UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa was the first person to speak at this morning’s session of the high-level segment, in front of a somewhat depleted audience compared to previous days (it’s been a long, intense week, plus it’s sunny outside). After apologizing for the delay with which he arrived at the Congress and some standard truisms about crime being a threat to security, Costa zeroed-in on the specific responsibilities of Governments represented at the Congress, as well as the role of society in general.
He rightly pointed out that, “with much of humanity expecting better, quicker and more honest justice”, States must do more than “endlessly draft declarations”. Costa mentioned the issues that were on the agenda of the Congress during the previous week, and spoke about ways in which crime undermines development, making it that much more difficult to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. In his words, “there can be no development without justice, and vice-versa”.
He drew attention to the following:
• Human rights, which must be placed “at the heart of the criminal justice system”
• The need to review and update systematically all criminal justice standards and norms
• The mechanism for reviewing implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which he hopes the Congress will call for to be “put in place speedily, effectively and universally”
• His hope that a similar review mechanism will be adopted later this year to review implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
• New forms of crime (such as those committed in cyberspace, those against the environment and counterfeiting) and re-emerging crimes (such as piracy and trafficking in cultural property)
Finally, Costa recalled “the important role society at large must play in promoting justice”, and strongly criticized journalists “oblivious of colleagues killed because of their investigative reporting”, bankers who “rush to invest [the] bloody proceeds” of major criminals, “popular TV series [that] celebrate mafias” and models who snort cocaine sometimes trafficked across borders in the intestines of young women (“mules”).
He stressed that we must “launch massive efforts to engage common people and make society at large willing to promote the culture of justice” and said: “I salute the vibrant participation of civil society at this Congress”.
The high-level segment that is scheduled to run from today until Monday has just gotten under way. For days, there have been rumours and counter-rumours flying around, with everyone trying to find out whether Brazilian President Lula would show up, but today we found out for certain that he wouldn’t. Not even UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, who was expected to be in Salvador by now, has managed to get here.
John Sandage, Executive Secretary of the Congress, said Mr. Costa had not arrived “due to missed flight connections,” but that he will be here in time for the dinner with the Brazilian authorities.
The high-level segment consists of official statements made by ministers and other high-level delegates on behalf of their Governments about the outcomes of the Congress. According to agreed rules, each statement should last no more than seven minutes. About 17 speakers are scheduled to speak today and it should be possible to follow the proceedings by webcast.
The health-care situation in many of the world’s prisons is desperate and the truth is that although “there have been standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners for over 50 years, most countries cannot achieve them. They should just try to ensure that no harm is done” to people while in prison, says John May, MD, President of Health through Walls (in blue in the photo). “For example, prisoners should not contract HIV in prison and they should not develop problems due to malnourishment”.
Health through Walls is an organization based in Florida, United States, that helps medical professionals in developing countries to improve the health-care services provided in prisons. One of the countries it works in is Haiti, where it has been present since well before this year’s earthquake and where the focus is on preventing HIV transmission and increasing access to antiretroviral treatment.
Even today, Health through Walls continues to build on the successes gained before 12 January. John, who has been to Haiti four times since the earthquake, explains that “part of the prison building is still standing and all of the 600 prisoners who are still there have medical records. We are screening them for HIV and several are receiving antiretroviral treatment”.
John is also here on behalf of the International Corrections and Prisons Association, to share information with Congress participants about the benefits of telemedicine, which he describes as “the ability to transmit medical information and carry out consultations over the Internet so that doctors and patients can communicate without having to be in the same place”.
This has obvious advantages for resource-poor countries and for the corrections environment, since it avoids having to transport prisoners and it makes specialty care options available to people who typically wouldn’t have such access. It is affordable and the technology required is relatively simple. Telemedicine makes it possible “to listen to patients with a stethoscope, to examine their eyes and ears, and now we are about to start a TB screening programme using digital x-ray pictures”, John says.
In addition, John identifies the following as among the most important contributions he and his colleagues are making:
- Giving moral support to lone medical staff in correctional facilities, since “working in prisons can be very isolating”
- Identifying people with HIV/AIDS and providing antiretroviral therapy
- Involving prisoners, for example by training them to be peer educators
Here attached is the final version of the Joint Statement of NGOs to the high-level segment at the Twelfth Crime Congress. The final text was agreed at an open meeting for NGOs held yesterday evening.
Organizations that would like to be associated with the statement and are represented by someone who has the authority to sign on behalf of that organization should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In order to avoid confusion, the draft text that was uploaded yesterday has been removed.
Yesterday I got my hands on a copy of the provisional list of participants. It supposedly includes the names of all participants in the Congress and is 86 pages long. That said, the following disclaimer has been printed on every page:
“Due to the unexpected high number of delegates, technical problems with the servers and the electronic system at the convention centre this document is likely to contain a number of errors and double entries”.
According to the information contained in the document, 103 States have sent representatives to Salvador. The size of the delegations varies considerably: the Brazilian delegation alone takes up 38 of those pages (pages 4 to 42), while some countries (for example, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Somalia, Tunisia, Uruguay) have sent only one person.
Over four days, UNODC and Microsoft are holding a series of presentations and practical sessions on cybercrime, some exclusively for law enforcement officers and others, like the “Basics of Internet investigations: how the Internet really works”, open to all Congress participants.
T.J. Campana (in the picture above), Senior Programme Manager in the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, explains that it’s important for law enforcement officials to know how the Internet works because cybercrime “is a cat-and-mouse game. As we learn new techniques, the bad guys adapt so it’s really a constant, an ebb and flow”. Essentially, however, both sides are using the same technological infrastructure, which is why “allowing law enforcement to see some of the intricacies of how the Internet works” is important.
From the law enforcement perspective, Andrew Donoghoe, a detective superintendent for the Australian Federal Police currently being seconded to Microsoft for six months, says that “the good thing about technology is it enables law enforcement to be adaptive, responsive; we are technically able to use […] tools provided by companies such as Microsoft and others around the world to be advanced in our investigation techniques”.
The relationship with UNODC has been developed mainly through Gillian Murray, the UNODC focal point on cybercrime, who says that “Microsoft and UNODC have been collaborating over the past year on several initiatives, including on the use of information and communication technologies for terrorist purposes and online fraud”.
Gillian stresses that when it comes to fighting crime committed online, “there has to be a partnership between the public and the private sectors. It’s the only way it can work”.
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UN Radio has done a 14-minute programme based on interviews with cybercrime experts at the Congress, which you can access here.
A statement prepared through an open, consultative process will be made at the high-level segment scheduled to start tomorrow afternoon, as a way of putting forward the concerns of the NGOs represented at the Congress. In the statement, the following areas are addressed: victims, juveniles, responding to crime, transnational organized crime, and research and evaluation.
I’ve just been told that Lynette Parker, Programme Manager at the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation in Washington, D.C., has been writing on restorative justice-related happenings at the Congress. You can read her articles at the following links:
To read what Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on Torture, said at a panel on the “nexus of pretrial detention and corruption, torture, public health, and socioeconomic development”, read here. It was posted yesterday by Denise Tomasini-Joshi, Associate Legal Officer of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and the recruitment of child soldiers are just some of the issues that Elizabeth Howe, a chief prosecutor from the United Kingdom, tackled today in a session on “International criminal justice from the prosecutors’ perspective”. Elizabeth has come to the Congress representing the International Association of Prosecutors, a global network of prosecution authorities whose aim, she explains, “is to strengthen cooperation against all kinds of cross-jurisdictional crime”.
“It’s my first time at a crime congress. We’re mainly here to raise awareness about the fact that after the planned decommissioning of the ad-hoc criminal courts that were established to deal, for example, with what happened in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, domestic jurisdictions will have to continue that work.” And those authorities will need to have access to the knowledge and experience gained by international entities.
Practical information was provided to those who attended the session. For example, Morten Bergsmo, Senior Researcher at the University of Oslo and Coordinator of the ICC Legal Tools Project, spoke about knowledge transfer and capacity-building, and introduced the “ICC case matrix network”, which, Elizabeth says, “is a highly developed training and case management tool”. Joseph Rikhoff of the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Section in Canada and Lyall Sanga of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law of Sweden also spoke at the session.
Elizabeth adds that “we are also here to push the UN a bit”.
As for her impressions of the Congress, Elizabeth says “there have clearly been some organizational issues, and the weather has been atrocious—we didn’t anticipate we’d need umbrellas inside the building as well as outside!”
At yesterday evening’s launch of the Portuguese version of the book entitled, in its original Spanish, Cárcel y justicia penal en América Latina y el Caribe: como implementar el modelo de derechos y obligaciones de las Naciones Unidas, the editor of the book, Elías Carranza, spoke candidly and with conviction about “the horrendous situation of our prisons, especially in low- and middle-income countries” and about “the serious situation of crime due to the great inequality that exists between and within countries”.
Carranza ended his short presentation by reminding all of us that “what the world needs, and what low- and middle-income countries in particular need, is not more criminal justice but a criminal justice that is efficient, transparent, human and benign. Above all, what we need is a lot of social justice.”
On behalf of UNODC, John Sandage, Executive Secretary of the Congress, welcomed the report, which he described as “an inspiration for our own work”.
Carranza is Director of the Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (ILANUD), located in Costa Rica. The book was produced with the cooperation of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.
The programme of events is great, the participants full of energy, but working at the Congress hasn’t been completely without challenges. I guess no conference of this magnitude can be expected to run without any hitches, and it makes for interesting times.
I’ve arrived at the office one morning to find the ancillary meeting offices completely in the dark; we walked around with a torch trying all the switches, to no avail. This morning, the lights worked but not the computers. At some point the computers in the “cyber corner”, which is open to all Congress participants, were not working. About 40 minutes ago, a presenter who had checked that her room was fully equipped yesterday evening came in a panic saying that her projector had disappeared, 20 minutes before she was due to present.
Thankfully, there is a large team of technicians and assistants floating around willing to help. Some are in charge of the air conditioning, others of the printers, others still of the cleaning. And they all respond. None of the hiccups have resulted in missed presentations and all have been solved within the hour. We are learning to relax, almost secure that everything will be just fine by the time we really need them to be.
Every time I meet someone here and they start telling me why they’re at the Congress, I get the impression that what I see happening as I go about my business is just the very tip of the iceberg. Let people say what they will about other forums, this United Nations conference seems to be a golden opportunity for participants of all kinds to mingle, talk shop and forge strategic relationships.
And hooking up with people is precisely why Andrea Figari, Global Programmes Manager of Transparency International, has come to Salvador. Andrea is at the Congress representing the UNCAC Coalition, of which Transparency is the Secretariat. In the leaflet she left me, it says that “the Coalition is a global network of more than 200 civil society organizations in over 100 countries, committed to promoting the ratification, implementation and monitoring of the UN Convention against Corruption”.
“This is the first time that Transparency has come to a UN crime congress. We’re here to build bridges between the crime and corruption communities,” she says, explaining that “there are many links, for example, between corruption and money-laundering, asset recovery and trafficking. Transnational organized crime wouldn’t exist without corruption”.
Tomorrow (14 April), the results of some alliance-building efforts will be presented at 10 a.m. in the Juriti room in the form of two joint statements: one between the UNCAC Coalition and the Alliance of NGOs on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and one entitled “Coalition call for G20 action on illicit financial flows”.
In addition, Andrea invites all participants to a meeting at 3 p.m. in the Kanela room, also tomorrow, to learn more about the work of the UNCAC Coalition and about ways in which they can contribute, as representatives of civil society, in the process for reviewing the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
This morning the UNODC secretariat agreed to distribute to delegates at the Congress a recommendation, prepared by the World Society of Victimology (WSV), in support of victims’ rights. The document will be made available to Member States as an “NGO paper”.
Michael O’Connell, Vice-President of WSV, says: “it’s the 25th anniversary of the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power and the 55th anniversary of the United Nations crime congresses. The World Society of Victimology thinks it is time for UNODC to consider how the rights of all victims might be strengthened further.”
Sherman G. McGill, Vice-President of Raptor Detection, Inc., is one of the few representatives from the private sector organizing an ancillary meeting, testament to the fact that this Congress is also an excellent opportunity for information to be exchanged between the commercial and public sectors.
On Wednesday, 14 April at 12 noon, Sherman will be presenting SAFE-T®, which he describes as “a simple, affordable and highly effective technology for detecting explosives”. The acronym “SAFE-T” stands for Substance-Activated Fast Evaluation Technology. Sherman says that it can also be used “to detect a wide range of substances, including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear substances, and narcotics”.
SAFE-T® is a clear liquid that becomes coloured when it comes into contact with certain substances, making it an easy to swipe someone’s hand, luggage or a parcel to verify whether a person or object has come into contact with something they shouldn’t have.
“This is not only useful for law enforcement, it could also be used by courier services, airport security staff and many others”. In conclusion, he summarizes in a Tennessee drawl: “it’s neat stuff”.
Finally! Blue skies! It’s been overcast, intermittently rainy and very humid for days, so it was a relief to wake up this morning to the sun trying to come through. That said, judging by the rain falling over the ocean, water here is never far away (the photo shows a view from the conference centre).
Today’s a big day. Member States will be tackling four important items on their agenda: youth and crime, the United Nations guidelines on crime prevention, technical assistance for implementing the international instruments against terrorism, and cybercrime.
On top of all that, about 18 ancillary meetings are scheduled on issues ranging from the death penalty, child porngraphy, the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) initiative, and the need for a cybercrime treaty. Also on the issue of cybercrime, a “UNODC cybercrime investigations lab” has been organized to run from today until Friday.
Some 90 participants from NGOs, research institutions and academic entities, as well as volunteer report writers and interpreters, met this afternoon for a first get-together. It was an opportunity for everyone to get information from Mirella Dummar-Frahi of UNODC on how to best get their voice heard by Member States in the Plenary. Mirella also suggested that NGOs identify one organization, ideally one that has been accredited by the Economic and Social Council, to give a message at the high-level segment that will start on the afternoon of Saturday, 17 April.
Other practical advice was given by Gary Hill, who has been facilitating the ancillary meetings, on how the schedule of meetings would be run and on the kind of assistance he could provide (room allocation, presentation equipment, interpretation services etc.).
During the question-and-answer session and after the meeting, people exchanged information on their respective presentations and the work of their organizations. For many people, this is their first time at a United Nations congress. Others, however, have been attending Congresses and sessions of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice for years. For them, in the words of one participant, these events are “like reuniting with a big family. I end up doing a lot of hugging”.
NGO coordination meetings will be held daily at 9 a.m. in the Cocal room (third floor of the congress centre).
Even before the Member States sat down to discuss the items on the official agenda of the Congress, a group of young volunteers started arriving at the ancillary meeting office.
While a real army of volunteers has been recruited by the local authorities to ensure that this international meeting goes smoothly, the ones who showed up on our doorstep this morning are going to work exclusively on the events organized by civil society.
As either interpreters or drafters of reports, they will help ensure that the lessons learned, best practices and research findings of experts and activists are recorded and then shared with criminal justice practitioners and policymakers.
While most of the volunteers come from Brazil (Salvador, but also São Paulo), a group of about eight travelled from Argentina to provide interpretation services. Among them are students of law and young people working for NGOs that reach out to disadvantaged groups.
At 10 a.m. on 14 April a documentary called “Prostituida” will be shown at 10 a.m., in Cocal room, as part of the programme of ancillary meetings. The documentary, which is 50 minutes long, was produced and directed by Frida Spiwak, a Colombian clinical psychologist who has been working on the issue of human trafficking for 15 years.
This afternoon Frida walked into the ancillary meetings office in a bright lime-green skirt, a gold handbag hanging on her arm and a pile of posters about the documentary. A couple of hours later, we got talking and she told me that her interest in human trafficking developed out of her work on trauma and from talking to women who were in therapy with her. “Many of the women had suffered from abuse of power, domestic violence and sexual abuse”, she explained.
“Then, between 1996 and 1998, I worked in Colombia in a government programme on people who had been kidnapped or who had disappeared”. It was during that time that she realized that a significant number of young women had disappeared from a relatively poor area of Bogotá; although she and her colleagues worked with law enforcement officers to find these women, they were never found. Frida stresses that everywhere in the world, “it is the poor and vulnerable” who are at risk. Those with more means are more protected.
In her view, the problem lies in the fact that many of the activities in which trafficked women are involved are, in fact, legal or socially accepted in much of the world: “Brothels, exotic dancing venues, Internet pornography: they are all legal. Also, for example, in Colombia and many other countries, the legal age of consent is 14, which makes it very difficult for minors who have been sold into prostitution to get recourse: they cannot go to a judge by themselves, they cannot leave the country…”
Among the solutions Frida proposes are to make brothels etc. illegal and to increase the age of consent to 18. In addition, governments should not focus only international trafficking, but also on domestic trafficking. Efforts should be made to raise public awareness so that it becomes unacceptable for women to be exploited sexually. Frida sees human trafficking as nothing short of a “human-made disaster”.
At 11 this morning, after an hour-long “handing over” ceremony, the premises of the Congress were officially handed over by the Brazilian authorities to the United Nations. For the duration of the Congress, the centre will be international territory and Brazilian law no longer has jurisdiction over anything that happens on any of these four floors.
The Brazilian flag was removed and the United Nations flag placed in its stead.
United Nations staff, individual experts, journalists and Government representatives came to listen to the Minister of Justice of Brazil, the representative of the State of Bahia and John Sandage, who, as the highest-ranking UNODC officer present at the Congress, is representing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.