Direkt zum Seiteninhalt springen

Organized Crime on the UN Security Council Agenda

Action against Human Trafficking Reveals Opportunities and Challenges

SWP Comment 2018/C 38, 30.09.2018, 4 Seiten Forschungsgebiete

On 7 June 2018, for the first time, a Committee of the United Nations Security Council placed individuals on a sanctions list for human trafficking. As part of the Libya sanc­tions regime, travel bans and asset freezes have been imposed on six individuals iden­tified as the main perpetrators of illegal activities relating to human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants. The European Union and the US have already implemented these UN sanctions. This response is an expression of the UN Security Council’s in­creased attention on transnational organized crime (TOC). For years, the number of resolutions relating to TOC, whether linked to drug or arms trafficking, piracy, kid­nappings or illegal trade in natural resources, has increased substantially. And the Security Council has repeatedly dealt with human trafficking in conflict situations since the end of 2015. The relevant decisions show what role the Security Council can play in addressing organized crime, but also where pitfalls lurk. As a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 2019/2020, Germany should advocate a systematic advancement of the agenda.

The UN Security Council’s sanctioning of six individuals, four Libyan and two Eri­trean nationals, for human trafficking and migrant smuggling in this form may be a novelty. But organized crime issues have in­creasingly appeared on the UN agenda for some years now. According to an analysis by the Global Initiative against Trans­nation­al Organized Crime, the number of Security Council resolutions related to organized crime has risen fairly steadily in the past 15 years; in 2017, there were a total of 41. In recent years, the majority of these resolutions dealt with Africa, and an increasing number with the Middle East, since the Secu­rity Council naturally approaches this problem area via threats to peace and secu­rity. In addition, there are a number of the­matic resolutions, including one each in 2016 and 2017 on human trafficking in con­flicts.

Why is the Security Council tackling organized crime issues?

The UN Security Council has targeted trans­national crime phenomena, such as human trafficking, mainly because of their asso­ciation with armed violence and insecurity. This linkage can have many facets. Specifi­cally, organized criminal activities can serve to finance armed groups, but also to strength­en their power bases, or they can be tactically motivated. Sexual violence and exploitation as well as forced recruitment by armed groups may be part of this. In some conflict countries, the boundary be­tween the criminal and political motives of violent actors is increasingly blurred.

The Security Council is tackling criminal phenomena also because other international approaches hardly take effect in such con­texts. Indeed, the Convention on Trans­national Organized Crime was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2000 and supplemented by, among others, a protocol on trafficking in persons, and it now has 189 parties. But not only is the implemen­tation of this Convention, which does not yet have a review mechanism, faltering; fragile and conflict-affected states which are usually weak in prosecuting organized crime anyway, are rarely actively engaged in international cooperation. In an envi­ron­ment like that of Libya, even differentiating between criminal actors and officials who are supposed to be enforcing the law is dif­fi­cult, as the case of the UN-sanctioned com­mander of the regional coastguard in Zawiya shows.

It is often individual events or conflict situations that initially put organized crime issues on the Security Council’s agenda. For example, the kidnapping of women and children and the trafficking of persons be­longing to the Yazidi minority by the ‘Is­lamic State’ (ISIL) was a crucial catalyst for the first Security Council thematic debate on human trafficking in situations of con­flict in December 2015. These events played a key role in the meeting and were speci­fi­cally condemned in the resolution passed a year later. With the open and systematic exploitation of people by ISIL, a new dimen­sion had been reached.

At the same time, this case shows the extent to which action against criminal activities and networks in conflict situations has been linked to the fight against transnational terrorism. Many of the reso­lutions adopted in the past three years that actually contain the term “organized crime” also refer to terrorism. The connection be­tween the two phenomena is the subject of UN Security Council Resolution 2195 from 2014 and is often established in the context of Libya and the Sahel region, in particular Mali. It is, therefore, not surprising that the sanctions regime on Mali established in 2017 also allows for the listing of persons or entities that support spoilers of the peace process with income from TOC. Although no sanctions have yet been imposed, in its recent report, the UN Panel of Experts on Mali examined more closely various forms of organized crime, including trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling.

However, the resolutions of 2017 and those of previous years also mention up to 11 different types of crime beyond terror­ism, including drug and arms trafficking, kidnapping, armed robbery and financial crime. While all these offences could be linked to organized crime, the term itself does not appear in the majority of reso­lutions. Thus, a clearly defined agenda for dealing with organized crime has not emerged. However, as the example of tar­geted sanctions against traffickers shows, the Security Council does not limit itself to mere rhetoric.

Not just rhetoric, but concrete measures

A 2016 paper from the United Nations University outlines the Security Council’s options for action with regard to human trafficking in conflict with the key words, “Denounce, Disrupt and Protect”.

The UN has been using sanctions for some time in a disruptive sense, i.e. in order to cut off conflict parties from illegal sources of income. An example of this was the ban on direct or indirect imports of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone (2000) and Liberia (2001). The sanctions now im­posed for human trafficking were preceded, inter alia, by measures against illegal oil exports from Libya and an arms embargo. It is not yet clear whether the recent listings can lastingly disrupt the networks involved in human trafficking through Libya.

However, the sanctions also serve as a signal to other persons involved, especially as long as the government in Tripoli, which has been internationally recognized since 2016, exercises virtually no control. This response to organized crime can also have a certain spillover effect. As embargoes like the one in Libya not only ideally curb the arms trade, but monitoring by UN Panels of Experts sometimes also reveals other illegal activities. The narrative summaries explain­ing the listings for human trafficking and migrant smuggling also refer to informa­tion gathered by the corresponding panel for Libya. The individual sanctions now imposed can, therefore, not be considered in isolation.

In terms of protecting the victims of trafficking, an Anti-Trafficking Task Team has been formed as part of the global net­work that coordinates inter-agency ap­proaches to protecting people in humanitarian emergencies. In addition, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is developing guidelines for countering human trafficking in conflict areas.

In such areas, peace missions are also con­fronted with the effects of criminal activity. As a result, references to organized crime can be increasingly found in Security Council resolutions on UN peacekeeping operations as well. When extending the man­dates of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the assistance mission for Iraq and the support mission in Libya, human trafficking is repeatedly cited as a challenge. However, this has not yet lead to any specifically mandated tasks. A mandate to directly participate in combatting, for example drug smuggling, such as in Haiti, is rare anyway. It is more common to sup­port the security forces and agencies of the host country, especially in the framework of larger, multi-dimensional missions as in Mali. Amongst other things, MINUSMA pro­vides training for the Specialized Judicial Unit against Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime. Moreover, according to a Security Council resolution from December 2017, the same mission should also provide operational and logistical support to the Joint Force of the G5 Sahel states, whose task is to combat terrorism as well as drug and human trafficking across national bor­ders. The increased attention on organized crime issues in the Security Coun­cil has, therefore, taken effect; but there are also some pitfalls.

Critical points of an emerging agenda

In essence, there are three aspects to con­sider in further developing the agenda: Firstly, the UN Security Council does not set the framework for combating transnational organized crime. As the relevant resolutions emphasize, the UN Convention of 2000 with its three supplementary protocols remains the main reference point. For example, the protocol on trafficking in persons provides a broad definition of the offence that the Security Council must consistently use as a benchmark. Moreover, a distinction needs to be made between human trafficking and migrant smuggling, which are the subject of two separate sup­plementary protocols to the convention. Quasi-legislative interventions by the Secu­rity Council, as with regard to the control of the proliferation of weapons of mass de­struc­tion, are neither realistic nor reason­able on this issue. Rather, it is important to have a more systematic debate in the Secu­rity Council that goes beyond specific forms of crime or the nexus of organized crime and terrorism. Given the complexity of organized crime phenomena, the agenda-setting is inevitably selective, but the per­ception of the threat to peace and security from organized crime should not be.

Secondly, since the criminalization of certain actors in conflict areas can also be politically motivated, sound justifications are required for any action undertaken. Looking at the resolutions passed in the last ten years shows that the range of particular crimes mentioned remains fairly similar over time. It is not surprising that a greater focus is placed on arms trafficking and ter­rorism or kidnappings than, say, drug traf­ficking, since the link between these crimes and organized violent actors tends to be more direct. Yet, it is by no means automatic.

The Security Council Committee has jus­tified the recent sanctions on traffickers in Libya by referring to their connections with armed groups and, primarily, their respon­sibility for human rights violations against migrants, particularly in detention camps. Not only information provided by the UN Panel of Experts on Libya, but also findings from Western criminal prosecution author­ities pointed to the role played by the indi­viduals now listed by the Security Council. The exploitation and abuse of migrants in Libya has generally been well documented. The precise categorization of crimes in such contexts, however, is difficult because human trafficking is not only defined by the actual act and the means employed, but also by the intention of the perpetrator. In addition, the links to violence and violent actors are often less clear with other organ­ized crime phenomena. Consequently, structures such as the UN Panels of Experts and the analysis cells in UN peacekeeping missions should be strengthened and better used. Above all, this could help throw light on criminal activities and groups not in isolation, but as part of the political econo­my of conflicts – also with regard to trans­national networks and financial flows.

Dr Judith Vorrath is a Senior Associate in SWP’s International Security Division.

Thirdly, building on this, measures to be adopted by the Security Council could be better coordinated, particularly when it comes to meaningfully combining different instruments, because sanctions are, as men­tioned, only one – often limited – option. Different approaches can quickly counter­act each other, for example if a repressive approach to trafficking hampers the pro­tection of victims. Particularly in cases where UN or Western states classify important criminal actors as terrorists, measures will often include military action, as in the case of the G5 Joint Sahel Force. A police com­ponent should be attached to it, but so far does not exist. Particularly in the case of regional initiatives it supports or has authorized, the Security Council should insist that interventions are not mostly military. This is all the more true for UN peacekeeping missions where police com­ponents become more important. To strength­en these Germany can make spe­cific contributions to personnel. Membership of the Security Council in 2019/20 also provides an opportunity for Germany to address organized crime threats more regu­larly and systematically. One important step forward would be to ensure that meas­ures put to the vote do not, at the very least, bolster organized crime in the specific conflict context.

© Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, 2018


Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik

(English version of SWP‑Aktuell 48/2018)