Newsletter 3/2010 - Our South East Europe

Cooperation in the fight against organized crime must exceed regional borders

Organized crime knows no administrative borders. It is especially widespread in the countries emerging from post-conflict situations, due to their nascent structures and present trends of major social, economic, rule of law and other undergoing reforms. The region of South East Europe (SEE) is therefore particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon.

Addressing organized crime is a crucial condition for the SEE countries in their EU pre-accession process, with a significant international and regional dimension.

A range of regional organizations and initiatives have been established to fulfil this goal, with the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) contributing to the upgrading and streamlining of the institutional aspects of regional cooperation.

“The regional dimension of police and law enforcement cooperation in fighting trans-border organized crime became effective, permanent and functional”, says Senior RCC Secretariat’s Expert on Justice and Home Affairs, Virgil Ivan-Cucu.

“The RCC works to ensure the coherence and consistence of judicial cooperation and to enhance the protection of human rights, minorities and vulnerable groups in the area of justice and judicial reforms.”

The initiatives most active in the field include Southeast European Cooperative Initiative Regional Center for Combating Trans-border Crime (SECI Center)/future Southeast European Law Enforcement Centre (SELEC), the Police Cooperation Convention for South East Europe (PCC), the Southeast Europe Police Chiefs Association (SEPCA), the Southeast European Prosecutors’ Advisory Group (SEEPAG), the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative (RAI), and the Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative (MARRI).

The Regional Cooperation Council will maintain its efforts in promoting advanced cooperation among the police and all other parties involved in the fight against organized crime in the region.

“In doing so, it is important to maintain the balance between an efficient fight against organized crime and terrorism, and individual fundamental rights, which include liberty, security, access to justice, due process, the right to a fair trial, free legal aid, as well as assistance and redress mechanisms for crime victims.”

Carla Ciavarella, Regional Programme Coordinator at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says that transnational organized crime is one of the major threats to human security, impeding social, economic, political and cultural development of societies worldwide, including the SEE region.

According to Ciavarella, “the region continues to be the primary transit zone for heroin destined for Western Europe that comes from Afghanistan. An estimated 80 tons of heroin transit the region annually.”

On top of that, “the SEE also remains an origin, transit and destination area for trafficking in human beings, while the ‘Balkan Route’ is also used for the smuggling of migrants.”

“Linked to illicit trafficking and other organized crime activities are money laundering, corruption and the possibility of financing terrorism”, says Ciavarella.

She stresses importance of international and regional cooperation for the improvement of SEE capacities in effectively combating organized crime.

“Various forms of international cooperation such as police-to-police cooperation, and at formal level, Mutual Legal Assistance instruments or extradition, are vital for successful transnational investigations, prosecutions and sentencing of organized crime cases” adds Ciavarella.

Progress in terms of regional cooperation in combating organized crime is nevertheless evident.

Domenico Paterna, Deputy Head of the European Union Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina says: “We have seen progress in the past which is evidenced by a number of recent successful joint police operations”.

However, according to Paterna, there is still room for improvement.

“What is needed is more efficient coordination, cooperation and communication between law enforcement agencies and the judiciary in the region. There are a couple of mechanisms in place which can and should be used in a more efficient way. Mainly, I am thinking here of Interpol, Europol, the Egmont Group and other institutions that deal with international law enforcement cooperation.”

Notable social, economic and cultural differences between the countries in South East Europe result in significantly different approaches and priorities given to the fight against organized crime.

“Countries should understand each other’s position in giving different importance to different fields of criminality: human trafficking, drug smuggling or terrorism”, says Gürbüz Bahadir, Director of the SECI Center on combating trans-border crime.

According to Bahadir, the idea of multinational policing or international police cooperation as a relatively new field in internal relations should be endorsed, especially since “there is an increasing willingness to do the job in cooperation with foreign colleagues”.

Bahadir lists several ideas for improving regional and international cooperation in the fight against organized crime: supporting international cooperation bodies by providing prompt information; creating common atmosphere and active use of their channels; developing a feeling of international collegiality and trans-border professionalism independent of political concerns; and trans-border dimension in the professional thought not to be limited by national territory.

Ciavarella adds that the only way to effectively combat organized crime is through the adoption of a common framework and principles among relevant actors in South East Europe.

“This common platform could be addressed through the RCC, as the right forum through which the countries of the region, as well as international and regional organizations and the EU, can jointly search for adequate solutions to fighting organized crime in this part of Europe.”


Police forces demonstrate an intervention in the fight against organized crime. (Photo: RCC/Samir Pinjagic)

Police forces demonstrate an intervention in the fight against organized crime. (Photo: RCC/Samir Pinjagic)