Eschewing vague generalities and focusing on specific priorities, the Ninth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (29 April-8 May, Cairo) adopted wide-ranging practical measures oriented to finding workable solutions to global crime problems, particularly in four major areas: preventing urban, juvenile and violent crimes: taking action against transnational and organized crime; promoting international cooperation to fight crime; and identifying the role of criminal law in environmental protection.
The gathering also featured an unprecedented two-part plenary debate on corruption, led by a panel of international experts.
"The time has come to move beyond declarations and statements of principle to action", UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali declared in a message delivered by Conference Secretary-General Giorgio Giacomelli to more than 1,700 Congress participants from 138 countries. "Rising crime is impairing the process of development and the general well-being of humanity."
Among 11 resolutions adopted by the Congress was an omnibus text on the four major areas of concern, as well as calls for consideration of a new international convention against organized transnational crimes, action to quell the proliferation of firearms, promote laws and procedures to deal with violence against women, and prohibit child pornography and abuse.
While previous Crime Congresses have been characterized by wide-ranging agendas oriented mainly towards technical aspects of improving the treatment of offenders, the General Assembly, in convening the Ninth Crime Congress, had asked that it be geared towards substantive topics identified by Governments as priorities in the field of crime control.
"Responding to a need for a more practical orientation, this Congress is expected to take a more practical and visible role: identifying new concerns and recommending practical measures to respond to those concerns", Mr. Giacomelli told participants on 29 April.
To reflect this focus, the Congress assumed a new format including the traditional plenary forum for debate, as well as technical workshops on specific issues.
Much of the work of the Congress was done in more informal workshops, where national strategies to combat specific kinds of crime were discussed, and recommendations made to improve international response. Workshops were held on: extradition and international cooperation; computerization of records; the mass media and its role in crime prevention; criminal law and environmental protection; urban policy; and the prevention of violence and violent crime.
The two main committees of the Congress also took a practical approach in their discussions of specific topics, such as reform and modernization of justice systems, prevention of urban and juvenile crime, and issues relating to victims.
In addition to discussing measures to combat corruption, plenary debate included general discussion of national and international experiences in crime prevention and criminal justice.
UN Crime Congresses have been held every five years since 1955, continuing an international effort that can be traced back to the First Penal and Penitentiary Congress, held in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1846.
The eight previous Congresses took place at Geneva (1955 and 1975), London (1960), Stockholm (1965), Kyoto (1970), Caracas (1980), Milan (1985) and Havana (1990).
The Congresses have served as the primary global forum for developing criminal justice policies and coordinating international action. They have produced important international instruments, guidelines and standards on various crime prevention and criminal justice issues.
The Ninth Congress is the first such gathering since the 1991 review of the UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme by an intergovernmental ministerial summit, held in Versailles, and the subsequent establishment of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice as a new functional body of the Economic and Social Council to mobilize the international community through a revitalized UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme. …