World urged to dismantle organised crime as costs soar into trillions

The secretary general of the United Nations has described cyberspace as a “a virtual El Dorado for criminals.”

António Guterres made his comments as he urged countries to strengthen cooperation, the rule of law and prevention efforts against organised crime he described as “vicious threat to peace, security, and sustainable development”.

The UN Security Council debated the rising threat of transnational organised crime and was told is now a multi-billion-dollar industry that encompasses illicit financial flows, the illicit trade in firearms, and trafficking in humans, drugs, natural resources, wildlife and other commodities – all of which are increasingly interlinked.

Despite these many forms, “the ramifications are the same: weakened governance, corruption and lawlessness, open violence, death, and destruction,” said Guterres.

Furthermore, transnational organized crime and conflict feed off each other, he added, thus undermining the authority and effectiveness of State institutions, eroding the rule of law, and destabilizing law enforcement structures.

He pointed to examples across the world such as Afghanistan and Colombia, where drug production and trafficking fuelled brutal and long-lasting conflicts.

“In Myanmar, human trafficking and online scams, often run from outside the country, are flourishing in an environment of violence, repression and the erosion of the rule of law following the military takeover in 2021,” Guterres added.

He said the links between organized crime and terrorism is another concern. In the Sahel region in Africa, for example, illicit trade in fuel, drugs, arms and natural resources, provides resources for armed groups, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions.

Although the Security Council has long recognized the danger posed by transnational organized crime to international peace and security Guterres urged: “We must do more to strengthen our defences.”

He described multilateral cooperation as “the only credible path to target the criminal dynamics that fuel violence and prolong cycles of conflict,” it must be strengthened.

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Waly, (pic) echoed the Secretary-General’s call for collective global action.

She previewed a new report which reveals that organised criminal groups or gangs are responsible for almost a quarter of all homicides worldwide.

The impact of organised crime is also manifesting in alarming new ways, she said, “from shocking forms of violence in European port cities connected with the drug trade, to political assassinations and infiltration of prisons in parts of Latin America.”

She told the Council that criminal networks exploit commercial practices to facilitate their operations. They take measures that include using certain professions, especially in the legal field, to escape justice and exploiting financial structures for money laundering, for example.

These groups have also become “more nimble and decentralised”, and their structures are “less hierarchical, more fragmented, and grouped together into a network of specialists, which deliver services and collaborate amongst themselves,” she said.

Meanwhile, digital markets and cryptocurrencies have facilitated the expansion of illicit transactions, making them more rapid and anonymous.

The costs and risks of engaging in criminal activity have never been lower, and the global threat posed by organized crime has reached new levels of complexity, Ms. Waly told the Council.

“To respond, we need institutions capable of delivering justice and ending impunity, as well as resilient communities,” she said. “And we need to invest far more resources to confront illicit markets that are worth trillions of dollars.”