The role of organised crime in contemporary conflicts

Since the beginning of the first decade of the 20th century, the links between armed conflicts and organised crime have been more evident. This is present in all stages of contemporary armed conflicts, and serves to increase levels of violence and makes it difficult to resolve such conflicts. Several types of criminal businesses are a source of extremely important finance for the armed groups participating in conflicts, especially non-state groups. The main criminal businesses that contribute to financing armed groups are the different activities related to exploiting natural resources, drug trafficking, trafficking cultural assets and people, among others.

Organized crime and its role in contemporary conflictIn September 2018, the platform with its headquarters in Geneva Global Initiative against Transnational Crime published a study in which it analysed this relationship between organised crimeand current conflicts. In this report, it was indicated how pacifying missions in general and deployments promoted by the United Nations Security Council have not only been unable to bear in mind the role played by the trafficking of assets and illegal services in armed conflicts, but also in some cases have unintentionally contributed to the proliferation of illegal business, by cooperating with criminal groups,to achieve peaceand by accepting their participation and influence in the new governments and emerging institutional structures of the conflict, and therefore also increasing demand for illegal products and activities.

The document stresses the importance of focusing on dynamics and interests that underlie criminal businesses when designing pacifying strategies, and also the importance of reinserting combatants in civil society to prevent these from continuing to be involved in criminal activities and, therefore, to ensure stability. For now, there are two United Nations missions in operation that focus on organised crime dynamics and their role in the armed conflict in question: The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated StabilisationMission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO).Both missions have reaffirmed the idea that the links between conflicts in these two countries and the whole region in general with organised crime are evident.

Although there is a very clear need, consensus to integrate activities to combat crime in pacifying actions on the part of the United Nations have been limited, mainly due to the lack of coordination between the pacifying forces and UN criminal justice authorities. The need to gain approval of UN actions from the governments of countries where the conflict is taking place makes it even more difficult to implement and coordinate effectively. In many cases, these actions are aimed at impeding access to natural resources that could be illegally exploited by violent groups, ignoring the fact that in some cases the most important political actors are the ones that have control of product trafficking and illegal services.

The study indicates an increase in the number of resolutions of the UN Security Council concerning organised crime. Between 2012 and 2017, over 60% of the resolutions were related to organised crime, a considerable figure if compared with resolutions that were linked to terrorism issues, about half. Hence, although terrorism is regarded as one the main threats to global security, if not the main one, the impact of organised crime is bigger. One quantative example is that in 2015 there were 328 terrorist-related deaths, whereas deaths related to criminal activities amounted to 256,500.

The document also determines that some conflicts are associated with a specific criminal activity, as may be the case with Somalia and piracy or Libya and people and migrant trafficking, although by far most conflicts are found to have dynamics involving a range of criminal activities, as is the case of Afghanistan, Sudan and South Sudan, the conflicts of Sahel, Mali, DR Congo, etc.What is clear is that organised crime (arms trafficking, drug trafficking, kidnapping, financial crime, people trafficking and trafficking wildlife) have become a very important component in all current conflicts, and much of the resulting violence caused by such illegal activities is related to confrontation to control the main resources and the most important routes for trafficking.

The dynamics underlying these activities are different in each context, but as a general framework, the lack of effective institutions leads to a lack of development and gives continuity to illegal business as a key economic activity. These activities, moreover, are becoming increasingly diverse.

The first steps that the report proposes to reduce the possibility that peace operations contribute to the emergence of criminal activities are:

  • An increase in the provision of resources for entities that are responsible for analysing criminal markets and their links with armed conflicts.
  • Analysis of the economic, political and social situation of the actors that control natural resources and routes for trafficking and their economic motivation.
  • Analysis of the dynamic of these markets.
  • Obtaining control of key strategic points like sources of natural resources of DR Congo, the gold mines of the Central African Republic, and the ports on the coast of Libya.
  • Establishing a UN mechanism comparable with the Global Strategy of the United Nations against terrorism to address organised crime.

You can consult the whole reporton the following link:


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