The work of the UN in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice has two main purposes: to lessen the human and material costs of crime and its impact on socioeconomic development and to formulate international standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice and promote their observance.
By 1990, United Nations statistics showed that worldwide incidence of assaults had risen from around 150 per 100,000 population in 1970 to nearly 400 per 100,000 population in 1990. The incidence of thefts had more than tripled in the same period. In addition, the number of adults held in legal detention worldwide increased from around 1 million in 1975 to 1,100,000 in 1980, a 10% jump. Another UN study showed that developed countries were spending an average of 2 to 3% of their budgets on crime control, while developing countries were devoting an average of 9 to 14% of their precious national resources to crime control. Traffic in illicit drugs was estimated to total US $500 billion a year. The intertwined expansion of transnational organized crime and the traffic in illicit drugs, and their link to international terrorism, provided the most powerful arguments for international cooperation.
Evidence of systems of criminal justice date back to the dawn of human civilization. Clay tablets from 2400 BC listing a code of conduct have been unearthed in Syria. The ancient civilization of Sumeria left an elaborate set of laws dating back to the twenty-first century BC . Standards for imposing penalties on criminals were handled more informally, rarely being codified into law before the advent of the modern era. The earliest form of international cooperation between sovereign nations may have been efforts to control piracy on the high seas. However, it was the nineteenth century that saw the development of widespread concern about the growth of urban crime, and the proliferation of reformatories and penal institutions.
The First International Congress on the Prevention and Repression of Crime was held in London in 1872 to consider the proper administration of prisons, possible alternatives to imprisonment, modes of rehabilitating criminals, treatment of juvenile offenders, extradition treaties, and the "means of repressing criminal capitalists." These subjects continue to challenge the international community at the end of the twentieth century. The London congress established the International Prison Commission with a mandate to collect penitentiary statistics, encourage penal reform, and convene international conferences every five years. The IPC established an affiliation with the League of Nations and, in 1935, was renamed the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission (IPPC). For 75 years, the IPPC did invaluable work in the collection of research materials; however, at the 1935 congress, it became dominated by adherents of the Nazi government in power in Germany. During the war years a substantial part of its funding came from the Axis powers, and it became a publicist for Fascist theories on the biological roots of crime and draconian measures for its control. When the United Nations was established at the close of World War II, it declined to accept affiliation with the IPPC. The UN did, however, decide that the control and prevention of crime would be one of its areas of concern.
On 1 December 1950, by its resolution 415(V), the United Nations dissolved the IPPC and officially assumed its functions. These functions include the convening of international congresses every five years, the formulation of policies, and the development of international programs of action. To discharge these responsibilities, the General Assembly, in 1950, authorized the UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders to be convened every five years.
In its resolution 415(V), the General Assembly also created an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee composed of seven experts to formulate programs for study and action in the field of crime prevention and treatment of offenders. This ad hoc committee eventually became the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control (CCPC), established in 1971 in response to the 1970 crime congress (held in Kyoto, Japan), which broadened considerably the scope of issues relating to criminal justice policy. The CCPC had 27 members who were nominated by their governments and elected by ECOSOC. It was charged with coordinating the efforts of UN bodies and prepared for the international crime congresses. It frequently drafted proposed texts for international standards and guidelines concerning criminal justice policy.
In November 1991, a Ministerial Summit, attended by 114 state ministers, was held in Versailles, France, and called for creation of a new UN crime prevention and criminal justice program. The General Assembly responded by transforming the CCPC into a functional commission of ECOSOC: the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The commission held its first session in April 1992 at Vienna. It is charged with developing, monitoring, and reviewing the UN's program on crime prevention and mobilizing support from member states. It coordinates the activities of the UN's regional and interregional institutes on crime prevention and criminal justice. It also is responsible for preparing for UN crime congresses.
This branch of the UN Secretariat, headquartered in Vienna, is the UN's central repository of technical expertise in matters of crime prevention, criminal justice, criminal law reform, and major criminological concern. It prepares studies and reports for the quinquennnial congresses and for the Center for International Crime Prevention. The branch collects and analyzes statistics and provides technical assistance to member states and regional institutes. It prepares periodic country-by-country surveys of crime trends and criminal justice policies. The branch issues two regular publications: The International Review of Criminal Policy, a journal of applied criminology published annually since 1952, and the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Newsletter , which disseminates information on United Nations activities in the field.
The Office on Drugs and Crime also works closely with various regional centers, a research institute and an international computer information network. The international standards proposed by the UN are meant as springboards to for appropriate national action. Differences in history, culture, economic structures, and governmental institutions dictate against a wholesale adoption of UN guidelines and standards. Regional centers can take into account the differing cultures and traditions of geographically linked countries and can better guide and harmonize national policies.
The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) is based in Rome. It was founded in 1968, in response to concerns voiced by the 1965 Stockholm crime conference, under the name United Nations Social Defence Research Institute. UNICRI is housed in the heart of the old section of Rome, in an edifice built at the order of Pope Innocent X as a model prison for the replacement of dungeons used in the Middle Ages. The Italian government modernized the building's interior and made it available to UNICRI.
UNICRI carries out field research in conjunction with local institutions and experts. The institute is often charged with specific research projects in preparation for international crime congresses. It also holds international seminars and workshops. Its experts execute technical cooperation missions to assist member countries in implementing specific projects. It has a small but highly specialized library on criminology, penology, and related fields of law, sociology, and psychology. It also maintains a collection of United Nations and Council of Europe documents concerning criminal justice affairs. It publishes major research papers and an annual catalog of relevant research from around the world. UNICRI has computerized its World Directory of Criminological Resources, and it has created the software and user manual for a computerized international expert roster. It has taken the lead in developing a UN global information network (see UNCJIN, below).
The African Regional Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFRI) was established in January 1987, in temporary quarters at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is now based in Kampala, Uganda. It organizes training courses and research and brings together criminal justice officials and development planners from all over Africa. It has conducted a feasibility study on the establishment of a regional, computerized information network to link up with the United Nations Criminal Justice Information Network (UNCJIN) (see below). UNAFRI operates under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Africa with financial assistance from the United Nations Development Program.
The Asian and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI) was established in 1961 and is based in Tokyo, Japan. It provides facilities for training courses and sends its staff to countries within the region to conduct classes in cooperation with host governments. UNAFEI publishes a regular newsletter and studies such as Forms and Dimensions of Criminality in Asian Countries, Alternatives to Imprisonment in Asia, and Criminal Justice in Asia—the Quest for an Integrated Approach. Although UNAFEI was initially a joint venture between the United Nations and the government of Japan, financial assistance from the UN was discontinued in 1970. The director of UNAFEI is assigned by the government of Japan in consultation with the UN.
The European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control (HEUNI) was established in 1981 in an agreement between the United Nations and the government of Finland. It is based in Helsinki. Its funds are provided by the government of Finland with assistance from other governments. HEUNI conducts training seminars and holds expert meetings to study regional issues in depth. Its expert meetings are often convened in order to offer a European perspective on draft documents of UN criminal justice policy. HEUNI has been actively involved with plans for a global UN information system on crime and criminal justice. Its publications include: Criminal Justice Systems in Europe, The Role of the Victim of Crime in European Criminal Justice Systems, and Non-Custodial Alternatives in Europe.
The Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Delinquency (ILANUD) was established in 1975 and is based in San José, Costa Rica. ILANUD devises practical strategies taking into account UN recommendations in criminal justice. It organizes regular training courses, workshops, seminars, and conferences for personnel in the criminal justice systems of Latin American governments. In 1987 it established an Agrarian Justice Program that aimed at improving procedures governing agricultural production. ILANUD also implemented a computerized data base in its documentation center. ILANUD was established with financial assistance from the United Nations, but now is supported mainly by the government of Costa Rica.
In 1989, the United Nations Criminal Justice Information Network (UNCJIN) began operating under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Branch. UNCJIN is a computer network accessible by modem and gopher technology on the Internet. The UNCJIN gopher was resident on the computer system of the State University of New York at Albany. UNCJIN is funded in part by the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, the State University of New York at Albany, and the Research Foundation of the State University of New York. UNCJIN's goal is to establish a worldwide network to disseminate and exchange information concerning criminal justice and crime prevention issues. Information available through the UNCJIN is constantly evolving and expanding. UNCJIN data and documents (many in PDF, portable document format) are available on their web site at http://www.uncjin.org/ . In 2000 it included: criminal justice profiles of more than 120 countries; basic constitutional documents of countries; summaries of the latest United States Supreme Court decisions; international criminal justice statistics from the UN World Crime Surveys; United States Bureau of Justice Statistics reports; the entire CIA Factbook; and an annotated list of publication outlets in criminal justice and criminology. One can also search the on-line library catalogs of major criminal justice and law libraries around the world, examine all the major United Nations rules and guidelines on criminal justice, and access to other UN online resources.
UN Congresses on Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders Participants in UN crime congresses include criminologists, penologists, and senior police officers as well as experts in criminal law, human rights, and rehabilitation. Representatives of UN member states and of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations also attend. Eight crime congresses were held between 1955 and 1990. The tenth congress was held in Vienna, Austria, in April 2000.
The first congress , held in Geneva in 1955, was attended by delegates from 51 governments and representatives from the ILO, UNESCO, WHO, the Council of Europe, and the League of Arab States. The topics of the first congress reflected the pressing concerns of Europeans recovering from the turmoil of World War II. Many delegates had experienced brutality and deprivation while incarcerated in their own countries by the occupying Fascist powers. It adopted 95 standard minimum rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which set out what is accepted to be good general principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners and are also intended to guard against mistreatment. An additional rule, adopted in 1977, provides that persons arrested or imprisoned without charge are to be accorded the same protection as persons under arrest or awaiting trial and prisoners under sentence. 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. The prevention of juvenile delinquency was also considered at the congress, since so many children were growing up abandoned or orphaned.
The second congress , held in London in 1960, was attended by representatives of 70 governments and delegates from 60 nongovernmental organizations. In all, there were 1,131 participants. The second congress dealt with a wider range of issues than the first congress. It considered the growing problem of juvenile delinquency, as well as questions of prison labor, parole, and after-care. The addition of new member states to the United Nations required the expansion of the largely European perspective that dominated the first congress. The congress analyzed crime and criminal justice in relation to overall national development. Experts warned that economic improvement alone was not a one-way street leading away from crime. Tumultuous economic growth could lead to a greater prevalence of crime.
The third congress , held in Stockholm in 1965, addressed the ambitious theme of "Prevention of Criminality." 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 programs for young adults. A total of 1,083 participants, representatives of 74 governments and 39 nongovernmental organizations, attended the third congress. The influence of the increasing numbers of developing member nations made itself felt in 1965. The congress asserted that developing nations should not restrict themselves to mechanically copying criminal justice institutions developed in Western countries.
The fourth congress , held in Tokyo in 1970, was the first to take place outside of Europe. Although the number of participants declined slightly, to 1,014, the number of governments represented rose to 85. The fourth congress was convened under the slogan "Crime and Development," reflecting the dramatic increase in the number of developing countries who had become members of the UN during the 1960s. It stressed the need for crime control and prevention measures (referred to as "social defense policies") to be built into development planning. The third congress expanded the theme of community-based prevention, noting the successful utilization of civic involvement in the host nation, Japan. 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 submitted to member states before the opening of the congress.
The fifth congress , held in Geneva in 1975, the number of nations represented increased to 101 and the participation of the specialized agencies was augmented by the presence of Interpol and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The congress's theme was "Crime Prevention and Control: the Challenge of the Last Quarter of the Century." Among the many topics considered were:
The fifth congress was responsible for two documents that rank in importance with the standard minimum rules: the "Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment," which was adopted by the General Assembly by its Resolution 3452(XXX); and the "Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials," which has been called a Hippocratic oath for police professionals. The code was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. The declaration on torture was given binding legal form in 1984, when the General Assembly adopted a convention on the same subject (see the section on Other International Human Rights Conventions in the chapter on Human Rights).
The sixth congress , held in Caracas in 1980, was the first UN crime congress to be hosted by a developing nation and the first held in the western hemisphere. Delegations from 102 nations, the ILO, WHO, the Council of Europe, Interpol, the League of Arab States, the Organization for African Unity, and the Pan-Arab Organization for Social Defence attended. The congress's theme was "Crime Prevention and the Quality of Life." It considered the following matters:
A working group of experts from Latin America and the Caribbean contributed an innovative approach on the classification of crimes. It suggested that the scope of criminal law statutes should be broadened to include willful actions harmful to the national wealth and well-being—destruction of the ecology, or participation in drug trafficking, or trafficking in persons. By way of corollary, the working group recommended a decrease in the number of statutes covering petty crimes or crimes that had little socially destructive effect.
The seventh congress , held in Milan in 1985, adopted the Milan Plan of Action as a means of strengthening international cooperation in crime prevention and criminal justice. The plan was approved later the same year by the General Assembly, which also approved international instruments and principles adopted by the Milan Congress. These were the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules), the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, and a Model Agreement on the Transfer of Foreign Prisoners.
The Beijing Rules aim at promoting juvenile welfare to the greatest possible extent, thereby minimizing the necessity of intervention by the juvenile justice system. The rules set minimum standards for the handling of juvenile offenders, enumerate the rights of juveniles, and include principles for adjudication and disposition of juvenile offenses and for institutional and noninstitutional treatment of juvenile offenders.
The Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power defines "victims" as persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss, or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws or constitute violations of internationally recognized norms relating to human rights. It sets forth the rights of such victims and their families to restitution, compensation, and social assistance.
The Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary stipulate that the judiciary shall have jurisdiction over all issues of a judicial nature and that judges shall decide matters before them impartially, without any restrictions, improper influences, or interference. The right of everyone to be tried by ordinary courts or tribunals is reaffirmed.
The Model Agreement on the Transfer of Foreign Prisoners is aimed at promoting the social resettlement of offenders by facilitating the return of persons convicted of crimes abroad to their country of nationality or residence to serve their sentence at the earliest possible stage.
The Milan Congress also considered questions relating to human rights in the administration of justice and to the prevention of juvenile delinquency and domestic violence.
The eighth congress was held in Havana, Cuba, from 27 August to 7 September 1990. The congress was attended by 1,400 participants from 127 countries, five intergovernmental organizations, and 40 nongovernmental organizations. Its overall theme was "International cooperation in crime prevention and criminal justice for the twenty-first century." The congress considered five topics: (1) crime prevention and criminal justice in the context of development; (2) criminal justice policies in relation to problems of imprisonment, other penal sanctions, and alternative measures; (3) effective national and international action against organized crime, terrorist criminal activities; (4) prevention of juvenile delinquency and protection of the young; and (5) United Nations norms and guidelines in crime prevention and criminal justice.
The eighth congress adopted a number of new instruments and resolutions that the General Assembly promptly approved. These included model treaties on extradition, mutual assistance in criminal matters, the transfer of proceedings in criminal matters, and the supervision of offenders conditionally sentenced or conditionally released. Other instruments passed were:
The conference also adopted resolutions on computerization, prevention of urban crime, protection of the environment, corruption in government, racketeering and illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, computer-related crimes, measures against drug addiction, organized crime and terrorism, domestic violence, and the instrumental use of children in criminal activities. The congress also requested that guidelines be prepared on the management of prisoners infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and those with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
The eighth congress called for the elaboration of an effective international crime and justice program to assist countries in combating problems of national and transnational crime. An important outcome was the creation of the Commission on Crime Prevention as a functional commission of ECOSOC.
Substantive topics at the ninth congress (in 1995) included the fight against transnational organized crime; the elimination of violence against women; improvements in the administration of justice and the rule of law; migration and crime; technical cooperation and coordination of activities.
The tenth congress (2000) took as its title "Crime and justice, meeting the challenges of the 21st century." The congress discussed the following topics: (1) how to promote the rule of law and to strengthen the criminal justice system; (2) international cooperation in combatting transnational organized crime; (3) effective crime prevention—keeping pace with the new developments; and (4) offenders and victims—accountability and fairness in the justice process. In addition, four workshops were held on combatting corruption, crimes related to the computer network, community involvement in crime prevention, and women in the criminal justice system. At the tenth congress, a "Vienna Declaration on Crime and Justice" was adopted, in which delegates pledged to take measures to combat terrorism, trafficking in human beings, illicit trade in firearms, smuggling of migrants and the estimated $600 billion money laundering business. Considerable attention was paid to the need to address the rising tide of computer-related crime and crime resulting from xenophobia and ethnic hatred.