Corruption and transnational organised crime in Latin America and the Caribbean

24 November 2014, by Luciana Torchiaro, Transparency International.

The side-event “Organized Crime in Latin America” at the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (CTOC/COP7) provided an excellent opportunity to exchange experiences on working for better security and human rights Latin America and the Caribbean. Participants highlighted the value of learning about other regions facing similar challenges.

Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean urgently require strong and transparent security and justice institutions to deal with high levels of violence and insecurity. Latin America is considered the most violent region on the planet, and according to the latest UNODC report, organised crime is responsible for 30% of homicides.

The Global Corruption Barometer 2013 indicates that the police and judiciary are considered amongst the most corrupt institutions in the region. In the last seven years, security institutions from almost all the countries in the region have shown links to organised crime, and in some countries organised crime groups have captured key state institutions.

Transparency International (TI) shared some of its experiences and activities with representatives from other NGOs, UN bodies and member states.

TI’s work on public security in the region started in 2012 when 20 national chapters committed to addressing corruption in security institutions in the Runaway Declaration. Since then, TI has worked with experts and NGOs focused on human rights and security from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.

TI’s main strategic focus has been on:

  1. Strengthening transparency and accountability at security and justice institutions to increase the cost of corrupt practices within these bodies and reduce their vulnerability to organised crime. For example, in Honduras the Asociación por una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) is supporting the government in the implementation of an anti-corruption pact. Among other issues, the plan concentrates on improving public procurement and human resource management.
  2. Creating and promoting verifiable, reliable and comparable data across countries on criminality, victimisation and insecurity rates to set adequate public security policies. We are working to create an easy-to-use online data dashboard. This data is crucial to set up policy baselines, establish budget allocations, and improve coordination among government agencies.
  3. Creating safe and effective conditions for citizens to exercise their right to security and justice and to hold institutions to account. We cannot count on governments alone to ensure the safety of people when elite interests and even organised crime have undue influence in politics and law enforcement institutions. In Venezuela we developed briefings and protocols to keep citizens informed about their rights to security and justice. In Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela – and soon in Peru – we have promoted safe channels for witnesses and victims of corruption in the security and justice sector through our Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres.
  4. Improving transparency, monitoring and oversight of international aid for security programmes to ensure they fulfil their objectives and are aligned with national priorities. In recent years, international aid for security and anti-drug programmes has grown significantly. However, the allocation of more financial resources does not lead automatically to greater effectiveness in the context of high levels of corruption and impunity, such as in the case of some Central American countries.