How crime follows in conflict’s slipstream
Shocking images in Libya last year showed human traffickers selling people to the highest bidder like cattle in a market. These powerful CNN images flashed across the world, and they are deeply shaming. The disturbing pictures are also the high-water mark for how conflict, weak institutions and crime combine to exploit the most vulnerable people. Libya, however, is not the only country where conflict helps to drive crime.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo—the DRC—years of bloody fighting have aided smuggling and the theft of natural resources—charcoal, gold, timber and endangered wildlife. Hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed out of the country and into the hands of organized crime; making the criminals enormously wealthy, and leaving citizens to eke out bleak and bare existences.
Brutal conflict in Syria and economic instability are adding to the vast movement of people across the world—the largest since the end of the Second World War. All of these people—many of them children travelling alone—are prey to smugglers, but also cruel traffickers. Thousands are dying as they cross deadly deserts and cruel seas.
Somalia, with Africa’s longest mainland coastline, was always historically prone to piracy. Conflict and economic crisis—in the form of unemployment—have powered the rise of this maritime crime that the World Bank estimated once cost global trade billions of dollars. Although there has been a lull in significant attacks, last year saw the issue creep back onto the world’s radar.
Afghanistan last year posted astonishing, and profoundly worrying, increases in the cultivation and production of opium. Based on the latest Afghan Opium Survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) opium production rose 87 per cent in 2017. Not all of Afghanistan’s problems are due to the bitter insurgency, endemic corruption also plays a sustaining role, but the fighting is ever-present.
Crime is a leech—deeply opportunistic, attaching itself to any nation made fragile by conflict or crisis and siphoning off resources and riches. Where crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, migrant smuggling appear, corruption and money laundering are close behind to compound suffering.
Transnational organized crime, however, is not simply the beneficiary of horrific conflict and destabilizing insecurity, it is actively fuelling these global problems. Armed groups such as al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and ISIL are engaged in crimes to spread fear, but also to profit and bankroll atrocities.
The Taliban, in Afghanistan, earns tens of millions of dollars from taxing organized crime groups moving opium through their territory and are perhaps involved in production. A snapshot of human trafficking in areas of conflict shows how child soldiering, sexual slavery and forced labour spread further terror.
Given crime’s ability to feed off and fuel conflict, new approaches are necessary. Fortunately, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is enabling new critical thinking. The 2030 Agenda represents a dramatic sea change that includes tackling crime. Goal 16 calls for peace, justice and strong institutions, and recognises that drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism are barriers to secure societies.
Perhaps the shining example of this changing paradigm is the way the Colombian government approached peace with FARC. The government has incorporated essential strategies for ending the country’s cultivation and production of the coca plant into the peace agreement. This will prevent the possibility of crime blossoming in any vacuum.
But if we are determined about tackling crime rooted in weakened societies, we must also inject anti-crime strategies into peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts. Here are three essential points.
Education is fundamental to building civic participation and encouraging young people to grasp their hopes and opportunities. UNODC is assisting through its Education for Justice Initiative under the Doha Programme that builds respect for the rule of law among children and young people.
Ignoring the need to build and strengthen institutions is perilous. The absence of the rule of law, and weak institutions can promote conflict and instability. They can create mass migration, the growth of illicit economies and calamitous loss of life.
We are nothing without cooperation at every conceivable level. The role of UNODC is to use it forums to highlight the challenges and to help forge unity among member states for delivering solid solutions on the ground. Cooperation is the binding glue of our work and the chances of success are diminished by its absence.
Conflict, along with climate change, represents one of the greatest challenges of our times, but considerable thought needs to be given to the terrible impact that crime has on post-conflict societies. To do this, we must integrate efforts against crime not only into the search for peace, but also into our conflict prevention efforts. We cannot and must not lose the incalculable benefits of lasting peace to the greed of criminals and traffickers.