29 May 2008
Greater Stability in the Balkans is Lowering Crime, reports UNODC
VIENNA, 29 May (UN Information Service) - A report issued today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) concludes that the Balkans have become a low-crime region after the turmoil of conflict and violence that resulted from the process of post-communist transition and the break-up of Yugoslavia. "The vicious circle of political instability leading to crime, and vice versa, that plagued the Balkans in the 1990s has been broken", said the Executive Director of UNODC Antonio Maria Costa. Yet, he warned, "the region remains vulnerable to instability caused by enduring links between business, politics and organized crime". The report states three main points.
A safer region
First, which may come as a surprise to some, the UNODC report on Crime and Its Impact on the Balkans shows that, in general, levels of crime against people and property (like homicide, robbery, rape, burglary, and assault) are lower than in Western Europe, and the number of murders is falling throughout the region. This positive trend has been particularly noticeable in the past few years. Even the number of Balkan nationals being held in Western European prisons has gone down.
Low vulnerability to crime
Second, this progress is likely to continue since the region lacks the usual vulnerabilities that lead to crime elsewhere in the world: mass poverty, income inequality, run-away urbanisation and large-scale youth unemployment.
The UNODC report also attributes the lower levels of crime in the region to a number of specific regional factors. Greater regional stability and democracy have put an end to war profiteering. Assistance from the international community, particularly the European Union, has helped place the region on the path to a fast recovery. Closer integration with the rest of Europe has opened borders and reduced the lure of illicit trans-frontier trade.
Organized crime is also receding as a major threat. The smuggling of drugs, guns and human beings through the region is in decline, although the Balkans remain the premier transit zone for heroin destined for Western Europe (about 100 tons each year). "While serious problems remain, the region is departing from an era when demagogues, secret police and thugs profited from sanctions-busting and smuggling", said Mr. Costa.
Dangerous links between business, politics and crime
Third, the UNODC report shows that serious challenges persist, particularly due to links between business, politics and crime. "Profiteers of the past are trying to launder their reputations and money through business and politics", observed Mr. Costa. "Future crime trends in the Balkans will depend on the rule of law, integrity in governance and political stability", he said. Organized crime thrives in areas where people have little investment in their societies, and lack a sense of ownership. "The more social and political conditions normalize, the more stability there will be within and between countries, and the more criminal groups will lose their grip", said the head of UNODC.
"Politics and business need to be better insulated from the corrosive influence of crime, especially economic crime", said Mr. Costa, whose Office is custodian of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. "Corruption should be treated as public enemy number one in order to strengthen integrity and justice, and increase political legitimacy and investor confidence".
He therefore called for greater efforts to fight crimes like bribery, counterfeiting, major procurement fraud, money-laundering, embezzlement, duty evasion and abuse of power that are a problem in the region. Victim surveys indicate that, on average, South East Europeans are more likely to face demands for bribes than people in other regions of the world.
"Open societies, open markets, and open borders are the best way to fight crime in the Balkans," said the head of UNODC. He therefore urged countries of the region to strengthen the rule of law, and called on the international community, particularly the European Union, to provide the support needed to further reduce vulnerability to crime and instability. He said that UNODC would increase its engagement in the region through technical assistance.
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For further information, please contact:
Acting Spokesman, UNODC
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060 5629
Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5629