TNRC Partner Resource USAID MSI paper
Strengthening Rule of Law Approaches to
Address Organized Crime
In 2018-2020, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Management Systems International (MSI) hosted a series of roundtable discussions to better understand the dynamics between the rule of law and organized crime. Corruption clearly emerged as a key factor in shaping these dynamics.
The resulting short papers do not focus on natural resource issues directly, but they are concise summaries of information and recommendations that are relevant to conservation practitioners interested in targeting natural resource corruption. Transnational organized crime (TOC) subverts political and security institutions through corruption; fuels violence and instability; undermines competition in world markets; destabilizes global trading, transportation, and financial systems; and harms communities and individuals. Environmental crime is acknowledged by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to be a serious crime carried out by organized criminals, and INTERPOL and others are committed to disrupting and dismantling transnational organized criminal networks involved in the illegal wildlife trade.
Strengthening the rule of law (ROL) by building the capacity of governance and justice systems, addressing government complicity in organized crime, and considering social norms are all important to creating conditions that support conservation and development outcomes.
Capacity Issues, Consequences, and Complicity
Organized crime can degrade many aspects of government, but it has a particularly corrosive effect on the rule of law. This 2018 paper diagnoses ROL capacity challenges that weaken responses to organized crime, describes some pitfalls in criminal justice responses to it, outlines the cost of state complicity and recommends some approaches to address each of these problems. State complicity in organized crime is especially problematic because it distorts decisions at many points along the chain of events in a criminal justice system. This paper suggests methods for a more proactive approach to investigating organized crime, ways to strengthen deterrence, and routes for addressing complicity.
Government Complicity in Organized Crime
This 2019 paper examines government complicity in organized crime and explores strategies to reduce it. Whether state actors are passive participants or active protagonists in criminal networks, corrupt actions are a characteristic feature of complicity. Strategies for tackling government complicity depend on the extent of complicity and opposition to organized crime at various levels of government. Four scenarios for reform are outlined in this paper, ranging from complicity that is confined to low-level officials, with high-level opposition, to a worst-case scenario in which high-level officials are complicit. From the best to the worst case, government policies and mechanisms are increasingly unpromising options for supporting anti-crime efforts, but support for civil society advocacy may be feasible, and flash points may mobilize populations against powerful or corrupt interests. A range of anti-complicity initiatives are presented in the judicial, economic, political and social domains.
This 2019 paper examines lessons on social norm change related to organized crime. Social norms are mutual expectations within a group about the appropriate way to behave. This includes attitudes towards corruption and complicity in corrupt activities that facilitate crimes. A range of factors that contribute to social norms and behavior are discussed, and good approaches for generating social norm change are provided. Among many insights from research and practice is the warning not to emphasize the prevalence of behavior that you want to change, even when the intended message is positive (e.g. messaging that more people are reporting corruption or crime). Programs should also last long enough to provide ongoing support and monitoring to the non-linear trajectories that are typical of social norm change. Without sustained support, new norms can erode.
Image attribution: © naturepl.com / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus