The UN Convention against transnational organized crime

August 24, 2021

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This article is written by Sahaja, from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. The article gives an exhaustive description of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.


Transnational Organized Crime is organised crime that is coordinated across national borders, involving groups or marketplaces of individuals who plan and execute unlawful economic endeavours in more than one country. These criminal organizations employ systematic violence and corruption to attain their objectives. Drug trafficking, arms trafficking, sex trafficking, toxic waste disposal, materials theft, and poaching are all examples of transnational organized crime.

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC, often known as the Palermo Convention) is a multinational treaty against transnational organized crime that was established by the United Nations in 2000. 


The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which was enacted by the General Assembly in Resolution 55/25 on November 15, 2000, is the most important international tool in the battle against transnational organized crime. It was signed by the Member States at a High-level Political Conference held in Palermo, Italy, on December 12-15, 2000, and came into force on September 29, 2003. 

The convention’s framers recognized the threat that organized crime poses to security, sovereignty, human rights, and development. Within the political space open to them, they collaborated to develop a new response to those dangers. The widespread trafficking and violence associated with illegal narcotics was a quickly escalating issue. The United Nations quickly understood that it required a robust body to tackle illicit drug trafficking. As a result, in 1977, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was formed by merging the UNTOC with the UNODC.

Fighting organized crime and terrorism was previously (before the Convention came into effect) considered by most countries as a domestic and individual responsibility. The growing rate of threats, crimes and transnational aggression, pushed the way forward to establishing the UNTOC. The UNTOC made countries around the world aware that transnational crime and aggression can only be faced and fought against through coordination, cooperation and a fixed set of guidelines. 

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Human Trafficking, Especially of Women and Children, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 55/25. It came into effect on December 25, 2003. It is the first legally enforceable worldwide agreement with an agreed-upon definition of human trafficking.

The Protocol Against Migrant Smuggling by Land, Sea, and Air, which was enacted by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 55/25, came into effect on January 28, 2004. It addresses the rising problem of organized criminal gangs smuggling migrants, often at tremendous risk to the migrants and great profit to the criminals.

The Protocol against Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, Parts and Components, and Ammunition was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on May 31, 2001, with resolution 55/255.

The UNTOC reinforced its restrictions on wildlife smuggling in 2014. In 2017, as Japan prepared to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, as well as the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, it discovered that it was not entirely in compliance with the UNTOC, putting its eligibility to host those games in jeopardy.

Protocols of the Convention

The Convention is a significant step forward in the fight against transnational organized crime, as it demonstrates Member States’ acknowledgement of the importance of the issues it raises, as well as the necessity to encourage and expand close international collaboration to address those issues. States who ratify this treaty agree to take a number of steps to combat transnational organized crime, including the development of domestic criminal offences and the adoption of new and broad extradition mechanisms. The States also need to ensure mutual legal assistance, legal enforcement, and the promotion of training and technical assistance for building or upgrading the necessary capacity of national authorities. The depositary of the Convention is the Secretary-General of the United Nations. 

The UNTOC has three supplementary protocols (Palermo protocols) namely:

The UNTOC is the main legal international instrument to fight organized crime, but its efficiency depends on each member’s ability to implement the organization’s framework.

Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking of women and children

Protocol against the smuggling of migrants by land, sea, and air

Protocol against the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms

The Firearms Protocol (Protocol against Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components, and Ammunition) is an anti-arms trafficking pact that includes Small Arms and Light Weapons. The General Assembly approved this protocol on May 31, 2001, and it went into effect on July 3, 2005. 

States commit to adopting a range of crime-control measures and implementing three sets of normative requirements in their domestic legal order by ratifying the Protocol. These three normative requirements that the ratifying States will implement are:


The people, organizations, or countries that have signed an official document are known as signatories. The term “signatory” refers to a country that supports the convention politically and is willing to participate in the treaty-making process. This intention is expressed in a “signature” submitted to the treaty’s qualifying international body or the authoritative authority designated by the convention. A State that expresses its explicit assent to be bound by a treaty is referred to as a “party.” This explicit assent is usually expressed in the form of a ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession instrument.

India signed the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its three Protocols on December 12, 2002. States intending to sign the protocols must first become signatories of the UNTOC Convention and then sign the protocol of their choice. A member of the Convention does not make the member an ex-facto signator of the three protocols that supplement the Convention. 

The UNTOC has a total of 147 signatories and 190 parties to the convention. The UN TIP Protocol has a total of 117 signatories and 178 parties. The Smuggling Protocol has 112 signatories and 150 parties. The Firearms protocol has 52 signatories and 120 parties to it. 

Conference of parties

A Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime was established in accordance with Article 32 of the Convention to improve the capacity of States Parties to combat transnational organized crime and to promote and review the Convention’s implementation. Within the United Nations, it is the most comprehensive body dealing with transnational organized crime. The existence of working groups designed to deal with specific topics connected to the Convention or its protocols is one of the Conference’s most distinguishing elements.

A variety of observers, including signatories and non-signatories, the United Nations Secretariat, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations, attend the conference in addition to the States parties, who are the actual participants. Five Working Groups were formed by the Conference of the Parties to focus on distinct aspects of its work. The groups are Firearms, Smuggling of Migrants, Trafficking in Persons, Technical Assistance, and International Cooperation. 

At its ninth session, held on the 15th and 19th of October 2018, the Conference of the Parties to the UNTOC established a review mechanism for the implementation of the UNTOC and its Protocols. The UNTOC Review Mechanism is a peer-review procedure that will enable States Parties to the Convention and Protocols on implementing these instruments effectively, as well as identify and substantiate specific technical assistance needs and foster international cooperation.


The tale of how the UNTOC was negotiated is one of triumph against adversity. The necessity to combat organized crime was elevated to the top of the worldwide political agenda, and tangible actions were implemented as a result of the efforts of individuals engaged. It undoubtedly established a framework of legal measures that have been incorporated into national legislation, as well as international cooperation provisions that have been used to pursue organized crime figures. 

The UNTOC is a vast, inventive, and forward-thinking legal document that includes provisions for video testimony for witnesses, long before the COVID crisis prompted widespread usage of video conferencing. It’s adaptable enough to new and evolving crimes, as well as criminal gang behaviour. The three additional Protocols have also raised the profile of the concerns and enhanced international efforts to combat them, particularly in the case of human trafficking. However, sufficient comprehensive information has not been gathered or analysed in this regard. 

Over the last two decades, transnational organized crime has emerged as a major threat to global security, with clear ties to international terrorism. In light of this, India attaches considerable importance to the Convention and Protocols, hoping that their entrance into force will reflect worldwide resolve to combat the global and cross-border scourge of terrorism. 

By taking this important step, the government has demonstrated its commitment to the Convention’s object and purpose, as well as our desire to join as Parties to this comprehensive global instrument that addresses a wide range of illegal activities, advocating international and national action to combat money laundering, illegal firearms sales, smuggling, and trafficking. 


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