Organized Crime Raking in $31.5 Billion Annual Profits in Global Conflict Areas

United Nations police, from India, prepare for the opening ceremony of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) in Port-au-Prince on Oct. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Transnational organized crime is racking up profits of about $31.5 billion per year in conflict areas alone, the UN Security Council heard from an international monitor, and has overtaken other ways nefarious groups make money such as kidnapping for ransom or drug trafficking.


“Organized crime is a global and accelerating phenomenon, and a threat to international peace and security,” Tuesday Reitano, deputy director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, told a Security Council briefing on UN peacekeeping operations Tuesday.

Along with INTERPOL and RHIPTO, the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, the group analyzed more than a thousand major smuggling routes that “represent a confluence of global illicit trade.”

“Not only do they map across contemporary conflicts in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, but there is often a link between these illicit trafficking routes and international terrorism,” she said. “…All evidence suggests that the scale of illicit markets is staggering. And their intersection with contemporary conflict is incontrovertible.”

“The sources of revenue that fund non-state armed and terrorist groups are diversifying; they are increasingly based on criminal activities, and this phenomenon is sustaining conflicts worldwide. Illegal exploitation and taxation of gold, oil and other natural resources are sources of income that are overtaking traditional threat finance sectors, such as kidnapping for ransom and drug trafficking.”


Reitano said that the lion’s share of the $31.5 billion “goes to political actors at all levels, and associated transnational criminal networks” instead of non-state armed groups at the heart of conflicts, highlighting “the main beneficiaries from instability, violence and lack of state capacity for enforcement… who thus retain an interest in the perpetuation of conflict.”

Organized crime activity includes control of ports and landing strips, as well as taxing licit and illicit activity; references to this activity have showed up in 35 percent of UN Security Council resolutions from 2000 to 2017.

“Yet, we see a disconnect between a strong awareness of the problem on the one hand, and a more limited operational response on the other,” Reitano said. Policing “has been insufficiently integrated with the political, and other functions of the peacekeeping missions” and is also hampered by “significant under-resourcing.”

“Currently, there is no systematic linkage between peacekeeping missions and the specialized agency for organized crime (UNODC), or for others with expertise in specific forms of organized criminality,” she said. “…A poorly framed response to illicit markets can have highly detrimental impacts on human rights, the legitimacy of some local actors, the protection of civilians, and the size and strength of criminal groups themselves.”


“Tackling organized crime in conflict zones is an integral part of tackling organized crime at the global level – the two are closely connected.”

The briefing came during UN Police Week, which brought leaders of police components of UN peacekeeping missions to New York to discuss strategic priorities and reform initiatives.

Reitano said the UN “needs a more coherent, streamlined and strategic approach to addressing organized crime, and bringing its tools to bear to counter its impacts.”

“Counter-crime initiatives need to be linked to and reinforced by interventions in the recovery and development space,” she said. “These are required to address the socio-economic underpinnings of the illicit economy.”


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