Although the evolution of organized crime and the forms it takes vary from country to country, since formation of criminal associations is influenced by various social, economic and legal factors, there are two basic ways in which organized crime evolves in the majority of countries: involvement in illegal activities (such as property offences, money laundering, drug trafficking, currency violations, intimidation, prostitution, gambling and trafficking in arms and antiquities); and participation in the legal economic sphere (directly or through parasitic means such as extortion). The latter tends to use illegal competitive means and can be of greater economic impact than the involvement in entirely illegal activities. In both cases criminal methods are used because the backbone of organized criminal formations is composed of criminal elements.
Organized crime is usually understood as being a relatively large group of continuous and controlled criminal entities that carry out crimes for profit and seek to create a system of protection against social control by illegal means such as violence, intimidation, corruption and large-scale theft. A more general description would be "any group of individuals organized for the purpose of profiting by illegal means on a continuing basis". One type of organized crime is the traditional or the Mafia-style family, where structured hierarchies, internal rules, discipline, codes of behaviour and diversity in illegal activities are common practice. Included in such organizations are the largest and most developed types of criminal groups, involved in a multiplicity of illegal activities. Another type is the professional. Members of such organizations join together for a certain criminal venture. Such organizations are fluid and not as rigidly structured as those of the traditional type. They are exemplified by entities involved in counterfeiting, car theft, armed robbery and extortion. The composition of a professional criminal organization may be constantly changing and its members may be involved in a variety of similar criminal enterprises. In addition there are many organized groups that dominate particular territories, and others that are involved in particular types of crime. Organized crime groups may also be divided on the basis of ethnic, cultural and historical ties which link them to their countries of origin, thus forming a major network extending beyond national borders. Exploiting the features of their origins, such as language and customs, they are able to insulate themselves from the actions of law enforcement agencies. Many organized crime groups have significant ethnic or national components and are often commonly referred to by ethnic or national labels.
Identification of organized criminal groups by type does not necessarily imply rigid borderlines between them. Nearly every organized criminal entity may involve a multiplicity of component features. New forms involving different elements frequently arise. Some countries have seen the emergence of urban street formations, including juvenile gangs. Indeed, organized crime adapts very rapidly in response to national criminal justice policies and to protective mechanisms of states. Its leaders are often individuals of great intelligence and extreme cruelty, and are true professionals in crime, making them a particular threat to society.
Organized crime produces social, political and economic evils. Among the social evils are the adverse effects of illegal drugs on behaviour and health, the growth of violence involving firearms, the fear of crime, manipulation and control of bodies such as labour unions and the increased cost of purchasing goods and services. For example, in one highly developed country, the largest organized crime group has controlled four of that nation's labour unions. Political effects can include infiltration into and influence over political parties and the apparatus of government, including local administrations, and corruption of politicians and state officials. This often leads to a loss of public confidence in the government and the political process and a breakdown of consensus within society. Many countries report that members of their police forces and armed forces have been corrupted by drug traffickers. Also, assassinations of government officials, judges, mayors and law enforcement officials in certain countries have alarmed public opinion worldwide. It is not possible to identify accurately or even to estimate all the economic consequences of organized crime. It infiltrates legitimate business, tainting all those with whom it comes into contact, as well as corrupting officials whose services are required to launder illicit profits. In some countries, the profits of organized crime can be compared to those of entire branches of industry; for example, the trade in illegal drugs has been estimated to be the second largest industry in the world, by value of goods. The income of organized crime groups equals the gross national product of many countries.
The following recommendations were drawn up in 1992 by the [Ad Hoc Expert Group Meeting on Strategies to Deal with Transnational Crime for the attention of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Creation of an Effective International Crime and Justice Programme and the Committee on Crime Prevention and Control] its twelfth session.
1. The process of studying and combatting transnational crime and crime with transnational aspects should take into account the considerable changes in the political economic and social situation and the extensive development of international business activities, including creation of common markets and other forms of integration. It should also take into account the vulnerability of national frontiers, the high level of modem communication, the expansion of the international banking system and resultant simplification of money transfer, the extensive use of computer technology, the universal spread of illegal business in arms and explosives, the growth in the number of enterprises producing and using radioactive and chemical substances and the extensive use of such substances, and the limited geographical reach of national laws and national law enforcement authorities, differences in legal systems, and the limited effect of international procedures for obtaining evidence, apprehension and extradition of offenders.
2. In view of the political and economic changes taking place in many countries, including the newly emerging "market economies", new laws and regulations should be developed to permit anticipation of, and response to, changing situations and emerging economic realities. Exchange of information on, and experience with, economic crime and its control by criminal sanctions should be intensified. Due consideration should be given to regulatory mechanisms as essential complements to penal sanctions.
3. In view of the increasing seriousness and gravity of organized crime, terrorism and other transnational crimes, governments should conclude bilateral and multilateral agreements to carry out or enhance the effectiveness of extradition proceedings and mutual assistance in criminal matters, using as a basis UN model treaties and other treaties and agreements concluded at the regional and international levels. The role of regional and subregional intergovernmental organizations in supporting the UN in this field would be essential. Appropriate coordination mechanisms should be established and maintained.
4. National organizations should be established to plan and coordinate domestic criminal justice and crime prevention programmes and comprising representatives of relevant sectors of government and the community.
5. Countries should share information and intelligence on non-controversial matters, facilitating such exchanges through national databases with links to all other countries. A technical committee should overview these activities.
6. To help eliminate the difficulties associated with the technical requirements that are the main obstacles to extradition being granted, countries should study the practices on extradition prevailing in regional groups such as the Council of Europe.
7. National and international efforts to achieve more effective strategies should focus on: (a) harmonizing legislation and avoiding of conflicts of jurisdiction that may result in serious transnational offenders escaping justice; (b) penalizing certain forms of behaviour to eliminate gaps in national legislation; (c) cooperating through extradition, mutual assistance, enforcement of foreign judgements, transfer of criminal proceedings and transfer of offenders, including designating an appropriate coordinating authority to expedite the implementation of treaties; (d) integrating international cooperation to provide better and more efficient results; (e) reassessing traditional principles of international cooperation, such as reciprocity, double criminality, specialty, the political offence exception and the non-extradition of nationals and territoriality; (f) lessening the divergence of national conceptions of criminal justice, including substantive law and procedural rules and practices, with due respect for human rights considerations; (g) sharing law enforcement intelligence (information) and increasing joint activities in inter-State law enforcement collaboration; (h) developing effective financial mechanisms to trace the proceeds of illicit activities; (i) developing subregional or regional "judicial spaces", with a view to exploring possibilities for their expansion as needs emerge; (j) including international and transnational crimes in national legislation, in particular with a view to eliminating safe havens; (k) developing means to prevent, detect and prosecute abuses of power by public officials and other forms of corrupt behaviour; (l) developing education and training programmes in international criminal law, both in formal legal education and in public agencies; (m) developing specialized education and training of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials in the areas of transnational crime, money laundering and other economic offences, including corruption and elaboration of the required training material: (n) developing regional centres to make available specialized library material, documents and research results, and able to provide technical legal advice to countries of the region; (o) acceptance that all countries, regardless of how seriously they are affected by transnational crime, have to collaborate and share information on its nature and extent, to facilitate appropriate policy formulation and planning; (p) developing interfaces with existing international and regional networks such as the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO/Interpol) and other international bodies; (q) strengthening awareness of governments and relevant national agencies of the important correlation between socioeconomic development and crime control programmes, with appropriate budget and resource allocations, including international aid for crime prevention schemes.
8. Efforts should be pursued to formulate effective strategies for dealing with environmental offences. An assessment should be made of the administrative, civil and criminal laws enforced by different countries, so as to identify gaps and propose appropriate remedies. Adequate attention should be given not only to the sanctioning strategies but also to prevention of environmental abuse and protection of the environment.
9. Efforts should be made to allow the widest possible distribution of information on stolen art objects so as to prevent their illegal sale, thereby effectively stemming the international traffic in movable cultural property.
10. So as to build on past successes and failures, an assessment should be made of cooperation already undertaken to prevent the use of the banking system and financial institutions for money laundering, including successful preventive measures. Initiatives such as the development by the Council of Europe of the [Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime] (was opened for signature 8 Nov 1990) should be encouraged and efforts should be pursued to develop a multilateral agreement with universal application. The model decree for confiscation is very practical and could prove extremely useful in such an application.
11. Information on corruption and anti-corruption strategies should be gathered with a view to assisting governments in combatting corruption and in formulating more effective policies to deal with it. Emphasis should be placed on formulating curricula for anti-corruption training courses, benefiting, in particular, developing countries. In addition to research, training and technical assistance in advanced methods of corruption control through repression, equal attention should be paid to prevention and education. The efforts of independent commissions against corruption can be useful in devising controls in public administration and in increasing public intolerance for waste and corruption.
12. While bilateral and regional cooperation may provide for specific arrangements to prevent or investigate certain types of transnational criminality, they cannot provide a comprehensive solution to cooperation in combatting serious forms of organized crime at the international level. Multilateral cooperation should therefore be made more effective, through the UN, which has the general mandate and the international constituency necessary to provide countries with guidance and assistance in the prevention and control of transnational crime. This could be pursued in the context of a genuinely international crime and justice programme capable of responding to the challenge of such crime.
13. UN surveys on crime trends should also include information on trends in transnational crime so as to permit an in depth analysis of its scale, structure and dynamic, and of the extent of its material cost and potential social consequences. In further developing the UN Criminal Justice Information Network, attention should be paid to setting up databases on transnational crime.
14. The idea of establishing a world foundation on crime prevention and assistance to victims of transnational crime should be pursued. The foundation could help identify and mobilize financial resources to support the implementation of international crime prevention and criminal justice programmes, raise public awareness about crime trends and the rights of victims, develop innovative means of responding to technical assistance needs and provide financial support to victims.
15. The UN crime prevention and criminal justice programme should aim at developing the new mechanisms, procedures, conventions and institutions necessary to combat crime with transnational aspects and dimensions and to assist governments in reducing domestic crime. This could include assistance to countries in: (a) gathering information on, and analysing, the incidence of crime and the efficacy of response; (b) preventing crime and helping its victims; (c) enhancing the criminal justice process through improved methods for investigating crime and developing pre-trial, trial and appellate review procedures; (d) improving administration of sentences and reintegration of offenders into society and the control of recidivism. On the international level, the mandates should include: (a) drafting of international conventions, declarations and recommendations pertaining to the definition of international offences; (b) enhancing existing cooperative mechanisms and the development of new ones, including mutual assistance and extradition; (c) organizing trainee programmes for developing countries; (d) drafting model penal provisions dealing with selected offences. The mandate should include development and encouragement of coordinated subregional, regional and international activities from the investigative to the adjudicative stages, including ascertaining the practicality of establishing subregional and regional penal tribunals with transferred jurisdiction, in order to meet more effectively the problems of particularly severe domestic crime and of crime transcending national frontiers. Consideration should also be given to coordination by the UN of cooperative arrangements at the bilateral level, including exchange of crime prevention and criminal justice personnel, such as police officers at different levels, who could conduct comparative studies on criminal investigations into drug-trafficking and other similar activities. In addition, criminal justice attaches at embassies and consulates could help one another to reach a better understanding of the laws and court processes and procedures of their countries. This could be a useful means of facilitating effective cooperation with respect to transnational crimes involving different countries. United Nations government-appointed national correspondents in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice should become more operational. Ideally, their functions should be coordinated by an office or individual in an agency or institution with responsibilities in national criminal justice systems, so as to ensure that action was taken when necessary and to respond accurately and with authority to UN enquiries. Technical cooperation, particularly at the regional and subregional levels, should be intensified through the development of technical assistance projects benefiting developing countries. Special consideration should be given to strengthening operational capacity of the crime prevention and criminal justice programme and its interregional advisory services, to ensure that the most recent developments in modern technology and expertise are placed at the disposal of all member states. Efforts should also be made to create regional advisers on crime prevention and criminal justice to provide services in close contact with the regional institutes for the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders The UN crime prevention and criminal justice programme of work should be coordinated with that of ICPO/Interpol and other relevant organizations.
The UN organized a World Ministerial Conference on Organized Transnational Crime in 1994.