to those who offer informal employment, loans or opportunities, some of which lead to criminality.

Infrastructure

Illicit goods and services often flow through the same supply chains and use the same trade infrastructure (such as ports and airports) as legal commerce, making them hard to detect.

Secrecy jurisdictions and financial crime

Offshore havens designed to enable rich people to stash their wealth are also attractive to criminals for laundering or hiding their profits. These assets usually pass through the financial system. Illicit financial flows are hard to detect and deprive governments of resources to pay for public services and security.

Technology

Digital technology enables criminals to communicate, move money and prey on vulnerable people. The development of digital infrastructure is opening up new possibilities, both for criminals and law enforcement.

The impacts of organised crime

GITOC said the main impacts of organised crime are threats to peace and security. Criminal activity can threaten the sovereignty of states. The nexus of crime and conflict can make it harder to sustain peace. Criminals may partner with terrorist or insurgent groups and, other cases, states collude with criminal groups to use their services to fight hybrid wars.

Other impacts are: Death and violence – the costs of violence associated with transnational organised crime far outweigh those caused by terrorism or conflict.

Corruption of politics: Alliances between political, business and criminal actors often result in the criminalisation of governance, undermining democracy and the rule of law, violating fundamental freedoms and generating instability in international relations.

Destruction of the environment: Illegal logging, overfishing, wildlife poaching and trafficking, toxic waste dumping, and the illegal extraction and exploitation of natural resources contribute to unsustainable growth and the destruction of the global commons.

Health risks: Organised crime exacts a heavy toll on both physical and mental health of individuals and communities. Many criminal markets depend on labour exploitation and are unlikely to have measures in place to ensure the safety of workers, including children.

Harming the economy and development: Corruption and money laundering and extortion exact a heavy price on the economy. Organised crime is an impediment to achieving most of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Stealing data and violating privacy: Technology has revolutionised criminal enterprise. The anonymity, accessibility and security afforded by encrypted communication apps, dark web forums and marketplaces, and cryptocurrencies have enabled organised crime to thrive.

Tearing apart the social fabric: Organised crime flourishes where there is a breakdown of trust between the community, the state and the police. It preys on vulnerability: those on the margins of society are often the most vulnerable to exploitation.

Threats to freedom and human rights: Organised crime threatens the right to life, liberty and security of person through violence, extra-judicial killings and targeted assassinations. Those who expose organised crime are often at risk.

What is wrong with the current approach?

Before trying to fix the system it is important to understand where it is broken, GITOC stated. Problems include a legal framework under strain, international system full of holes, unclear definitions or organised crime, wrong approaches to tackling the issue, few shared priorities, siloed responses that rarely lead to comprehensive or long-term solutions, limited trust and cooperation between police and countries, distorted and outdated pictures of organised crime, few prosecutions for grand corruption or serious organised crime, criminal and gang culture in prisons, and neglected victims.

What to do about it

“Since illicit economies operate as a system, it makes sense to analyse them as a system, including by looking at the interdependent variables. Such an approach helps to explain the complexity of relationships, their interconnectedness and the dynamic character of illicit economies. It also shows how criminal actors as well as licit ones provide services at different points in the system and sometimes for more than one market. Such an overview would anticipate the emergence of new trends, threats and challenges associated with illicit economies and their relationship to drivers and enablers, and may allow for more targeted interventions to disrupt linkages that facilitate criminal activity,” GITOC stated.

“There is no silver bullet against organised crime. Rather, there are many building blocks or possible interventions for dealing with it. They all have their place, whether it is focusing on strengthening community resilience, improving research and analysis, using technology more effectively, focusing on development or following the money. But none of them will work in isolation. The right tool needs to be used in the right place at the right time, and in combination with other elements. After all, the problem is global and complex. It is impossible to address it everywhere all at once. This is the logic behind the intersections approach put forward in the report.”

Dealing more effectively with organised crime will not be easy, especially with all of the other threats and challenges on the international community’s agenda, the spread of illiberal democracies, and the fragmentation of international relations. But ignoring the problem or continuing with the same approaches that have not worked in the past will not going to make the problem go away. On the contrary, it will make it worse, GITOC maintains.

“Therefore, in this time of rapid and dramatic change, anticipatory adaptation is vital. Returning to normal is insufficient, especially as ‘normal’ has failed to solve the problem. This is certainly the case when it comes to dealing with transnational organised crime. The time has come for new thinking and approaches to organised crime and more strategic responses,” the initiative concluded.

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