The liberalization of the global economy has made it much easier to move goods and people from one location to another. But it also makes it much easier to engage in criminal practices as more and more substances and enterprises are banned.
"When we think of the ease of transporting goods, dropping prices of shipping, the ease of movement of human beings across borders, these are all things that just give rise to market activity," says Beth Simmons, a political scientist at Harvard University and the author of the 2009 book Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics. "The rise of agreements to ban trade in certain kinds of protected species, and new bans now and international legal agreements specifically designed to prohibit and ban the trafficking of human beings across border."
To counter that, there's been tremendous growth in cooperation and engagement among police officers and law enforcement agencies across international lines.
"The United States has enhanced its cooperation with officials on both sides of the border - both north and south. But another really good example of this would be within Europe," Simmons says. "Interpol, which is an international organization of police departments, has been in existence for almost 80 years or so, but there has also been many regional counterparts to Interpol around the world. Europol is an example, where European police forces increasingly share information and cooperate with one another on prosecuting."
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REBECCA CRUISE, HOST: Beth Simmons, welcome to World Views.
BETH SIMMONS: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
CRUISE: Well, we're here today to talk a little bit about transnational crime. I think this is a concept that we hear all the time, and we have a sense that it has developed and changed and grown, but perhaps you could start off by just telling us what exactly transnational crime is, what it looks like, where we're seeing it most often, and perhaps how it has changed.
SIMMONS: Well, transnational crime is criminal activity that maybe begins in one state, and has consequences or is perpetrated in another state - crossing international lines. We can also think of transnational crime as rings or cooperative groups of individuals who operate as an organization that also crosses borders.
CRUISE: And in terms of commodities here, we're talking about the trafficking or the smuggling of weapons, drugs, animal products in some cases, and humans, among other things.
SIMMONS: I think you hit the big ones. I think probably the biggest market segment is going to be in the area of drug trafficking, narcotics trafficking. And in addition to that, I think you're right to think of the trade in weapons. We can think of a large segment of the market being trade in small weapons that we find used in various civil conflicts in different countries around the world, and also to commit crimes, of course, locally in several countries around the world. I think another area of transnational crime that is smaller in absolute numbers, but in some ways some of the most tragic, does have to do with moving human beings against their will.
CRUISE: So, as we think about this, we certainly have heard a lot more, particularly perhaps about human trafficking, but about this global trade in general. Particularly since the 1990s, this is something that seems to be more on our radar, but why are we seeing this increase? Is this technology? Is it other factors at play?
SIMMONS: I think one of the big reasons that we see a lot more transnational crime, I think I'd point to two things. First of all, with the liberalization of the global economy over the course of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, it's just become easier to move goods and people from one location to another. When we think of the ease of transporting goods, dropping prices of shipping, the ease of movement of human beings across borders, these are all things that just give rise to market activity. And some of the market activity, most market activity of course is licit, and a lot of it has been banned. One big reason why you see a growth in transnational crime is that more things have become criminalized over time. And a good example of that would be the growing number of narcotics that are now banned in international law. The rise of agreements to ban trade in certain kinds of protected species, and new bans now and international legal agreements specifically designed to prohibit and ban the trafficking of human beings across borders as well. There were not explicit international agreements in these areas only a few decades ago, and now that there are, more and more things are falling into this category of a transnational crime.
CRUISE: So transnational crime, these are people across borders working together, sometimes through organized criminal organizations, sometimes perhaps not, but that also requires then a transnational response. You mentioned international treaties, international laws which can be difficult to implement. But this really does require cooperation among states, between states. Are we seeing enhanced cooperation in this area? Are police forces working together, sharing information, enhanced transparency?
SIMMONS: I think that's probably true. there has been, I think, tremendous growth in cooperative engagement and cooperative programs between police forces across borders. The United States has enhanced its cooperation with officials on both sides of the border - both north and south. But another really good example of this would be within Europe where there is now the growth in European-wide police cooperation in the form of arrest warrants, that, for example, are recognized across Europe. So a European arrest warrant, making it much easier to investigate and also to prosecute criminal activity across the region. So yeah, I think there's been a big growth in international cooperation with respect to policing. Interpol, which is an international organization of police departments, has been in existence for almost 80 years or so, but there has also been many regional counterparts to Interpol around the world. Europol is an example, where European police forces increasingly share information and cooperate with one another on prosecuting. Asianpol is another example. So different parts of the world you see this rise in efforts to extend the possibility of cooperative policing beyond the boundaries of the sovereign nation states.
CRUISE: Are we seeing some of this cooperation also, say, between South and North? It seems to make sense that you would have enhanced cooperation between the United States and Canada, or some of the European partners, or within Europe. But as we know, many of these commodities are coming from South to North, transiting perhaps through Europe. But that the issues are in unstable countries. Are they cooperating in these international agreements, or in enhanced policing activities as well?
SIMMONS: That's a good question, because it's one thing to have an agreement on paper, and it is of course something completely different to see effective cooperation on the ground. As soon as you have efforts to work across different types of policing organizations, with different kinds of capacities, with different kinds of legal authority, and different cultural restraints on the police, and legal constraints, for that matter, you do raise the issue of the difficulty of understanding the terms on which that cooperation is going to take place across police forces. So that is a very difficult issue. It is not the case that every police organization in the world, that the United States would like to have cooperative relationships with, has the capacity to be an effective cooperating partner. And may have very different standards of policing than the United States itself.
CRUISE: As you say, we are seeing more international agreements, or seeing more agreements through the UN to deal with some of these activities that have now gained criminal status. What is the benefit for some of these countries who may be aren't as willing to cooperate as we might have thought, but what is the benefit of them to sign on to these agreements, or to ratify some of these agreements?
SIMMONS: Well, one example would be the United Nations convention on transnational organized crime. That, I think, is the centerpiece to try to create an international consensus that transnational organized crime is a serious, serious issue. And that states need to work together to try to counter transnational crime. I think that one of the benefits of increased ratification, and at least getting countries' commitments on paper, is that at least it creates a raised expectation that this is something that we all value, at least in principle. And it gives us a basis for then asking those countries to ramp up their cooperation in the future. When they do ratify such conventions, it doesn't mean that they are immediately and automatically prepared to make radical changes. But it is a slow process of development. And when international agreements are ratified, then it is a matter of slowly working toward developing the capacity, and the normative expectation, I suppose I would say, to cooperate using police forces, for example. For judicial institutions across countries to cooperate with one another. And in some ways, aim our aid programs in ways that can effectively develop those capacities as well.
CRUISE: So these international conventions, documents, efforts at cooperation are significant and important, perhaps an early step in trying to tackle some of these issues. You have done research, and have talked on the issue of how these sorts of things are framed. How they get support from actors or other interested parties. And you found some interesting findings, or are able to relate some interesting findings about the use of word "crime," or the criminal frame in dealing with human rights issues.
SIMMONS: Let's take one of the areas where transnational crime has recently gotten a lot of attention. I think both in terms of political mobilization, and in the media, and that's the area of human trafficking. Groups have organized to try to bring the issue of human trafficking to the attention of policymakers in the United States, at the level of the United Nations and elsewhere around the world. And this has been an issue that has really risen on the international agenda very, very quickly. I think one reason this is the case is while it was initially framed as a human rights issue, that is, think of the transportation of unwitting victims from one country to another. And they find themselves then employed in situations where they're being abused, where they're not being paid, where they're treated poorly. Where they have a lack of freedom of movement. That's what we would consider to be human trafficking. Of course, it's a serious human right issue, and groups mobilize around this set of concerns about the victim. So that brings the issue to the agenda, but states don't always respond to that human rights framing of the issue. And rather, they tend to respond, I found looking at the language of resolutions at the United Nations, I found that there's been an evolution away from thinking about human trafficking as a rights issue, and toward seeing it as part of this broader trend in transnational crime, linked up, for example, with rings that also traffic drugs. Linked up with rings that are involved in money laundering, weapons trafficking, et cetera. When states understand that this movement in human beings may have a lot to do with these broader, transnational crime trends, then they seem willing to take strong effort to do something about it. Less so when it's framed as a human rights issue.
CRUISE: That's interesting. Would we see that in the United States then as well?
SIMMONS: I think to a certain extent. I was looking also at data on the various states within the United States that have criminalized human trafficking, and found a very interesting phenomenon. You see evidence both of concerns about transnational crime, but also about human rights issues and issues about victims. So one thing, when we looked at the data, one of the factors that was highly correlated with early criminalization of human trafficking among the states in the United States, was the proportion of church attendance in states.
CRUISE: Church attendance. That's interesting.
SIMMONS: Yeah, I thought that was interesting as well. But I associate it with the very strong and consistent lobbying activity, and advocacy activity that many churches have taken in this issue area. And their focus does tend to be on the rights and the protections of the victim, and bringing the plight of the victim to public attention. So that is one interesting phenomenon. And yet another one that really has a bit more to do with the fear of vulnerability or transnational crime, is that another strong predictor of early criminalization of human trafficking among the 50 states is whether a state has an international airport. And has a border with a foreign country, or borders on the sea coast. So that conjures up images of being much more vulnerable to these transnational kinds of organizations than the first effect that I gave you about the influence of the more religious organizations advocating more the human rights angle.
CRUISE: So multiple frames to deal with the issues here in this country, and certainly a broader, multiple frames to deal with human trafficking and transnational crime internationally. So very, very interesting topics, and we'll continue to see how things develop. Thank you so much for your time today.
SIMMONS: Thank you. I enjoyed it.
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