Transnational organized crime is not a new problem, but it has been accentuated by the tremendous impact of globalization. Today, it is worth around US$870 billion to the criminal networks that stretch across regions and oceans. Our conception of the criminals also needs to be updated. Today’s criminals are likely to be businessmen who make full use of new technology and who have ready access to the very best law and finance professionals. In short, in the early part of the 21st century, criminals have become smart, sophisticated, and highly adaptive.

During the same period, crime prevention and criminal justice have also made significant strides. We now have a much better understanding of crime’s impact on society. Perhaps crucially, we recognize how crime makes deep inroads into peace and security. Corruption, for instance, was once viewed as the acceptable price of doing business. Today, this crime is the grease that enables a vast range of activities that all impact on social and economic growth. By siphoning off public funds, corruption denies life-saving healthcare to those in need, as well as life-enhancing educational opportunities.

All crime causes misery and suffering but there are three issues that are currently high on the international agenda, and which need the urgent attention of the international community.

The first is the smuggling of migrants. Unprecedented movements of people across the globe are occurring at the highest rates since the Second World War. People are leaving because of conflict, insecurity, and the desire for a better life. Unfortunately, they are falling into the arms of unscrupulous smugglers and many of them are dying while trying to make the perilous journey across deserts and seas. Many of those smuggled also face cruel exploitation during transportation or on arrival.

The second threat is wildlife and forest crime. There is a terrible human cost in terms of corruption, insecurity, and poverty. The loss of animals is destroying badly needed tourism. Trafficking in natural resources is removing badly needed income from struggling countries. Trafficking in timber, for instance, is worth around US$3.5 billion in illicit trade between South East Asia and the European Union and other parts of Asia. It is estimated that forest crime represents up to 30 per cent of the overall global timber trade. The unregulated charcoal trade involves an annual loss of at least US$1.9 billion to African countries.

Third, there is a need to come to grips with maritime crime. Many of the trafficking routes cross seas and oceans. There are also growing connections between criminal networks and terrorist organizations. The illicit movement of charcoal, for instance, is the main source of income for the terrorist organization Al Shabaab. If we are to successfully confront the nexus between organized crime and terrorism, additional work needs to be done in building a successful maritime response.

Elsewhere, there are other connected issues that must also be confronted. Firearms smuggling brings in up to US$320 million annually for the criminals involved and is closely associated with high murder rates. There were 468,000 homicides worldwide in 2010: that’s 1,282 people every single day. This has an alarming economic impact on the lives of children, and family members who have lost a loved one.

Criminals are driven by limitless greed and profit. Money laundering enables criminals to profit from their crimes, while also undermining economic development in fragile countries. UNODC has estimated that around US$1.6 trillion dollars is laundered every year through the world’s financial institutions. Bad money cannot be washed clean. The funneling of criminal proceeds into commercial ventures can send legitimate competitors to the wall.

In confronting these issues, there have been some successes. The One UN approach has removed the old approach of working within distinct silos. UNODC is now focused on countering crime through an integrated and comprehensive regional approach that leverages our numerous country and regional programs. This also means building cooperation among nations and inter-governmental organizations at the highest political levels, using research to appreciate the scale of the problem, agreeing on suitable solutions, and delivering at the grassroots level.

When confronting crime we also need to meet the unique needs of women and children, irrespective of whether they enter into contact with the criminal justice system as offenders, victims, or witnesses. It is critical for Members States to develop crime prevention and criminal justice strategies that ensure the inclusion of a gender and children-oriented perspective, particularly as regards their treatment and social reintegration and the prevention of recidivism.

People living in low-income countries suffer the greatest threats to their security and well-being, according to the Secretary-General’s 2015 synthesis report on the state of crime and criminal justice worldwide. To counter this, UNODC promotes civic participation in justice reform and monitoring justice’s efficiency. Community involvement is an essential component in crime prevention that brings together the police, schools, health and social services, and the private sector. Partnerships with NGOs are also crucial.  Some of the challenges we face include cybercrime, sexual exploitation of children on the Internet, environmental crime, and trafficking in cultural property. The criminals are continually evolving and new technological developments will continue to drive criminal innovation.

To understand crime, UNODC focuses on assessing these issues. We now have an international classification of crime for statistical purposes. This means that countries will gradually use the same concepts and definitions to produce statistics on crime. At present, countries are often comparing apples with oranges in the area of criminal offences. Clearly, more needs to be done, especially to support countries’ capacities to produce and disseminate data. We believe, overall, that what cannot be measured cannot be improved upon.

Community policing can yield positive responses from the public and also lead to lowered crime rates. Local bodies where citizens collaborate with the police can foster public participation to enhance crime prevention and criminal justice. An example of this is UNODC’s successful counter-piracy program. UNODC has built prisons, raised awareness, and coordinated action against the pirates off the coast of Somalia. We have also taken this program and broadened it into an ongoing Maritime Crime program that supports our global anti-trafficking activities.

Given the transnational character of many crimes, international cooperation is not only important, it is the only possible response to the global web of domestic and transnational organized crime that, when added together, is worth US$2.1 trillion dollars.

The UN international drug control conventions, as well as the Convention against Corruption; the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, and its three protocols on human trafficking, smuggling of migrants and firearms; and 19 international terrorism instruments can help to improve both cooperation and domestic laws. Only 5 percent of countries, for example, have failed to specifically criminalize human trafficking. The conventions are also creating increased mutual legal assistance, joint operations, and information sharing.

When considering how this cooperation works, the notion of a shared responsibility for transnational organized crime is well understood by countries; but it can still be improved upon. Greater sharing of information and the coordination of joint operations by law enforcement agencies is needed across the world. Ratifying and fully implementing the drug, crime, and corruption conventions, as well as the international terrorism instruments can help.

Cooperation is essential in stopping the huge amounts of opium moving from Afghanistan to Western Europe via the so-called Balkans route, or from being trafficked down to Australia and the Pacific using the Southern route. Elsewhere, cooperation and coordination are vital regarding the smuggling of migrants from North Africa, across the Mediterranean, to Southern Europe, or to confront wildlife crime that sees animal parts trafficked from Africa to Asia. Cooperation must also happen vertically. This means ensuring that strong relationships are built among countries and intergovernmental organizations.

Under UNODC’s Triangular Initiative, between Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, a joint planning cell has been created for joint operations against the opium traffickers. In Central America and West Africa, UNODC has also developed networks of prosecutors. To assist, UNODC has launched a “Networking the networks” initiative, aimed at leveraging information exchanges between regional and international criminal intelligence centers.

Between April 12th and 19th 2015, the UN will hold its 13th Crime Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Its main focus will be preventing crime in order to build sustainable development. The Doha discussion will provide a firm point of departure on how countries can successfully confront crime while also protecting and safeguarding sustainable development.

Criminal justice reform must also take center stage. Economic growth can only be furthered if the delivery of essential health services, education, and infrastructure are ring-fenced. Reform of the police, the judiciary, prosecuting authorities, and prisons are all part of the necessary work of enhancing the development of people, communities, and nations.

The public plays a key role. Any modern crime prevention activities provide a greater role for community engagement. UNODC has launched advocacy campaigns that alert the public to the dangers of supporting criminal enterprises, while helping to prevent them from “buying into organized crime.” In 2012, for example, UNODC launched a public service announcement on transnational organized crime titled, “Let’s put them out of business”.  It has been viewed more than 100,000 times in all language versions on YouTube and aired more than 5,000 times by international media.

Crime is the global thief of development and human opportunity. It steals from families and communities alike and hampers development in vulnerable countries seeking to make the transition from conflict to peace. The relationship is also not linear. Rather, it is a circle that must account for the impact that a lack of development also has on criminal activities. Piracy off the coast of West Africa is one such example of this relationship. Many of those involved were unemployed Somali men, often driven to crime out of economic necessity.

If we are to succeed in moving forward with the post-2015 development agenda, we need to understand the terrible impact that crime, especially transnational organized crime, has on countries and people. Only then can we take the corrective action needed to promote the rule of law and build the fair criminal justice systems that protect development and safeguard people’s human rights.