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close this bookThe United Nations and Crime Prevention - Seeking Security and Justice for All (UN, 1996, 170 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction: Seeking security and justice for all
View the documentChapter 1 - A short history of international cooperation against crime
View the documentChapter 2 - The costs of crime
View the documentChapter 3 - The United Nations crime prevention system
View the documentChapter 4 - United Nations Congresses on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders
View the documentChapter 5 - Technical cooperation and advisory services
View the documentChapter 6 - Affiliated and associated institutes
Open this folder and view contentsAppendices: United Nations standards, guidelines and international instruments

Chapter 3 - The United Nations crime prevention system

The Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

Since 1992, the policy-making body of the United Nations in the crime control field has been the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Composed of representatives of 40 Governments, the Commission is a functional body of the Economic and Social Council. After the General Assembly itself, ECOSOC is the major legislative and policy-making organ of the United Nations.

The Commission is charged with developing, monitoring and reviewing the UN crime programme and mobilizing support for it among Member States. It is also expected to coordinate the crime prevention activities of other entities of the United Nations system, as well as those of the interregional and regional institutes on crime prevention and criminal justice, and to organize the United Nations Congresses on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.

Priority areas mandated by ECOSOC when it established the Commission in 1992 are:

· International action to combat national and transnational crime, including organized crime, economic crime and money-laundering;

· Promoting the role of criminal law in the protection of the environment;

· Crime prevention in urban areas, including juvenile and violent criminality; and

· Improving the efficiency and fairness of criminal justice administration systems.

Aspects of these principal themes are selected for consideration at each annual session of the Commission, held at the United Nations Office at Vienna. In accordance with ECOSOC resolution 1992/22, the Commission is to review all the priority themes at its fifth session, in 1996.

The Commission also oversees provision of technical assistance to requesting Member States in areas where the crime prevention programme possesses substantive competence. In addition, a standing item on the Commission's agenda is promotion of the use and application of United Nations criminal justice standards and norms.

Implementation of policy set by the Commission is the responsibility of the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division of the United Nations Secretariat (see below).

Organizational lineage of the Crime Commission

The predecessor of the Commission was the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control (CCPC). The CCPC in turn replaced the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee of Experts, created in 1950 by General Assembly resolution 415 (V). The purpose of that group of seven experts was defined as "devising and formulating programmes for study on an international basis and policies for international action in the field of the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders". The work of the Committee was later placed on a more permanent basis, and the strengthened body was called the Advisory Committee of Experts on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.

Replacement of the expert group by the CCPC took place in 1971, under the mandate of ECOSOC resolution 1584 (L). The founding of the CCPC was a response to the then recently completed 1970 Crime Congress in Kyoto, which had broadened substantially the scope of UN interest in criminal justice policy (see Chapter IV).

A later review of the United Nations crime prevention programme figured prominently on the agenda of the 1990 Congress in Havana. It revealed that all countries shared an urgent concern regarding the increase of crime and the appearance of new forms of organized criminality, and reaffirmed that the United Nations could and should play a larger role in combating crime and promoting international cooperation and that its presence at the forefront of international efforts is crucial.

The Congress review was facilitated by a CCPC report concluding that a programme adequate to the pressing needs of the contemporary world must assist countries in dealing with both national and transnational crime. The programme, the report said, should encompass all forms of assistance - from information exchange and joint research to technical cooperation and collaborative action. Further, the organizational structure and size of a revamped programme must measure up to its purposes and to the volume and importance of mandates entrusted to it. The Committee proposed that a major new entity should be created to consolidate UN responsibilites in the field of crime and justice. This new entity would coordinate related United Nations functions and facilitate the expansion of international cooperation in investigation, adjudication, sanctioning, enforcement, research and training.

The report also stressed the need for strong political support from Member States and for this political will to be cemented through a ministerial-level summit meeting. In addition, a comprehensive international instrument on crime prevention and criminal justice, possibly in the form of an international convention, was proposed as a means of mobilizing stronger international support and coordination.

On the recommendation of the Eighth Congress, the General Assembly adopted a resolution convening a Ministerial Meeting on the Creation of an Effective United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme, to be preceded by an intergovernmental working group. The findings of the working group became the basis for the Ministerial Meeting's decisions on structure, content and means of implementing the new body.

The ministerial Summit concluded its meeting in Versailles, France, in November 1991 by recommending replacement of the CCPC with a new intergovernmental commission. A resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly later that year asked the Economic and Social Council to establish the Commission on Crime Prevention and Control and set forth a relevant Statement of Principles and Programme of Action.

The Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division

The Division is the Secretariat body within the United Nations system that implements policy decisions of the Commission, formulates policy options and coordinates crime prevention and criminal justice activities within the United Nations system and at the international level. This work includes cooperation with entities such as the International Drug Control Programme, the Centre for Human Rights, the Department of Development Support and Management Services and the Office of Legal Affairs.

The Division promotes the application and use of United Nations international instruments and resolutions in the field of crime prevention and control through public information activities, and works closely with Member States to facilitate their implementation.

Among its field activities, the Division (until 1996 known as the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch) provided technical assistance and advisory services in connection with UN missions in Cambodia, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, including the development of a training course for civilian police components of peace-keeping operations. It prepared and published a handbook on criminal justice, human rights and humanitarian law standards for peace-keeping supervisors and contributed to the re-establishment of the police and criminal justice systems in Cambodia and Somalia.

The origin of the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division is traceable to the Section of Social Defence, created shortly after the establishment of the United Nations.

One of the first activities of the Section of Social Defence was to gather and compile official crime statistics from Member States. Later on, the Section was reorganized and renamed the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Section. In 1977, the Section was re-named the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch and placed under the direction of an Assistant Director, who reported to the Assistant Secretary-General of the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs. After a subsequent restructuring of the economic and social sectors of the UN and the dissolution of the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, the Branch was affiliated with the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV), under the direction of the UNOV Director-General, who serves at the level of Under-Secretary-General.

In 1995, the fiftieth session of the General Assembly approved elevation of the Branch to the status of a Division. This promotion came shortly after the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, attended by 128 heads of State or Government, at which prominent mention was made of the need for international cooperation to combat and prevent crime (see Chapter III).

Informational activities

The Division collects, systematizes, analyses and exchanges international crime statistics and information. At the core of this effort is a country-by-country survey of crime trends and crime prevention and criminal justice policies, conducted every two years. The Division also is asked to promote action-oriented research and to study new forms and dimensions of crime, especially transnational crime (see Chapter VI).

The Division issues two regular publications:

· The annual International Review of Criminal Policy informs the international community on current methods, techniques and approaches to criminal justice policy and practice. The Review is published in English, French, Russian and Spanish.

· The Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Newsletter disseminates information on United Nations activities and policies within the criminal justice field and opens an avenue of feedback from experts and government officials. It has been published twice a year since 1980.

The Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division is expanding its informational capacities by turning onto the worldwide information superhighway. Since the early 1990s, it has been providing useful information from a variety of crime and criminal justice databases to hundreds of electronic users. Work is under way on a more comprehensive system - with the working title "On-Line Crime and Justice Clearinghouse" - which would expand the secretariat's Internet services and multiply the amount of criminal justice information available to Governments at minimal cost (see Chapter V).

The Division is also working to facilitate technical assistance that will help developing countries computerize their criminal justice systems; means of fulfilling this objective were explored in depth in Cairo at a Ninth Crime Congress workshop.