Yvon Dandurand and Jessica Jahn

It will soon be 20 years since the adoption of the United Nations Convention of Transnational Organized Crime (the Convention) and its related protocols on human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and trafficking in firearms. It is still very hard to measure the progress that was really accomplished since then in countering transnational organized crime. International cooperation in the detection, investigation and prosecution of organized crime trafficking, which is what the Convention and its protocols were designed to promote, remains as problematic as it ever was.  

At the first Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP) in 2004 proposals for a Review Mechanism were presented, and draft reporting questionnaires were circulated. Some of these tools had been developed by ICCLR in cooperation with UNODC. Unfortunately, a consensus could not be reached as States parties were unable to reach an agreement on, among other things: how to fund the mechanism; how to define the scope of the review mechanism so as to minimize the burden of time and work thus placed on them; and, the scope of involvement of civil society organizations. 

After years of protracted negotiations, the COP, at its ninth session, adopted a resolution establishing a formal mechanism for the review of the implementation of the Convention and the protocols to it. The review mechanism may hopefully lead States parties to accept responsibility for their (non-)compliance. 

In brief, the review mechanism can be described as an intergovernmental process that entails a general review undertaken by the plenary of the COP to allow for the exchange of experiences and challenges in implementing the convention and country reviews. The country review, on which the review process will rely, will involve a self-assessment stage, followed by a desk-based peer review by two other States parties. So-called ‘constructive dialogues’ will be convened in which civil society actors may participate, although they will only be held after the country review report has already been adopted. 

It will be crucial to draw the voices of civil society organizations into the review process and into the international debate about how to improve our collective response to transnational organized crime. 

There are many ways in which civil society organizations can engage in the review process of the Convention and its protocols. They can gather information that would usually be collected during country visits, such as by hosting multi-stakeholder meetings to solicit input, especially concerning non-legalistic matters affecting compliance and implementation. They can request meetings with government officials and politicians during the self-assessment phase, with a view to helping inform the content captured in the assessment report. They can prepare background papers to submit for discussion during the constructive dialogue, including information not captured in the country self-assessment. They should also consider  cooperating with each other at the regional or global levels, such as by developing civil society coalitions nationally or internationally or by participating in the work of existing coalitions, including the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. By working together and engaging diverse voices, civil society organizations can help ensure that the review process evolves into much more than a legalistic process.  

There will no doubt be obstacles to the full engagement of civil society organizations in the review of the implementation and impact of the Convention. Political resistance to civil society involvement will likely continue, but Canada and like-minded countries can show the way forward. By going much further than they are required by treaty to promote civil society’s engagement in their review, they can demonstrate the high value of civil society’s contribution.

Other readings:

Dandurand, Y. & Chin, V. (2015). Implementation of transnational criminal law: Issues and challenges. In Boister, N. & Currie, R. (Eds.)., The Routledge Handbook of Transnational Criminal Law, pp. 437-441. London: Routledge.

Dandurand, Y. & Jahn, J. (2019). The failing international legal framework on migrant smuggling and human trafficking. In Winterdyk, J. & Jones, J. (Eds.)., The Palgrave International Handbook of Human Trafficking. Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, Sham.

Rose, C. (2017). Treating monitoring and compliance in the field of transnational criminal law. In Christensen, M. J. & Boister, N. (Eds.), New Perspectives on the Structure of Transnational Criminal Justice. Leiden: Brill. 

Shaw, M. & Stanyard, J. (2018). It’s Now or Never. Geneva: Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. Retrieved from http://globalinitiative.net/untoc-review-mechanism-now-or-never/ 

Shaw, M., Zvekic, U., Gastrow, P., & Stanyard, J. (2018). What to Make of the New UNTOC Review Mechanism? Geneva: Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. Retrieved from https://globalinitiative.net/untoc-review-mechanism/

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