On 21 October 2022, ENACT organised a side event during the 11th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC). The UNTOC is the main international instrument in the fight against transnational crime. With the need to foster international cooperation identified as a requisite to effectively tackle this problem, the GIFP and its trans-regional approach fits into the wider UNTOC framework. During this event, panellists examined the extent to which the Convention is used in Africa and assessed its impact on criminal markets and state resilience to organised crime.
Natalie Pauwels, Head of the Stability and Peace – Global and Transregional Threats Unit at the European Commission, opened the session by presenting the Africa Organised Crime Index, a multi-dimensional tool that evaluates criminality and resilience in African countries and presents the overarching criminal architecture of the continent.
Darren Brookbanks, analyst at GI-TOC, introduced the research which drew on the index and examined countries’ implementation of the (UNTOC). Somalia and South Sudan, two countries which have not ratified the Convention score high on criminality and low on resilience. Other countries, like Ghana, have ratified the UNTOC and are seeing an increase in their resilience. However, initial trends need to be studied more closely to arrive to more comprehensive conclusions. The wide-spread ratification of the UNTOC in the continent demonstrates political will to address organised crime. While there are also efforts to increase international cooperation, efforts are hampered by a lack of reported data, the slow rate of case finalisation, and concerns regarding human rights.
Olwethu Majola, researcher at the University of Cape Town, focused on the challenges in analysing the UNTOC’s effect due to a lack of data. While largely ratified, it is unclear how widely the UNTOC is being implemented. The data is inconclusive and currently does not show a link between ratification and a decrease in criminality, and, in fact, criminal markets are increasing across Africa. Ms. Majola stated that the UNTOC is not being sufficiently used, due to a lack of local ownership, accountability, and buy-in. Creating a Central Repository, which the UNTOC Review Mechanism Thematic Clusters and the Organised Crime Index could feed into, would assist in establishing a methodology to assess the UNTOC’s impact. Variables could include: domestic, regional and international legislation and agreements; outcomes of requests for mutual legal assistance and extraditions; investigations and prosecutions; international cooperation networks and frameworks; capacity building and training activities by development partners; criminal markets and state resilience data from the Africa Organised Crime Index; and case studies of criminal markets, countries and issues/concerns.
Finally, Martin Ewi, ENACT Regional Organised Crime Coordinator, stressed the importance of examining both negative and positive aspects, of the political will behind the Convention, and the protocols on firearms, migrant smuggling, and trafficking in human beings. When examining the extent to which Africa is implementing the UNTOC, Mr. Ewi approached it from the national, regional, and continental levels.
The UNTOC has been ratified by the majority of countries, demonstrating broad political will; however, few have ratified the three additional protocols, and many countries still need to develop comprehensive national plans to tackle these crimes. Indeed, many countries have not adopted legislation criminalising the participation in organised crime groups (OCGs), despite this being Article 5 of the UNTOC. Much has been done against money laundering, with 90 percent of countries having anti-money laundering legislation. However, these laws are less effective when not linked to Article 5. While there has been a good amount of legislation on criminalising corruption in line with Article 8, implementation remains weak.
At the regional level, Mr. Ewi remarked that the overall situation is discouraging, with African regional organisations not taking TOC seriously and efforts not being equal across regions. Most have frameworks to address small arms and light weapons (SALW), but not wider frameworks to address TOC as a whole. At the continental level, the African Union (AU) has an ad-hoc approach to the thematic areas of the UNTOC. Border control is adequately addressed, and there are various important frameworks such as the Bamako Declaration on Trafficking in SALW, the AU campaign on ‘silencing the guns’, and action plans to target human trafficking.
There is thus a need for further capacity building to understand and implement the UNTOC, including the additional protocols, in order to bolster knowledge-driven engagement from policymakers and stakeholders. Therefore, resources and information, such as studies and seminars carried out by ENACT, should be widely distributed and accessible to contribute to the development of national, regional and continental capacities to respond to transnational organised crime.