The number of drug users in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase by nearly 150%

355.- baixaThe new research from ENACT [1] is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the illicit African drug trade, consumption patterns and African drug policy.

According to ENACT’s studies on transnational organised crime, ineffective drug policy, fuelled by corruption and organised crime, are exacerbating an expanding drug crisis in Africa.

African consumption of illegal drugs, including non-medical use of prescription opioids, threatens national development and is projected to become a public health emergency.

Sub-Saharan Africa will see the world’s biggest surge in illicit drug users in the next 30 years, with its share of global drug consumption projected to double.

Prisons are overcrowded, and generations of young people are disenfranchised by criminal convictions for low-level drug crimes. Continental drug markets continue to expand even as illicit crops are destroyed, drug labs dismantled, and drug shipments seized.

Drugs have become a revenue source for terrorist organisations and crime syndicates, but African law enforcement bodies lack the institutional, technological and financial capacities to have a significant impact on drug trafficking markets.

Researchers estimate that the number of drug users in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by nearly 150% in the next three decades. They forecast that by 2050 there will be an additional 14 million Africans using illegal drugs, with a total of 23 million users in sub-Saharan Africa.

West Africa’s role has expanded as a global trafficking hub for illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, and an illegal economy has developed around the production and distribution of methamphetamines.

Africa’s dangerous drugs phenomenon contributes to the growing global production of cocaine and heroin, which, according to the 2018 World Drug Report, are at the highest levels ever recorded. Other stimulants of the surging trade and consumption of drugs include urbanisation, development of infrastructure and transport routes, a fast-growing youth population, and challenging social and economic circumstances for millions of people.

The researchers made a number of recommendations to African Union policymakers. Effective pan-African responses to the crisis must include efforts to reduce production and trafficking of drugs, coupled with demand reduction and expanded healthcare for the treatment and care of drug users.

All regions should bolster their cross-border law enforcement responses to curb the supply and production of illicit drugs, targeting traffickers rather than users. The diversion of pharmaceutical opioids from legal channels also needs to be curbed.

[1] ENACT is funded by the European Union. The project builds knowledge and skills to enhance Africa’s response to transnational organised crime. It analyses how organised crime affects stability, governance, the rule of law and development in Africa, and works to mitigate its impact. ENACT is implemented by the Institute for Security Studies and INTERPOL, in affiliation with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.


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The effects of the coronavirus on organised crime in Latin America

354.- imagesThe coronavirus pandemic has forced criminal organisations in Latin America to make various internal changes. These adjustments stem from a desire to maintain their illicit operations despite the inconveniences: the trafficking of drugs and contraband, extortion and controlling the passage of migrants across borders. Their activities have been complicated by increased police checks and a lack of human activity.

As a result, organised crime gangs are having to move into previously unexplored territories, such as cybercrime or stealing medical supplies, for example. Some of the diverse dynamics being adopted by organised crime groups in Latin America are outlined below:

More social capital for criminals. Gangs such as MS13 and Barrio18 in El Salvador or the Jalisco cartel in Mexico, have created a situation whereby the criminals have supplanted the role of the State. The lockdown has afforded them a chance to consolidate control, win-over citizens and cultivate support.

The emergence of a new black market for medical equipment and medicines. Several countries on the continent already suffered from an active black market in medicines, and the pandemic has brought about an increase in thefts of medical supplies such as masks, hand sanitisers and even coronavirus detection kits.

The pandemic has exposed a severe lack of supply chain control in the medical field, which allows for products to be easily stolen.

More corruption. Healthcare systems have long been a target for corruption. Corrupt civil servants are taking advantage of the pandemic and using it as an opportunity to line their pockets.

More cybercrime. Criminals and hackers are taking advantage of increased online activity from citizens, businesses and government bodies. Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are the top three countries in Latin America for malware attacks.

In addition, organised crime groups are increasingly laundering money through cryptocurrency.

Less human trafficking. The tightening of border controls in response to the pandemic’s arrival in Latin America has forced organised crime gangs to scale back their activity in this field. Furthermore, the prices charged by the people smugglers, known as “coyotes”, have increased as crossing the various borders has become more difficult. They’re unlikely to lower these charges in the short-term.

Less illicit drugs, higher Prices. Drugs gangs have had to contend with transportation restrictions and increased patrols to enforce quarantines. As many borders have been closed, and police are monitoring vehicles, traffickers are finding it harder to move their product.

The impact has even been felt in US cities, where drug prices have spiked.



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COVID-19 causes a surge in firearms sales in the USA

353.- baixaThe arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in the United Stated prompted increased sales of all types of arms, even leading to queues outside some shops.[1] Many of the buyers say they need to feel safe during the lockdown, which is forcing them to stay at home, sometimes alone. The demand for weapons has been largely non-specific. Customers want almost any type of weapon they can use to defend themselves; this in itself is unusual because, typically, people who buy arms have a specific kind of weapon in mind.

The first days of the pandemic in the US quickly led to cases of deaths by firearm involving suicides or issues related to the social distancing rules implemented to curb the coronavirus. In Detroit, for example, armed demonstrators protested against the stay-at-home order and the closure of gun shops.[2]

Faced with the need to decide which businesses could remain open, the vast majority of governors opted to categorise gun shops as suppliers of essential products, basic necessities, and as such, have been allowed to continue trading as usual.[3] Only five states categorised gun shops as non-essential businesses, forcing them to close as a result: New York, New Mexico, Washington, Massachusetts and Michigan. To comply with social distancing rules, federally-licensed vendors can even sell guns on the street or to customers in their cars. It is worth noting that in Virginia, while not forcing gun stores to close due to lockdown, they have recently passed a law limiting the sale and possession of firearms.[4]

The National Rifle Association, which has been in dire financial straits for some time due to costly internal battles, among other things, and laid off staff immediately before the pandemic arrived is actively fighting the governors who have forced gun shops to close. It has even gone as far as to sue, as a minimum, the governors of New Mexico and Massachusetts.

Research on the subject is unequivocal:

  • People are more likely to sustain injuries after threatening the attackers with a gun than if they call the police or run away.
  • Having a firearm in the home increases the chance that members of that household will be injured or killed.
  • Only one in every 40 firearm homicides are a legitimate act of self-defence.
  • The more firearms in circulation, the more accidental shootings and homicides.

As a result, it seems evident that the increased number of weapons in homes during the lockdown increases the chance of domestic conflicts becoming life-threatening situations. As journalist Melinda Wenner Moyer concludes in a recently published article: “The more guns we have, and the closer we keep them to us, the more danger we will be in during this pandemic”.[5] By contrast, in a country where public opinion considers the possession of a weapon a fundamental right, guaranteed by the second amendment of the Constitution, only a few governors have dared to face the uproar that can be caused by the closure of gun shops.







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How criminals exploit the COVID-19 crisis

352.- baixaA few weeks ago, Europol published a report on the types of criminal activities being used to exploit the COVID-19 crisis.

The current crisis, unprecedented in the history of the European Union, has seen the Member States enacting various lockdown measures, including travel restrictions and limitations to public life, to combat the spread of the virus. These measures are designed to support public health systems, safeguard the economy and to ensure public order and safety.

The EU has identified several factors which, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to changes in crime and terrorism, and impacted on the internal security of the EU. They are as follows:

  • High demand for certain goods, protective gear and pharmaceutical products.
  • Decreased mobility and flow of people across and into the EU.
  • Limitations to public life will make some criminal activities less visible and displace them to home or online settings.
  • Citizens remain at home and are increasingly teleworking, relying on digital solutions.
  • Increased anxiety and fear that may create vulnerability to exploitation.
  • Decreased supply of certain illicit goods in the EU.

The global pandemic of COVID-19 is not only a serious health issue but also a serious cybersecurity risk. Criminals swiftly took advantage of the virus proliferation and are abusing the demand people have for information and supplies.

Criminals have used the COVID-19 crisis to carry out social engineering attacks, namely phishing emails through spam campaigns and more targeted attempts such as business email compromise (BEC).

There is a long list of cyber-attacks against organisations and individuals, including phishing campaigns that distribute malware via malicious links and attachments, and execute malware and ransomware attacks that aim to profit from the global health concern.

Information received from law enforcement partners strongly indicates increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material. Mostly because offenders expect children to be more vulnerable due to isolation, with less supervision and more online exposure.

During the coming months, it’s expected that the potential for financial damage to citizens, businesses and public organisations will increase. Criminals have also adapted investment scams to elicit speculative investments in stocks related to COVID-19 with promises of substantial profits.

And it’s highly likely that criminals will adapt fraud schemes in order to exploit the post-pandemic situation. Once again, the elderly are more likely to be vulnerable to scams. Fraudsters will seek to approach victims at home by pretending to be law enforcement or social/healthcare officials offering testing for COVID-19 in an attempt to enter homes and steal valuables.


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The cybercrime virus

351. green-hoodie-thumbnailCybercriminals have been the most adept at trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for the various scams and attacks they carry out. With a record number of potential victims staying at home and using online services across the European Union (EU) during the pandemic, the ways in which cybercriminals can exploit emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities have multiplied.

The document Catching the virus cybercrime, written by Europol in April 2020, summarises the following major threats posed by cybercrime:

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cybercrime has been the most visible and striking compared to other criminal activities.
  • Criminals active in cybercrime have been able to adapt quickly and capitalise on the anxieties and fears of their victims.
  • Phishing and ransomware campaigns are being launched to exploit the current crisis and are expected to continue to increase in scope and scale.
  • Activity around the distribution of child sexual exploitation material online appears to be on the increase, based on a number of indicators. The dark web continues to host various platforms such as marketplaces and vendor shops to distribute illicit goods and services.
  • After an initial fluctuation in sales via the dark web at the beginning of the crisis in Europe, the situation stabilised throughout March 2020.
  • Vendors attempt to innovate by offering COVID-19 related products.
  • Demand and supply dynamics for some goods are likely to be affected.
  • Product scarcity occurs via distributors on the surface web.
  • Criminal organisations seek to exploit the public health crisis to make a profit or advance geopolitical interests.
  • Increased disinformation and misinformation around COVID-19 continues to proliferate around the world, with potentially harmful consequences for public health and effective crisis communication.

Ransomware has been the most dominant cybercrime threat over the last several years. The current crisis is unlikely to change that dynamic. The pandemic may multiply the damaging impact of a successful attack against certain institutions, which reinforces the necessity for effective cyber resilience.

The number of phishing attempts exploiting the crisis is expected to continue to increase. However, we also expect a greater number of inexperienced cybercriminals to deploy ransomware-as-a-service. Not all of these campaigns will result in successful attacks due to the lack of experience and technical skills of the criminals.

Offenders are likely to attempt to take advantage of emotionally vulnerable, isolated children through grooming and sexual coercion and extortion.

Children allowed greater unsupervised internet access will be increasingly vulnerable to exposure to offenders through online activity such as online gaming, the use of chat groups in apps, phishing attempts via email, unsolicited contact in social media and other means.


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A reduction of violence in El Salvador

342.- comando-elite-1-e1461189843981The “Territorial Control Plan” is, according to the Salvadoran government, responsible for the country’s progression from being one of the most violent countries in the world to, in January 2020, recording its lowest number of homicides since the Civil War.

The country’s President, Nayib Bukele, is confident his plan will get the financial green light as the only way to ensure the numbers continue to decrease. Many analysts, however, say the historic reduction in violence is unlikely to be the result of a security strategy that, in their opinion, offers nothing new beyond the strategies put forward by previous governments.

Despite this, the official figures clearly indicate a significant decrease in the number of homicides in El Salvador, where the rate per 100,000 inhabitants fell from 51 in 2018 to 35.8 in 2019. And the downward trend has been even more pronounced since President Bukele took office in June 2019 and announced his plan to improve the country’s security. Since July, the monthly homicide rate has remained below the 200 mark. A record low was recorded in January with 119 homicides and a daily average of 3.8, – 60% less than in January 2018 -.

Several analysts attribute the reduction in violence to factors unrelated to government policy. They believe it’s more likely the gangs have forged a pact to stop the killings in order to avoid confrontations with security forces, leaving them free to maintain control of their territories and continue to engage in extortion. Other researchers think the reduction in homicides is a mirage; the result of a gang-initiated goodwill gesture towards the new Executive. This tactic, employed by gangs in the past, effectively attempts to blackmail President Bukele with the unspoken threat of rising homicide statistics should they wish to make their voice heard or demand a concession.

The “Territorial Control Plan” is divided into seven phases, two of which have already been implemented. Phase 1 involved the deployment of hundreds of police officers and members of the armed forces onto the streets. The prevision for phase 2 includes reconstructing the social fabric and training young people. Phase 3 is pending the approval of a US$109 million dollar loan from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration to fortify El Salvador’s security forces. Phases 4 to 7 have not yet been made public.

The government believes the continual presence of the security forces in the most problematic conflict zones is crucial. Previously, they had been present for 72 hours at most, and once they retired, the criminal world sprang into action once more.

Financial sustainability is one of the most significant challenges for the strategy, which also promotes community engagement as a way of ensuring the latest figures can be maintained.

There is, after all, a limit to what the security forces can achieve in terms of repressing the violence. Without active participation from the community, the results will be difficult to sustain over time. Some analysts are in favour of investing in social reform and employment projects, which they say would help to reduce the homicide rate and not just the rate of criminal prosecution.


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The London Police are using facial recognition in one of the city’s busiest shopping districts

341.- monitoring-camera-city-video-royalty-free-thumbnailJust across from the Microsoft store on London’s Regent Street, and just outside the entrance to the Oxford Circus tube station, the London Police have activated facial recognition technology that uses cameras on top of police vans.

The London Metropolitan Police has insisted the rollout of “live” facial recognition across the British capital aims to reduce serious crime.  But its critics decry its impact on privacy in one of the world’s busiest commercial districts.

The technology is relatively simple: cameras scan the faces in the crowd, and when one matches with one on their list of wanted criminal suspects, the police react instantaneously.

But there is concern over claims the technology may falsely identify people as criminals, especially those from ethnic minorities.

A North American NGO called the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a report in which it tested technology from nearly 100 different companies, and found that in most cases empirical evidence showed that age, race and gender affected accuracy. It noted that some could misidentify people in certain groups up to 100 times more frequently than others.

Another human rights organisation, Liberty, also wanted to make its presence in the camera area known by handing out flyers asking passers-by to “resist facial recognition”. They believe the technology is most likely to misidentify women and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. For this reason, they are opposed to the police force’s mass-scanning of all faces in range and the consequent harvesting of personal biometric data without consent.

For their part, the Japanese company that provided the technology, NEC, says the system tries to find matches with a pre-collected gallery of the faces of known criminal suspects. As a result, the live facial recognition technology does not store the faces of people who do not appear on any database.

Furthermore, the faces of those who aren’t on watch lists are blurred out in the footage viewed by officers and are not stored on police computers. According to police sources, the cameras will only be used at specific locations for a limited time.

Despite this, the list of organisations coming out against these police measures continues to grow. The Big Brother Watch organisation believes that never before have London citizens been subjected to identity checks without suspicion, let alone on a mass scale. They argue the technology makes citizens less free and no safer.


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Police strike drives up murder rate in Brazil

340.- Policiais_ocupam_Complexo_do_AlemaoThe now fivefold increase in the numbers of killings in various towns and cities in the north of Brazil has coincided with a strike by police and firefighters in support of pay increases after a six-year pay freeze.

The Federal Government has sent more than 2500 troops as reinforcements and hundreds of police officers have been dismissed for taking part in demonstrations in support of improved financial terms.

Hundreds of masked police officers tightened security in the north-east of Brazil during Carnival festivities, which had to be cancelled. Officers are trying to stop their colleagues from patrolling the streets and are making it difficult for them to move around by booby-trapping the wheels of their vehicles to puncture the tyres.

The decrease in police numbers has been matched by an increase in the number of killings, especially in the state of Cearà. Although the average number of killings was already high with six violent deaths per day so far in 2020, the official figure has increased fivefold with 150 killings last week, according to the Secretariat for Public Security and Community Defence.

Tension on the streets has reached the point where a senator from the left-wing Democratic Labour Party opposed to the police protests, Cid Gomes, suffered gunshot wounds when he tried to use a digger to gain entry to a police station that had been occupied by striking police officers in the city of Sobral.

The response of the Federal Government under President Jair Bolsonaro has been to send 2,500 troops to Cearà to retake the streets. In addition, authorities have dismissed more than 200 officers and have arrested some 40 on charges of desertion.

The protests started in December 2019. Police and firefighters in the state of Cearà demonstrated in front of the Legislative Assembly in the state capital Fortalesa demanding higher wages. Their unhappiness stems from the fact that they have not had any wage increases over the last six years, missing out on being paid salaries nearly 27% higher.

The Secretariat for Public Security and Community Defence in Cearà has explained that there was an investment of 600 million reals – more than $136 million – in security in the period 2015-2018. But the money was not spent on what the police were demanding but on taking on 10,000 more police and training 15,000 soldiers.

At the beginning of February, the government of Cearà agreed to increase pay for police and firefighters in stages to raise their current 3,200 real pay to 4,500. Expressed in dollars, their pay would go up from $750 to $1,025. But the pay increase would be introduced gradually over the period to 2022.

Police and firefighters are not satisfied and have called street demonstrations to express their unhappiness. But since the Brazilian constitution bars the forces of law and order from striking, the protests have been declared illegal by the courts.

That decision has had the opposite effect to the one intended and the police and firefighters have gone on all-out strike. The strike has still not come to an end despite outbreaks of violence and political and judicial pressure.


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The Government of El Salvador is adopting specific strategies to tackle gangs

339.- Mara_Salvatrucha_MS13Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador, has announced the implementation of specific strategies aimed at reducing violence in the country, which continues to have one of the highest recorded homicide rates in the world at 50.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018.

Although there has been criticism from within government of earlier ‘iron fist’ policies to deal with gangs, it was explained that the government is shifting to new models in the fight against crime, seeing it as a social problem resulting from lack of opportunity and poverty. Even so, there has so far been no mention of prevention or rehabilitation policies, rather the talk has been about attacking the gangs in two areas that the current government sees as key: prisons and the centres of big cities.

The first thing the government wants to do is attack gang finance. The government wants to cut off the gangs’ income so that they have no finance. It is thought that the gangs finance round 80% of their activity through extortion rackets. In parallel, the government wants to stop money laundering through the businesses that enable the gangs to operate.

A second front is to recover control of the centres of big cities, which are thought to be where the gangs run most of their extortion rackets. Government sources are of the view that previous policies focused on small rural communities were misconceived.

To take back those historic city centres, the government will deploy CCTV and put more police and soldiers on the streets. There will be an investment of $15 million in improving pay and conditions for the forces of law and order.

The third strand in the fight against the gangs is to cut communication with prisons, since some 80% of orders for killings and extortion are thought to be issued from prison. The plan is to cut off messages from prisons. Implementation requires new prison staff in order to circumvent bribery and extortion within prisons themselves.

The security plan being implemented by the Salvadorian government does not envisage any role for dialogue with the gangs. What’s more, it has been stressed that a government should not talk to “criminal groups”.

There are gang experts who believe that ‘iron fist’ policies cannot work on their own without a plan that addresses the socio-economic roots of violence in the country. There is no point in locking up thousands of gang members because they are part of the social fabric of El Salvador.

But politicians believe that the public are more concerned about crime and the government is trying to show that they are determined, which is what Salvadorians are thought to want. Nevertheless, there are political commentators who think there is room for a twin strategy: implement the existing strategy with a high-profile tougher approach to crime and when the gangs react put forward alternative proposals.


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