Increasing Pacific Connectivity Raises Transnational Crime Threat
By Jeremy Douglas, UN Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific
Travel and tourism are booming in the Pacific. At any one time, dozens of passenger flights and cruise ships are visiting Pacific island countries and territories, bringing tourists and investors. The boom is emblematic of the region’s increasing global connectivity.
Better transport and communication links bring undoubted economic benefits, but they also expose vulnerabilities that crime groups are keen to exploit. As is often said, transnational crime is the dark side of globalisation.
The seizure last month of more than 95kg of cocaine, worth around $31 million, from a cruise ship docked in Sydney Harbour, shows how organised crime can exploit tourism links. The ship began its voyage in Britain, travelled through North and South America and the Pacific before arriving in Sydney. Police have charged three Canadian nationals with importing the drug as part of a highly organised criminal syndicate.
Pacific island countries and territories are already stretched dealing with a range of challenges, including urbanisation, limited infrastructure, climate change and natural disasters. The addition of rising transnational crime poses a distinct new threat to regional security, development and economic growth.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with the support of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, has published a threat assessment of transnational crime in the Pacific. And the picture is not pretty.
Organised crime is targeting Pacific island countries and territories for their location between major sources and destinations of illicit goods, their porous boundaries and their limited resources. The illicit trafficking of drugs, wildlife, marine and timber products, as well as high-tech crime, are some of the challenges the region is facing.
Of these, environmental crimes such as illegal fishing are among the most serious. Fisheries make a significant contribution to regional economies, so illegal fishing has serious consequences. It deprives communities of sustainable livelihoods, and undermines long-term economic development and food security.
Drug trafficking is equally damaging. The Pacific is becoming more than a transhipment point for drugs flowing into Australia and New Zealand. We are seeing evidence of ‘spillover’ trafficking into local communities, which have limited capacity to respond to the consequent health impacts and growth in crime.
The UNODC’s threat assessment will go some way toward understanding the nature and scale of the threat, and will guide our collective responses.
Having effective criminal laws in place, consistent with the major UN drugs and crime treaties, including the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), is an essential first step.
Filling data and information gaps is a second critical step. We need to know the scale of the problem and the trends before we can identify effective responses. If we can better collect and monitor drug trafficking and use data, for example, we can direct our resources to areas where they will have the most benefit.
Finally, we need to scale-up our assistance to Pacific island countries and territories so they can strengthen their national capacity and regional frameworks to deal with these challenges.
The UN is a key partner for Pacific law enforcement, justice and customs agencies in preventing and investigating organised crime, and for connecting the region to the rest of the world. Last month, together with Australia, we launched the second phase of an eight-year programme to support anti-corruption partnerships in the Pacific.
In the years ahead, UNODC and its international partners will work closely to support the Pacific community to address security and economic challenges.
The threats posed by criminal networks are too great for any one country to face alone and require a regional response.