Organised crime treaty

Stabroek News
August 14, 2000

A UN treaty to combat burgeoning organized crime is to be transmitted to the General Assembly for formal adoption in November this year and should be opened for signature a month later at a conference in Italy.

It will be a landmark event. When formalised, according to a Reuters report, it will be the first legally binding UN instrument in the field of crime.

The treaty will off course hold special interest for small countries like Guyana which because of the relatively minuscule size of its economy, technological incapacity, undeveloped monitoring of financial transactions and significant unmonitored borders among other challenges can be overwhelmed by organized crime and its many tentacles particularly money laundering and the drug trade.

According to Reuters the "treaty is intended to serve as a blueprint for countries to improve their systems to shut down international criminal organizations, eliminate `safe havens', protect witnesses and block money laundering".

To be known as the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime it will require signatory countries to create in their domestic legislation four crimes: participation in an organized criminal group, money laundering, corruption and obstruction of justice. For the purposes of the Convention, organised crime is defined as serious crime perpetrated by groups of three or more people for material benefit (many of our "Blackie"-type gangs would fit the bill and it is high time that these attract additional charges and penalties.) In addition, the committee of member states which is working on the draft treaty is preparing three protocols to confront trafficking in women and children, migrants and illicit arms. According to UN figures, around four million people are moved by gangs each year for as much as $7B. The illegal drugs and arms trades are believed to be worth tens of billions of dollars. The treaty will also provide for regular monitoring of compliance by countries.

With the advent of the treaty, the implications of subscribing to it will have to be weighed by countries like Guyana though in outline it seems quite beneficial. And this country needs significant help on various fronts. By the day, evidence is being seen of the borderless quality of organised crime from mysterious plane landings and sightings, murders that bear the hallmark of contract killings, trafficking in cocaine and the flow of illegal weapons.

In the not too distant future - with or without this treaty - Guyanese will have to face the prospect of entering witness protection programmes in return for testimony in a court of law. A frightening thought but nevertheless a coming of age in the world of globalised crime. And we need a multilateralised network of protection. With CARICOM like a small neighbourhood we can hardly offer to send a Guyanese witness into a protective programme in St Kitts-Nevis much less Imbaimadai. The witness would be easy pickings for any serious criminal outfit. The witness stands a better chance in a remote town in Alaska or in a teeming Johannesburg suburb.

The treaty when formalised could also be crucial to Guyana in three areas. First, the transshipment of drugs. We have a very poor fix on how this is occurring, who the main players are and more importantly, how to get them and garner enough evidence to put them behind bars for a long time. It also appears as if a significant amount of the drug is staying here as payment for services and this is fuelling growing consumption and legions of abusers and victims. Second, even though we have passed money laundering legislation, the magnitude of the problem is unknown and we lack the sophisticated network necessary to put the brakes on it and identify and prosecute the guilty. The conspicuous, unexplained wealth of the noveau riche continues to accrete. Third, in a sometimes volatile society like ours, the illicit importation of arms such as grenades, submachine guns and rocket launchers severely undermine peace and stability. In times of crisis these have been pressed into use here with chilling effect. There are numerous other areas where the treaty can impact positively. We must begin assessing from now the draft treaty so that once it is ready for signature we can be among the first in line to sign on if it is found feasible. We must also decide if we have the will - political or otherwise - to commit to the prescriptions of this treaty.

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