12 May 1997

Press Release


Approves Texts on Transnational Crime, Corruption, Stolen Vehicles, Firearm Regulation, Juvenile Justice, Prison Conditions, Migrant Smuggling

VIENNA, 9 May (UN Information Service) -- A strongly worded text by which the General Assembly would urge States to move decisively against corruption of public officials and in international trade was among a raft of new international initiatives approved today by the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, as it concluded a two-week session here.

The anti-corruption text -- a joint Costa Rican and United States initiative -- calls on States to outlaw such offences as bribery of public officials, conflict of interest, vote buying and other corrupt practices, following up on two landmark measures adopted by the General Assembly last year. Those were an International Code of Conduct for Public Officials, which had taken years of negotiations, and agreement on a United Nations Declaration against Corruption and Bribery in International Commercial Transactions.

The exploitation of children, smuggling of migrants, trafficking in stolen vehicles and environmental crime were the subject of several other measures which, if adopted by the General Assembly, are intended to deal a crippling blow to organized crime -- viewed by many delegations as a major threat to their national security and economic development. In the debate on those questions, country after country committed themselves to combating transnational crime as a "common enemy", cataloguing recent intensified action within and across borders and efforts to eliminate safe havens and close the loopholes which had allowed organized crime to flourish.

Significant progress was made on two related issues -- the question of elaborating a draft convention covering forms of organized transnational crime not already sanctioned in other international treaties and a text by which developing countries and those in transition to market economies would be encouraged to incorporate action against transnational crime in their development efforts.

The growing use of handguns and other firearms in crime, suicide and accidents prompted this morning's resolution on firearm regulation, under

which the Commission urged States to consider regulatory approaches to civilian-owned firearms that would cover their storage, transport, licensing, import and export, as well as penalties for their misuse. With many States having experienced an alarming escalation in gun-related crime in recent years, including several highly publicized incidents, delegates reported recent parliamentary moves to ban certain types of weapons and to prevent their use in domestic violence and other types of crimes.

Before the Commission was a 137-page first-ever United Nations study of how countries deal with civilian firearms issues. The preliminary draft contains the results of a 14-month survey of 46 countries, covering gun ownership, regulation and penalties.

The 40-member Commission was established by the Economic and Social Council in 1992, replacing the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control as the major United Nations body providing policy guidance to the Organization's crime control programme, which consists of the Vienna-based Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division and a network of affiliated regional and interregional institutes.

The Commission's recommendations will be taken up at the next substantive session of the Economic and Social Council to be held in Geneva from 30 June to 25 July.

Details of texts adopted and a round-up of the session follow.


International moves to outlaw corruption received a further boost this year with the adoption by the Commission of a strongly worded resolution against corruption and bribery in international commercial transactions.

Earlier, delegate after delegate had detailed examples of corruption within their own national systems, as well as outlining specific national legislative measures which had been enacted over the past year to combat such abuses. Opening the debate, the delegate of the Russian Federation denounced corruption as a "monstrous" and "repulsive" phenomenon from which no State was spared. Likening it to "rust which eats away at the machinery of government", he said that the pilfering of national assets in the Russian Federation ranged from tax evasion and other "financial tricks and machinations" to the diversion of State funds by military officials to build luxury country homes.

The delegate of Hungary spoke of the surprise in her country that the introduction of the market economy, instead of having the predicted dampening effect on corruption, had actually provided additional problems.

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Different countries were fighting corruption in different ways. Portugal's solution was a clear and concise body of legislation, recently extended to include the personnel of nationalized enterprises. In Egypt, all public officials were required to report on their assets at the beginning and end of their tenure. In Iran, every public official and all those engaged in public works were thoroughly investigated and infringements were punishable. China had been vigorous in prosecuting offenders, trying no fewer than 61,000 cases of bribery in the last year alone.

As far as concerted international action against corruption was concerned, several delegates felt it significant that discussions on corruption had become such a high priority not just within the United Nations, but other international organizations.

Violence against Women

Over the past three years, the Commission has devoted considerable attention to the question of violence against women, last year producing a text outlining strategies and practical measures designed to eliminate this conduct. The delegate of Canada, introducing an updated draft of the Strategies and Practical Measures, said: "Some people apparently fear that the proposed resolution will not in fact amount to anything more than a 'paper exercise'. In their view, what continues to be lacking is a genuine commitment to change and the financial resources required".

The fundamental causes of violence against women were variously attributed to the breakdown of the family unit, decline of moral standards, humiliating treatment of women in various media and the absence of legislation proscribing violence against women. A particularly impassioned plea was made on behalf of Afghan women, once constituting half the Afghan labour force and 50 per cent of the places at Kabul University and now "the most unfortunate women of our time" under the Taliban regime.

Domestic violence was on the increase in many States. Chile had conducted an in-depth survey of its own situation and reported that 41.4 per cent of abused women had been subjected to severe physical violence. In South Africa, a gender commission had recently been set up to look specifically at countering discrimination against women and empowering them. A special sexual offences court had also been established, and the country was currently reviewing legislation on family violence. In India, special laws had been enacted to identify offences constituting violence against women, outlawing such practices as dowry gifts, "immoral traffic", "immoral representation" and prevention of Sati (the self-immolation of a wife on the funeral pyre of her husband).

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Trafficking in Children

A dramatic increase in the abduction of children for commercial purposes by organized criminal syndicates had been noted in some parts of the world. Abducted children were being used and exploited in various illicit activities such as the sex trade, forced labour and pornography. Several representatives felt that where trafficking in children was on the rise, the criminal justice response was either inadequate or indifferent. There were also loopholes in detection and global law enforcement which organized crime syndicates were able to exploit. Delegates called for efforts towards elimination of the ever-expanding illicit markets for the closing of transit routes and improvement of law enforcement responses, particularly in those areas where counter-measures were the weakest.

Tenth United Nations Crime Congress

Past United Nations Congresses on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders have served to influence national policies and mobilize public opinion. The plan for a tenth congress in the year 2000 was viewed by delegates as a landmark event at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The Tenth Congress, it was recommended, must address not only the traditional forms of crime, but must also look ahead, developing strategies to forecast and prevent new types of high-tech transnational crime, which would undoubtedly be one of the major issues of the twenty-first century.

Firearms Regulation

The draft of the first ever international survey on firearm regulation was presented to delegates. The study was conducted by the United Nations over the past 14 months and comprises data and comments from 46 Member States. Scheduled for publication later in 1997, with the addition of data from four partner countries, it is intended to assist in the development of national and international crime control and prevention strategies at a time when violent crimes, accidents and suicides involving the use of firearms are causing increasing concern. Twenty-seven countries reported a recent incident serious enough to raise public concern over firearms or focus government attention on the issue.

It was acknowledged by many speakers that there were legitimate reasons for the use of firearms, such as target practice, hunting and control of predatory animals, and that cultural, historical and legal traditions governed the use of firearms from country to country.

The delegate of the United Kingdom said that following last year's massacre at Dunblane Primary School, new legislative controls on handguns had been introduced and further measures were envisaged. The Australian delegate spoke of the speed with which a national agreement had been concluded on

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effective firearm regulation in the wake of the shooting deaths of 35 people in Port Arthur last year.

Several delegates called for the harmonizing of national legislations to allow more effective action on the international level. The United States, said that such an exercise would be "impractical, expensive, time-consuming and dangerous". What was required, said the speaker, was a strengthening of international cooperation and improvements in training for those involved in firearm control.

Japan announced a further contribution of $140,000 to the project

Technical Cooperation

The important role of technical advice and assistance in making the crime prevention and criminal justice programme fully operational and enabling it to respond to the needs of governments, particularly those of developing countries and those with economies in transition, was stressed by many speakers. Several said it was essential that the programme be financed so that resources, whether financial or human, could be matched to needs.

There were 26 new project proposals for technical cooperation projects, including a master plan for the criminal justice system of Albania; reform of the prison system in Kazakstan; advice on combating corruption and organized crime in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and improvements in the criminal justice system in Angola.

Juvenile Justice

According to Austria, the scale of need in the realm of juvenile justice was evidenced by the fact that there were currently some 20 requests for assistance in that area before the Division. That country had initiated and financed a meeting of a group of experts earlier this year to draw up a Plan of Action as a tool for improved implementation of existing mandates in the field.

Delegations spoke of a rise in juvenile crime, which they said had become a world-wide phenomenon in both developing and developed countries. The Lesotho delegate stressed that the further along the "judicial assembly line" a young person travelled, the more likely he or she was to commit crimes again. The Malaysian delegate called for the development of strategies to prevent young people from being placed in the criminal justice system.

Organized Transnational Crime

"Criminality has no nationality, knows no frontiers and respects no rules. The globalization of business and the reduction in border controls aid

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traffickers and criminals of all kinds. Every day, improvement in communications and scientific and technological progress widen the field of activity of criminal organizations across the world, posing a threat to national security and development."

The Moroccan delegate thus summed up the proliferation of transnational criminal activity worldwide. Already conversant with its many forms -- drug trafficking, money-laundering, terrorism, smuggling of migrants, racketeering, corruption and arms trafficking -- the Commission this year addressed the urgent problem of how to combat it. In that respect, there was unanimous agreement that "an international phenomenon must be fought on an international scale". Many States felt the United Nations could do more in that area including providing assistance to particularly susceptible countries.

Another important aspect of the fight against transnational crime was extradition, many representatives said. A model treaty on extradition existed but, according to Austria, many Member States could not make use of it because they did not have national implementing legislation. Indonesia, a supporter of extradition, stressed that the absence of such a treaty need not prevent States from exchanging suspects or convicted criminals "through bilateral and diplomatic channels, including high-level approaches based on the principle of reciprocity".

Debate on Poland's draft convention against organized transnational crime continued, including proposed provisions on punishment, criminal liability, national jurisdiction, extradition, mutual legal assistance, confiscation of the proceeds of crime and other forms of cooperation. Canada expressed concern that the draft convention, if too specific in defining transnational crime, might be counter-productive and consensus might not be reached. Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the Minister of Justice of the Netherlands called for a sustained effort to gather statistical information without which, she said, international cooperation would simply not work.

Trafficking in Stolen Vehicles

Thought for many years to be a "victimless" crime in the sense that insurance companies usually compensated car owners for losses, vehicle theft had recently taken on a more sinister character, whereby the public had begun to pay a price, not just in increased insurance premiums but in actual personal security and even loss of life.

The full extent of that expanding problem and its impact had yet to be fully assessed, but many States welcomed that topic and the recommendation that nationals be transferred or extradited for trial to their State of nationality. Many countries which had begun to organize information on cross-border car theft had experienced a reduction in thefts of that nature.

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Canada was currently looking at a "birth to death" vehicle information management system, linked to a salvage registration system. Polish law enforcement agencies were deeply committed to combating car theft, which that delegation said was widespread in that country, linked to smuggling and counterfeiting.

Smuggling of Migrants

Initiatives to combat the smuggling of migrants were welcomed by many speakers. Information provided by governments and intergovernmental bodies could help in devising harmonized counter-measures. It was pointed out that, in some countries, violence against illegal immigrants in the form of racist and xenophobic attitudes was becoming an increasingly serious problem. As crimes were often committed against such persons by immigration authorities, it was recommended that States take steps to prevent and sanction such abuse of power.

Environmental Crime

Many countries had developed comprehensive legislation on environmental crime, such as the illegal trafficking in hazardous substances, nuclear materials and endangered species, and had begun to apply criminal sanctions to individuals and companies in proportion to the amount of damage caused to the environment. Concern was expressed that countries with weak or unenforced environmental legislation could be exploited by some individuals or corporations. The possible need for a model law on environmental offenses together with a manual for practitioners was stressed.

Resolutions Approved

By the resolution on preparations for the Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, the Commission recommended that the following topics should be take up at the Tenth Congress: technical cooperation for strengthening fair and effective criminal justice; international cooperation in combating transnational crime: new challenges in the twenty-first century; effective crime prevention: keeping pace with new developments; and offenders and victims: accountability and fairness in the justice process. The Commission also recommended holding workshops on: combating corruption; crimes related to the computer network; community involvement in crime prevention; and women as offenders, victims and practitioners.

The Commission welcomed the offer by South Africa to host the Tenth Congress and expressed appreciation for Austria's similar offer. It further recommended that Member States should be represented at the Tenth Congress at a high political level.

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By a text on strategic management of the United Nations crime programme, the Commission reiterated its decision to curtail and streamline its reporting requirements and decided that a group of five of its members would review its mandates and resources in order to establish a more realistic relationship between them.

Under the revised text on the administration of juvenile justice the Commission welcomed the draft Guidelines for Action on Children in the Criminal Justice System elaborated by an expert meeting held in Vienna in February, invited all parties concerned to make use of the Guidelines in carrying out existing international instruments and standards relating to juvenile justice and asked the Economic and Social Council to encourage States to make use of the technical assistance offered by the United Nations to strengthen national capacities and infrastructures in the field of juvenile justice.

In another resolution on strengthening the United Nations Crime Programme, the Commission recommended that the Secretary-General carry out a Sixth United Nations Survey of Crime and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems for the period 1995-1997 and that subsequent core surveys should be conducted every three or four years, including supplementary surveys on selected topics.

In the draft resolution on violence against women, the Commission would have the Assembly urge States to review or monitor criminal legislation policies and practices to determine if they have a negative impact on women and, if they do, to modify them in order to ensure that women are fairly treated by the criminal justice system. Annexed to the draft is an 18-point set of strategies and practical measures which States could put into practice in this connection.

A resolution on victims of crime and abuse of power would have the Council invite governments to provide the Secretary-General with information on promising practices and legislation concerning victim-related issues with a view to establishing a database and a clearing-house to provide continuing service to governments and organizations working in that area.

By a text on United Nations standards and norms in crime control, the Commission requested the Secretary-General to convene a meeting of government experts to review the draft minimum rules for the administration of justice, without prejudice to the future work of the Commission.

The Commission approved a draft resolution on implementation of the United Nations Declaration on Crime and Public Security which calls for national reporting on implementation of measures to combat many forms of transnational crime, including money laundering.

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The text on technical cooperation and international advisory services would have the Economic and Social Council call upon potential donors and relevant funding agencies to make significant and regular financial and/or other contributions for technical assistance projects and invite developing countries and those with economies in transition to include crime control considerations in their requests for assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Under a revised text on crime prevention, the Commission requested the Secretary-General to seek comments from Member States and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations on a preliminary draft of "elements of responsible crime prevention", including standards and norms.

By a resolution on illicit trafficking in motor vehicles, the Commission, alarmed at the rapid growth and geographical expansion of such illicit trafficking, which increasingly crossed national borders, urged States to improve international cooperation in the prevention and control of theft of, trafficking in and other offences in connection with stolen vehicles, conclude agreements on a simplified and effective procedure for recovering stolen vehicles, facilitate the identification of their rightful owners and consider changing their national laws to improve response to vehicular crimes.

Under a text on international cooperation in criminal matters, the Commission requested the Secretary-General to convene a meeting of an intergovernmental expert group to examine practical recommendations for the further development of mutual assistance in criminal matters. It decided that the Model Treaty on Extradition should be complemented by specified further provisions and encouraged States to enact effective extradition legislation.

Under a text on firearm regulation, the Commission took note of the findings in the draft "United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation" and urged States to consider regulatory approaches that would include regulations relating to firearm safety and storage; appropriate penalties and/or administrative sanctions for offenses involving the misuse of firearms; mitigation of or exemption from, criminal responsibility, amnesty or similar programmes to encourage citizens to surrender illegal, unsafe or unwanted firearms; a licensing system, including the licensing of firearm businesses and a record-keeping system.

Adopting a resolution on organized transnational crime, the Commission urged States to continue making every effort possible to fully implement the 1994 Naples Political Declaration and Global Plan of Action on that problem by taking the most appropriate legislative, regulatory and administrative measures, including those aimed at prevention. The Commission also invited developing countries and those with economies in transition to act against organized transnational crime as priorities of their development efforts. The Commission also requested the Secretary-General to assist States in collecting

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and systematizing data and other information on the occurrence, dimensions and patterns of organized transnational crime, as well as to prepare technical manuals.

Under a text on prison conditions, the Commission, expressing grave alarm at the serious problem confronting many Member States as a result of prison overcrowding, requested the Secretary-General to assist African developing countries in the implementation of the Kampala Declaration on Prison Conditions in Africa and to increase technical assistance for all other interested developing countries. The Commission also strongly urged States to introduce, as soon as practicable, alternatives to imprisonment in their criminal justice system.

By the resolution on corruption and bribery in international commercial transactions, the Commission urged States to criminalize in an effective and coordinated manner the bribery of public office holders of other States in international commercial transactions and encouraged them to engage, as appropriate in programmatic activities to deter, prevent and combat bribery and corruption, following up on recent action by the General Assembly in that area.

Officers, Participation

The following officers were elected: Mohamed El Fadhel Khalil (Tunisia), Chairman; Elias Jassan (Argentina), Luigi Laureola (Italy), Dariusz Manczyk (Poland), Vice-Chairmen; Amir Hossein Zamaninia (Iran), Rapporteur.

The session was attended by representatives of 39 members of the Commission: Angola, Argentina, Austria, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Fiji, France, Gambia, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia, Ukraine and United States.

The following 65 States were observers: Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Holy See, Hungary, India, Ireland, Iraq, Israel, Kazakstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, Norway, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe.

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