Held in an innovative hybrid format amid COVID-19 restrictions, the 14th UN Congress on criminal justice opened on Sunday in Kyoto with calls for renewing global cooperation against crime to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and recover from the pandemic.
“Crime prevention, criminal justice and the rule of law have a key role in renewing the social contract between states and their populations,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his address, delivered live from New York.
Highlighting the importance of the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in tackling challenges arising from the global pandemic, the UN chief said the forum’s agenda this year targets the responses needed to strengthen crime prevention and criminal justice in the current crisis.
United for justice: 14th @UN #CrimeCongress 🇯🇵 brings together 5600 participants, most virtually, to step up shared responses to crime challenges. I welcome newly adopted Kyoto Declaration, showing the way to more peaceful &inclusive societies @UNODC https://t.co/PvC7yKnda4 pic.twitter.com/BUY37cssw1— GhadaFathiWaly (@GhadaFathiWaly) March 7, 2021
These included comprehensive crime prevention strategies to underpin social and economic development; integrated responses to shore up criminal justice systems, and revitalized international cooperation and technical assistance to prevent and address all forms of crime.
Crime and the coronavirus
Mr. Guterres stressed that the disruption caused by ongoing coronavirus pandemic was presenting criminals with new opportunities to exploit the marginalized and at risk.
“We face profound choices. Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to address the grave injustices and inequalities that have plagued societies for generations,” he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that a “safe and secure” society is a precondition for achieving social and economic recovery.
“The international community need to work together to strengthen efforts in crime prevention and ensure a criminal justice system that is fully functional even amidst the COVID-19 crisis,” he stressed, adding that Japan valued multilateralism and was determined to demonstrate its strong leadership in building a post-COVID-19 international order.
The Congress opening also featured statements from Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Prosecutor-General Makoto Hayashi, as well as from the President of the UN General Assembly Volkan Bozkir, the President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Munir Akram and the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Waly.
Mr. Bozkir, in a pre-recorded statement, said: “Make no mistake. We will not achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development if we do not take action on the rule of law, crime prevention and criminal justice.”
The track to 2030 is already more difficult as the world contends with the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained, adding: “We cannot allow crime, to derail us further. In this Decade of Action, we need to improve governance, strengthen the rule of law, and promote effective and accountable institutions of criminal justice.”
In his pre-recorded remarks, Mr. Akram said: “There is a compelling case for enhanced international action to combat and dismantle networks and platforms that perpetrate these crimes and undermine progress towards 2030 Agenda.”
As such, he hoped the Kyoto Congress could prioritize certain key issues: the bleeding of the resources of developing countries through illicit financial flows; environmental crimes and ever-growing illegal trade in wildlife; changes in labour and migration laws to cut demand for the services of human traffickers; and effective action against falsified and fake medical products, such as COVID-19 vaccines.
Crime Congress 101
Organized with the support of UNODC, the Crime Congress represents the world’s largest gathering of governments, international and regional organizations, civil society, experts and scholars focusing on crime prevention and criminal justice.
The Congresses have been held every five years since 1955 in different parts of the world, dealing with a vast array of topics. They have made considerable impact in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice and influenced national and international policies and professional practices.
The Kyoto Congress was adapted to adhere to strict health and safety standards while enabling high-level and diverse participation, with a limited in-person component and most of the 5,600 participants joining virtually through a new, dedicated event platform.
New chapter in global cooperation
UNODC Executive Director Waly commended the efforts of Congress participants to “write the next chapter in global cooperation for the advancement of crime prevention and criminal justice, towards more peaceful and inclusive societies”.
“As our world suffers in this prolonged crisis, we are united in the urgency to protect people and leave no one behind. We are in a race against time, as organized crime has spared no efforts in taking advantage of the crisis, from selling falsified vaccines, to exploiting those who have lost their livelihoods, and diverting stimulus funds,” she said.
For his part, Mr. Hayashi, the Prosecutor-General of Japan, also stressed that in order to be able to meet the SDGs, it is important that the societies are stable and at peace.
“To achieve such societies, it is essential that crime prevention measures and the criminal justice system function effectively,” he said.
In the Kyoto Declaration adopted earlier on Sunday, governments agreed concrete actions to advance responses addressing crime prevention, criminal justice, rule of law and international cooperation. Member States will take commitments forward at the 30th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) in Vienna in May.
The 14th Congress was postponed by UN General Assembly decision from its original date in April 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. A ceremony during the opening saw Qatar, the host of the 13th UN Crime Congress in Doha, hand over the presidency of the Congress to Minister Kamikawa.
Two representatives of the Youth Forum held ahead of the Congress also presented their recommendations during Sunday’s high-level segment.
In the week ahead
Discussions will continue until Friday, 12 March, in the formal proceedings as well as dozens of special events and ancillary meetings hosted on the hybrid event platform, which will address topics ranging from addressing corruption to tackle wildlife crime and gender dimensions of counter-terrorism, to the impact of COVID-19 in prison settings, addressing children associated with terrorist and violent extremist groups, and youth as agents for change to promote the rule of law.