Transnational Crime and the Concerns Generated

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Crime and criminals have always crossed national borders and hence the notion of transnational crime is far from a new phenomenon. What is new, however, is the intense official concern it has generated. Such organized crime has traditionally been seen as a domestic law-and-order problem. Over the past two decades however, crime has taken on new international and technological dimensions as elicited by the effects of globalisation. It is that the dispersion of technology and global mobility permit it to threaten the stability of nation states. In short, what was formerly a criminological challenge has become a national security threat. This essay aims to explore how official and unofficial sources define transnational crime and the way these definitions influence the way it is dealt with. Through the use of examples such as drug trafficking and cyber crime, the ways in which international and national authorities respond to transnational crime will thus be highlighted.

The notion of globalisation is inherent to understanding why and how transnational crime is suddenly such a pressing issue on national and international agendas. The dynamics of globalisation have led to the rapid execution of transactions and the more efficient movement of people and goods across national borders (Passas 1998). It can be argued that just as transnational legitimate enterprises and operations have increased, illegal ones have too. Globalisation is said to effect crime as it helps strengthen the demand for illegal goods and services and generates incentives for particular actors to engage in illegal practices. Globalisation is said to also contribute to the reducing of the ability of authorities to control such activities. Thus as the world becomes increasingly interconnected and interdependent, the nation-states seem to be losing more of the sovereignty and autonomy as formal control systems are weakened and diluted (Jessop 2004).

The term transnational crime was developed by the UN Crime and Criminal Justice Branch in 1974 to guide discussion at a UN crime conference. In 1995, the UN developed the following official definition, “Offences whose inception, prevention and/or direct effect or indirect effects involved more than one country” (United Nations, 1995). This definition is generous and broad so as to ensure that many different forms of crime can be classified as transnational. This definition however doesn’t specify whether transnational crime is an external or internal issue, but rather alludes to it being a matter for both.

Some academics distinguish between international crime and transnational crime. International crimes are those prohibited by international law, including treaties and custom (for example, piracy and war crimes) (Bassiouni 1983). Transnational crimes on the other hand are often regarded as those acts which are criminalised by the laws of more than one country (Bossard 1990). This would make it a matter for internal authorities to deal with it seeing as it is criminalised locally.

Passas (1998) defines crime as ‘misconduct that entails avoidable and unnecessary harm to society, which is serious enough to warrant state intervention and similar to other kinds of acts criminalised in the countries concerned’. Crime becomes transnational, Passas elaborates, when offenders or victims are located in, or operate through, more than one country.

In a workshop initiated by members of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) held in 1998, different academics gathered together to discuss the issues of transnational crime. They arrived at the definition that transnational crime involves “acts that are offences in one state that involve actions or actors in another state, requiring more than a single opportunistic transaction between individuals” (Reuter & Petrie 1999, p8). The first part of this definition neglects the question of whether both jurisdictions criminalise the same activities, and the second part...
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