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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 4 - United Nations Congresses on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders

The United Nations Crime Congresses bring together representatives of the world's national Governments, criminal justice professionals, scholars of international repute and members of concerned non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss common problems, share experiences and seek viable solutions to crime. Their recommendations impact on legislative and policy-making bodies of the United Nations and of national and local governments.

The First Congress 1955

Five hundred and twelve participants met at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, to convene the first UN Crime Congress. Their credentials were strong enough and their backgrounds sufficiently diverse to lend credibility to this fledgling attempt at international cooperation in criminal justice policy. There were delegates from 61 countries and territories, representing 51 Governments; from international organizations such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Council of Europe and the League of Arab States; and from 43 NGOs. Nearly half were scholars and policymakers, present in their individual capacities.

At this Congress, held in the heart of Western Europe, the nations of Europe fielded the greatest number of governmental delegations (in 1955, half the world's territories were not yet independent and were not represented at the United Nations). The topics of the First Congress accordingly reflected the pressing concerns of post-war Europe. There was an urgent need to set standards for the treatment of prisoners, whose numbers were swelling due to the turmoil and black markets of the war and post-war years. The poignant and bewildering question of how to respond to juvenile delinquency, which was taking root among young people growing up in rubble-strewn streets, often without fathers, was another focus of attention.

Consideration of the proper functioning of penal institutions led to the drafting and adoption by the Congress and subsequent approval by ECOSOC of the 95 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, an expansion of a less comprehensive bill of rights for persons in legal custody that had been drafted by the IPC. Whatever the extent of their crimes, it was felt, prisoners are entitled to human dignity and minimal standards of well-being. This conviction was especially strong among the many delegates present who, during the Second-World-War occupation of countries by Fascist powers, experienced brutality and deprivation while incarcerated. The carefully thought out, comprehensive provisions of the Standard Minimum Rules and the broad representation of national and professional viewpoints incorporated in them exerted a strong moral suasion that over the years has brought improvements to prisons around the world. Its provisions frequently are cited by prisoners protesting substandard conditions. The success of the Standard Minimum Rules paved the way for many other international models, standards, norms and guidelines touching on every aspect of criminal justice and set a precedent for United Nations initiatives to humanize the administration of criminal justice by principles agreed upon by the world community.

Other matters relating to the operation of penal institutions considered by the First Congress included recommendations for the selection, training and status of prison personnel; possibilities for "open" penal and correctional institutions; and appropriate use of prison labour.

Discussion of the prevention of juvenile delinquency attracted the greatest number of participants at the First Congress. Juvenile delinquency was treated as a broad category under which problems relating to youthful offenders as well as abandoned, orphaned and maladjusted minors were dealt with. Prevention was deemed to be the operative concept, and the problem was analyzed in terms of its social, economic and psychological causes.

The Second Congress 1960

At the invitation of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Second Congress was convened in London. Selection of this venue initiated the practice of holding the Congresses away from United Nations Headquarters facilities so as to bring them to a wider variety of the world's urban centres. Increased participation reflected the addition of newly independent nations as Member States. Representatives of 70 Governments were in attendance, along with delegates from 50 NGOs and, in addition to the international bodies involved in the First Congress, the Commission for Technical Assistance in Africa South of the Sahara. All in all, there were 1,131 participants, 632 of whom attended as individuals. The large percentage of attendees representing NGOs or chosen because of their scholarly credentials reflected the prevailing view that scientific and social analyses were required to come to grips with the Complex problems at hand.

Once again, juvenile delinquency was on the agenda. Under study were newly emerging forms of delinquency, their origin, prevention and treatment; the possibilities of special police forces for the prevention of youthful offences; and the impact of the mass media on the problem. Debate posed supporters of broad treatment programmes for all manner of youthful maladjustments against those who perceived a distinction between the maladjusted and young people who commit crimes for more straightforward reasons. Proponents of the latter view argued that not all delinquents are socially deprived; moreover, no one, juvenile or adult, is perfectly adjusted in every respect. The outcome of the debate was a recommendation that the concept of juvenile delinquency should be restricted to violations of criminal law, excluding vaguely antisocial postures or rebellious attitudes which are widely associated with the process of growing up.

The addition of new Member States to the United Nations required broadening of the largely European perspective of the First Congress. This led to a precedent-setting analysis of crime and criminal justice in relation to overall national development. Two general reports were submitted to the Second Congress on the "Prevention of Types of Criminality Resulting from Social Changes and Accompanying Economic Developments in Less Developed Countries". These examined the relation between socio-economic development and crime prevention in light of available data on demography, the environment, economics, culture, town planning, industrialization and migration. It was recommended that rational planning and social policy-making should be applied to the problem of crime. It was asserted that social breakdown generally precedes the creation of new social codes and values, and that orderly social change is not easily achieved.

Precipitous changes in economic and cultural conditions, the delegates realized, are found in long-established as well as newly independent nations. Discussion of the relation between development and crime therefore was extended to conditions in the developed countries as well. Economic improvement, experts warned, is not a one-way street leading away from crime. Tumultuous, unevenly shared economic growth can also provoke criminal activity

The Third Congress 1965

The Third Congress, convened in Stockholm, Sweden, addressed the ambitious theme of "Prevention of Criminality". The work of the Congress was propelled to a large extent by the enthusiasm of the Swedish hosts, who had embarked on a comprehensive national experiment in crime prevention. Topics on the agenda included a continuation of the discussion on social change and criminality; social forces and the prevention of crime; community-based preventive action; measures to curtail recidivism; probation policies; and special preventive and treatment programmes for young adults, who constitute the most crime-prone sector of the population.

Under the headings of "social change" and "social forces", the effects of urbanization, public opinion, education and migration were dealt with. There was also a specific recommendation to improve the value of studies of criminality through more meticulous official records on offenders.

Seventy-four Governments, 39 NGOs and all of the specialized agencies attending the previous Congress were present in Stockholm. The total number of participants reached 1,083, of whom 658 represented non-governmental bodies. The presence of representatives from a still-increasing pool of newly independent countries bolstered the assertion that developing nations should not restrict themselves to mechanically copying criminal justice institutions developed in Western countries. The hope was expressed that the developing nations would be able to head off by dynamic action in the mental health field many of the phenomena of mental disorders that beset the more developed parts of the world.

The Fourth Congress 1970

Set in the city of Kyoto, once the capital of ancient Japan, this was the first Congress held outside of Europe. The number of participants declined slightly, but the number of Governments represented jumped to 85.

The Fourth Congress convened under the slogan "Crime and Development". Its conclusions centred around the need for crime control and prevention measures - referred to as "social defence policies" - to be built into the development planning of nations. The groundwork for much of the discussion had been laid by a set of working papers prepared by the Secretariat and the World Health Organization and by reports of an ad hoc group of experts. These emphasized the need for social planning to promote economic growth and higher living standards while curtailing crime and delinquency that might result from the disintegration of traditional modes of life. It was emphasized, however, that the promotion of social and economic integration should not be seen as a solution to criminality; it might give rise to the misleading impression that crime control involved little more than provision of social services.

A theme touched on by the Third Congress - community-based prevention - was expanded upon at the Fourth. The positive contributions of public participation to crime prevention and control were explored. The utilization of civic involvement is a strategy which the host nation of Japan had applied with remarkable success.

The Congress also investigated the nation-by-nation implementation of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, relying on results of a questionnaire previously submitted to Member States.

The use of research as a tool of social policy came under scrutiny. A consensus supported the practical conclusion that the primary object of research was the identification not of the causes of crime per se, but of factors that could be applied to planned action.

The broad scope of the Fourth Congress deliberations - incorporating holistic considerations such as "development" and "social defence policy" - led to a re-ordering of the UN's crime prevention programme and the creation in 1977 of the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control (see Chapter III).

The Fifth Congress 1975

The Fifth Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders returned to Geneva, site of the First Congress. The number of nations represented again increased, to 101, and the participation of specialized agencies was augmented by the presence of Interpol, the IPPC and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The theme of the Fifth Congress was "Crime Prevention and Control: the Challenge of the Last Quarter of the Century". Under this forward-looking rubric, the Congress treated a larger number of specific concerns than ever before. They included:

· Changes in the form and dimensions of criminality, at national and transnational levels;

· Crime as a business and organized crime;

· The role of criminal legislation, judicial procedures and other forms of social control in the prevention of crime;

· The addition of crime-prevention activities and related social services to traditional law enforcement roles of police and other law enforcement agencies;

· Treatment of offenders in custody or in the community, with special reference to implementation of the Standard Minimum Rules;

· Economic and social consequences of crime (including the cost of crime) and new challenges for research and planning;

· Alcohol and drug abuse; and

· Victim compensation as a substitute for retributive criminal justice.

The Fifth Congress was responsible for two notable documents, which stand alongside the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Offenders as influential international guidelines to criminal justice practice. One was a "Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment". The Declaration was adopted by General Assembly resolution 3452 (XXX) of 9 December 1975, and led to a subsequent convention on that topic. The Congress also paved the way for drafting the "Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials". The Code, which has been called a Hippocratic oath for police professionals, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979.

General conclusions reached by the Fifth Congress focussed on the crucial role of social justice in preventing crime, the importance of coordinating criminal justice programmes within overall national social policy and the importance of respect for human rights.

The Sixth Congress 1980

The UN Crime Congress in Caracas, Venezuela, was the first to be hosted by a developing nation and the first to take place in the Western hemisphere. The widespread interest it evoked among long-established and newly independent nations and national liberation groups was reflected in delegations representing 102 nations, and bodies such as the League of Arab States, the Organization for African Unity (OAU), the Pan-Arab Organization for Social Defence, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania.

The theme of the Sixth Congress, "Crime Prevention and the Quality of Life", was elaborated in the first operative paragraph of its Caracas Declaration: "... the success of criminal justice systems and strategies for crime prevention, especially in light of the growth of new and sophisticated forms of crime and the difficulties encountered in the administration of criminal justice, depends above all on the progress achieved throughout the world in improving social conditions and enhancing the quality of life ...."

Conceptualization of juvenile delinquency, which to some extent had been narrowed by the Second Congress, was once again broadened. Emphasis was placed not only on the application of criminal sanctions to youthful offenders but also on the provision of social justice for all children, so they would not be driven to offend. The Caracas Declaration addressed the need for standard minimum rules for juvenile justice and further research into the causes of juvenile delinquency.

The items relating to juvenile delinquency were among 19 resolutions and 5 decisions involving more than 100 requests for action incorporated in the Caracas Declaration. Among the recommendations were: promotion of broader public participation in crime prevention; improvement of statistics relating to crime and criminals; and eradication of the practice of extra-legal executions, deemed a particularly abhorrent crime and abuse of power.

Contributing to the achievements of the 1980 Congress was the "Report of the Working Group of Experts from Latin America and the Caribbean on Criminal Policy and Development". This expert group promoted the inclusion of criminal justice experts on national development planning boards and the establishment in each Member State of a body responsible for ensuring international cooperation. They also came up with an innovative approach to the question of deciding which actions should be classified as crimes. The Working Group argued that the relationship between development and crime favours a two-way process of criminalization and decriminalization of offences. Thus, the scope of criminal law statutes should be broadened to include wilful actions harmful to the national wealth and well-being - offences such as destruction of the ecology and participation in networks for drug trafficking and trafficking in persons. As a corollary, the Working Group recommended a reduction in the number of statutes covering petty crimes and those of little or no socially destructive effect.

The Seventh Congress 1985

This Congress is best known for the Milan Plan of Action, which called for a concerted response from the community of nations to address socio-economic factors relevant to the commission of crimes. Taking place in the Italian city for which the Plan of Action is named, the Congress dedicated itself to the theme of "Crime Prevention for Freedom, Justice, Peace and Development".

The expanding purview of United Nations criminal justice concerns presented the delegates with an imposing agenda: 21 major substantive documents deriving from General Assembly and ECOSOC mandates were prepared for the Congress, in addition to previously issued reports of regional and interregional preparatory meeting.

The work of the Congress was organized under five topic headings.

· "New Dimensions of Criminality and Crime Prevention in the Context of Development" continued and updated UN interest in the relation between social development policies and criminal justice systems. Fraud and crime in international commerce and financial transfers was one of the areas under scrutiny.

· "Criminal Justice Processes and Perspectives in a Changing World" covered the need to revise, reform or reinforce the workings of criminal justice systems.

· "Victims of Crime" addressed the rights of victims of crime and abuse of power, compensation and restitution schemes and means of assisting them through criminal justice systems.

· "Youth, Crime and Justice" extended perennial UN interest in members of the age bracket with the highest percentage of criminal offenders.

· "Formulation and Application of United Nations Standards and Norms in Criminal Justice" constituted a review of the value of UN instruments in the criminal justice field and the extent of their implementation among Member States.

In addition to the Milan Plan of Action, five other major international instruments setting norms and standards were approved by consensus:

· Guiding Principles for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in the Context of Development;
· United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice;
· Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power;
· Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary;
· Model Agreement on the Transfer of

Foreign Prisoners and Recommendations on the Treatment of Foreign Prisoners.

The Eighth Congress 1990

The United Nations Crime Congress returned to Latin America in 1990. The Eighth Congress was convened in the Palacio de Convenciones in Havana, Cuba, under the theme of "International Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in the Twenty-First Century".

The Eighth Congress maintained the UN's traditional portfolio of concerns while dealing with contemporary developments. Among the latter were a growing alertness to the theft of archaeological treasures, the dumping of hazardous wastes in ocean waters, the flourishing international trade in illicit drugs and the lethal connection between drug abuse and AIDS and the appearance of both among prison populations.

Offering encouragement for the future were the lessening of tensions between the Eastern and Western blocs of nations, increased awareness of the value of international cooperation in the law enforcement field, and presentations and exchanges of experience regarding new techniques such as computer networks and provisions for seizing the financial proceeds of organized crime and examining bank records.

Despite the growing body of information and experience relating criminal justice planning with socio-economic development, it was recognized that the international debt crisis, steep declines in primary commodity prices and general outflow of capital from the many of the developing countries pose a threat to progress in this area.

Reflecting these hopes and concerns, the Eighth Congress produced more international instruments than all the preceding Congresses put together. Five model treaties recommended to and later approved by the General Assembly covered bilateral agreements on extradition, mutual assistance in criminal investigations and other matters, transfer of proceedings in criminal prosecutions, transfer of supervision of offenders and prevention of crimes infringing on the cultural heritage of peoples. Six major documents were adopted setting guidelines on criminal justice system standards, ranging from non-custodial measures to the prevention of juvenile delinquency.

Resolutions drawn up in Havana dealt with, inter alia, the computerization of criminal justice operations, the problem of domestic violence, the instrumental use of children in criminal activities, the role of criminal law in protecting nature and the environment, computer-related crime, corruption in government and measures to prevent infection of prisoners with HIV/AIDS.

In a resolution detailing measures against international terrorism, the Congress urged States to consider favourably national and international action against terrorism. An annex to the resolution lists a number of areas of particular concern. Among these are State policies and practices that may be considered a violation of international treaty obligations; the absence of specific norms on State responsibility for carrying out international obligations; abuse of diplomatic immunity; lack of international regulation of the trade in arms; and the inadequacy of international mechanisms for peaceful resolution of conflicts and enforcement of human rights. The annex calls for greater uniformity in laws concerning territorial and extraterritorial jurisdiction and bilateral and multilateral cooperation between police, prosecutors and the judiciaries of Member States. It also recommends looking into the possibility of an international criminal court or some other international mechanism with jurisdiction over offences including those connected with terrorism and illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances.

Another task of the Congress was to review the UN's criminal justice programme. On the recommendation of the Eighth Congress, the General Assembly subsequently adopted a resolution convening a Ministerial Meeting on the Creation of an Effective United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme, which in turn led to the establishment in 1992 of the UN Commission of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (see Chapter III).

The Ninth Congress 1995

New measures for combating international crime syndicates, terrorism, ecological crimes, violence inflicted on women, illegal traffic in aliens and corruption of public officials were recommended by the Congress held in Cairo, Egypt.

"Crime in its various dimensions and forms is a problem requiring coordinated international action, with close cooperation among States", Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said in a message delivered to the Congress, held in his native country.

Emphasizing that the UN regards crime as a crucial development issue, the Secretary-General said that "economies in crisis, or in a delicate period of transition, need help from the international community to combat the dangers posed by crime".

The first UN Crime Congress on the African continent and the first to take place in the Arab world was attended by 1,732 participants from 138 countries and 15 intergovernmental and 48 non-governmental organizations, as well as 22 United Nations agencies and programmes. Among the 1,290 governmental representatives were 33 Ministers of Justice and 6 Ministers of the Interior, along with heads of police agencies, public prosecutors, high-ranking judges and heads of prison systems.

Endorsement by the Congress of a wide array of measures to combat transnational crime reflected the growth of consensus among Governments and experts that international cooperation is needed if the rapid spread of criminal syndicates is to be stemmed.

An early focus of the Congress was on a draft resolution calling attention to links between terrorism and organized crime and calling for concerted international action to combat both. Several delegations and experts pointed out that condemning both kinds of organizations should not be taken to mean that terrorist organizations are simply an adjunct to crime syndicates. Such an identification might lead to injustices against organizations or popular causes incorrectly labelled as "terrorist". The final resolution adopted by the Congress condemned terrorist acts and recommended to the Commission that it examine further links between these acts and organized transnational crime.

In another action, the Congress asked that the views of States be solicited on the possible elaboration of new international instruments - such as a convention - against organized transnational crime. Such a treaty, the resolution suggested, might cover arrangements for international cooperation at the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial levels and for prevention and control of money laundering. A similar measure was adopted at the World Ministerial Conference on Transnational Crime, held in Naples, Italy in 1994 (see Chapter I).

An omnibus resolution asked States to facilitate transnational criminal investigations through extradition, provision of relevant records, exchange of evidence, and cooperation in locating persons, serving subpoenas and carrying out inspections and seizures. It also called for stricter laws on registration of imported motor vehicles, as a means to combat the large-scale trafficking in stolen cars.

In response to widespread concern about the involvement of organized crime in smuggling and selling weapons, a resolution was adopted calling for urgent measures to restrict international traffic in firearms and urging States to regulate more closely domestic availability.

A strongly worded resolution urged States to adopt laws against acts of violence that may victimize women and sanctions against rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse and all practices harmful to females, including the traditional practice in some societies of genital mutilation. Legal measures prohibiting harassment, intimidation or threats against women or their families, and laws regulating the acquisition and storage of firearms in the home are also recommended by the same resolution of the Congress. States are asked to take special account of women's vulnerability to violence - including murder, torture, systematic rape and sexual slavery - in situations of armed conflict.

Plenary discussions and a wide variety of workshops presenting groundbreaking research projects led to wide-ranging debate and discussion, including the following:

· An unprecedented debate on corruption of public officials was introduced by an international panel of five experts. They noted the increasing interaction between cases of official corruption and transnational crime organizations. It was stated that corruption affects all countries, although it is often rooted in entrepreneurial opportunism of businesses in the industrialized countries. Many of the recommendations made during the debate involving Congress participants as well as the panelists were later taken by the Commission, which at its fourth session recommended to ECOSOC the adoption of a resolution on the subject (ECOSOC 1995.14, of 24 July 1995).

· A Congress workshop discussed both the benefits and the potential problems of using criminal justice systems to protect the environment. Forms of ecological crime mentioned included the illegal disposal and trafficking of hazardous wastes, smuggling or theft of cultural treasures, and newer forms such as the illicit release of genetically engineered organisms into natural environments. Proposals ranged from elaborating a detailed list of environmental crimes and establishing special police and prosecution units to an international convention on the protection of the environment. Establishment of a world environmental protection agency under UN auspices was also suggested.

· Another innovative workshop investigated the role of the mass media in crime prevention. Dramatic testimony by journalists from Russia, Kenya, India, the Philippines and the United States underscored the importance of the media's watchdog function and its potential in preventing crime. Participants recommended that the United Nations reassert the "enormous importance of a free press as part of the democratic process" and commit resources for countering the negative effects of the mass media on young people; call upon Governments to create an education campaign to ensure that crimes against the environment are recognized in the media as criminal and moral offences; and encourage, through the media, the development of ways to eradicate violence against women, enhancing respect for their dignity and discouraging negative stereotyping.

· An urban policy workshop analysed successful prevention policies, including grass-roots participation in criminal justice systems, appropriate design of housing complexes and public spaces, consultations among government agencies and between the public and the private sectors, and the strengthening of social safety nets. While highlighting workable solutions to crime, participants cautioned against ignoring the growing feeling of urban insecurity. Unveiled at the workshop was a global "victimization survey" conducted by the Rome-based UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (see Chapter VI).

In addition to workshops, a variety of ancillary meetings were organized by NGOs. One of them, conducted by the International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the UN crime prevention and criminal justice programme, produced a comprehensive investigation of the relation between crime and migration. Speakers detailed the involvement of transnational crime syndicates in trafficking in illegal aliens and identified factors that tend to make legal and illegal migrants both victims and perpetrators of crime. A report written for the Congress advocated reducing motivations for emigration, concluding that "the problem of migration cannot be solved satisfactorily at the border ... [it] has to be solved at the frontiers of a cleaner environment, more economic development and good government".