Europol: The cocaine market is increasingly violent

A diversification of actors in the cocaine supply has led to an increase in violence, according to the latest report on cocaine by Europol-UNODC.

A greater degree of violence and a more diverse and competitive market are the main features of the cocaine trade in Europe today. The new report on this drug describes the new dynamics of the cocaine market, and concludes that it represents a clear threat to European and global security.

The report was published as part of CRIMJUST’s work program, which strengthens cooperation on criminal justice along drug trafficking routes within the framework of the European Union’s Global Illicit Flows Programme.

Fragmenting of the criminal landscape in countries of origin has offered new opportunities for European criminal networks to receive a direct supply of cocaine, thus eliminating intermediaries. This new competition in the market has led to an increase in the supply of cocaine and consequently to greater violence, a trend detected in Europol’s 2021 Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment. For example, criminal networks in the Western Balkans have established direct contact with producers and have secured a prominent place in the wholesale supply of cocaine.

The report highlights the importance of intervention at the source, as this market is heavily driven by the supply chain. Strengthening cooperation and further increasing the exchange of information between police forces would improve the effectiveness of the investigations and shipment detection.

The report highlights the importance of money laundering investigations in order to track illegal profits and to confiscate illicit goods related to crime activities. These financial investigations are the main core of the fight against cocaine trafficking, ensuring that criminal activities do not pay off.

Julia Viedma, head of Department of the Operational and Analysis Centre at Europol, considers cocaine trafficking to be one of the key security concerns that the EU faces right now. Nearly 40% of the criminal groups active in Europe are involved in drug trafficking, and the cocaine trade generates several million euros in criminal profits. A better understanding of the challenges that the police faces will help fighting more effectively against the violent threat posed by cocaine trafficking networks to citizens. Chloé Carpentier, chief of the Drug Research Section at UNODC, highlighted that the current dynamic of diversification and proliferation of cocaine supply channels, criminal actors and modalities is likely to increase, if left uncontrolled.

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Central America, a homicide epidemic

In recent decades, the history of Central America has been shaped by violence to the point where it now has one of the highest rates of homicide and crime in the world. According to the latest report on homicides published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), America, with only 13% of the world’s population, recorded 42% of all victims in the world.

The World Health Organisation (OMS) says that when a country has a homicide rate of more than 10 per 10,000 inhabitants, it should be classed as a homicide epidemic. With the exception of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, all the Central American nations exceed this figure, particularly the three in the so-called Northern Triangle – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. El Salvador has the worst rate at 62.1 per 100,000 in 2017 (although it has decreased to 30 in recent months), followed by Honduras with 41.7 per 100,000.

These countries have gone from political violence during the civil wars of the 1980s to post-war violence, which is now social and marked by the emergence of new, dangerous actors, such as gangs and organised crime groups. The criminals responsible are not motivated by ideology or politics but by individual or group catalysts, which are above all economic in the case of organised crime, and revolve around identity and social incentives for gangs. This new crime wave has spread like a disease throughout the region, making it one of the world’s most insecure areas. It is the root of multiple external and internal displacements – 71,500 in El Salvador between 2006 and 2016 and 174,000 in Honduras between 2004 and 2014 – that have occurred in the last decade as a result of inhabitants often being left with no choice other than to flee.

The violence indisputably affects all three Northern Triangle countries, although not all suffer from the same problems equally; there are nuances. Guatemala has a growing economy, and the country is less affected by the gang phenomenon. However, it has more organised crime, its state is weaker, there is more corruption among the political class, and the military and police are more infiltrated by crime. Honduras is severely affected by both gangs and organised crime, and there is criminal penetration in the police and the military.

El Salvador has fewer political problems, and there is little criminal penetration in security institutions. Still, it has the worst gang problem out of the three countries and faces more challenges in developing its economy.

Gangs existed in Central America before the civil wars, but the phenomenon as we know it today was born in Los Angeles (USA) in the 80s. The city was known as a gang mecca in those days, but became the preferred destination for many Northern Triangle families fleeing war and threats from paramilitary groups.

Given the situation in the Northern Triangle countries, it is not uncommon for their inhabitants to feel they must abandon them and seek refuge in other latitudes. According to a 2019 survey by the Central American University of El Salvador, 63.8% of Salvadorans would like to leave the country, and a 2019 study by the Jesuit Network in Honduras found the same applies to 42% of Hondurans.

Lastly, given that so many gang members would like to leave the gangs but can’t envisage any other possible future, support for reintegration projects could prove very useful.

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The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report

In 2020, the risk of a pandemic became a reality. According to various surveys conducted by governments and businesses, the damage inflicted over the last year is severe and significant in all spheres of society.

It is in this context that the 16th edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report has been published. The analysis centres on the risks and consequences of widening inequalities and societal fragmentation. In some cases, disparities in health outcomes, technology, or workforce opportunities are the direct result of the dynamics the pandemic created. In others, already-present societal divisions have widened, straining weak safety nets and economic structures beyond capacity.

Whether the gaps can be narrowed will depend on the actions taken in the wake of COVID-19 to rebuild with a view towards an inclusive and accessible future. Inaction on economic inequalities and societal divisiveness may further stall action on climate change, which remains an existential threat to humanity.

Growing societal fragmentation—manifested through persistent and emerging risks to human health, rising unemployment, widening digital divides, and youth disillusionment—can have severe consequences in an era of compounded economic, environmental, geopolitical and technological risks.

The immediate human and economic cost of COVID-19 is severe. It threatens to scale back years of progress on reducing poverty and inequality and to further weaken social cohesion and global cooperation. Interactions and abrupt shifts in the markets could lead to dire consequences and lost opportunities for large parts of the global population. Social unrest, political fragmentation and geopolitical tensions will shape the effectiveness of our responses to the other key threats of the next decade: cyberattacks, weapons of mass destruction and, most notably, climate change.

The 2021 Global Risks Report shares the results of the latest Global Risks Perception Survey, followed by analysis of growing social, economic and industrial divisions, their interconnections, and their implications on our ability to resolve major global risks requiring societal cohesion and global cooperation.

The report concludes with proposals for enhancing resilience, drawing from the lessons of the pandemic as well as historical risk analysis.

Among the highest likelihood risks in the next ten years are extreme weather, climate action failure and human-led environmental damage; as well as digital inequality and cybersecurity failure.

Among the highest impact risks in the next decade, the report highlights infectious diseases (China in the top spot), followed by climate action failure and other environmental risks; as well as weapons of mass destruction, livelihood crises and debt crises.

Finally, the report also points to potential employment and livelihood crises, widespread youth disillusionment, digital inequality, economic stagnation, human-made environmental damage, erosion of societal cohesion, and terrorist attacks.

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Costa Rica, personal safety in Central America

Costa Rica is geographically located in Central America. It is bordered to the north by Nicaragua, to the south by Panama and has the Caribbean to the east and the Pacific to the east. It covers 51,060 square kilometres. On 1 January 2019, its population was a little over 5 million.

The murder rate per 100,000 has been on a downward trend since 2017 and as 2019 ends it is at 11.2, the lowest level in the period, and below the average for Latin America, which is 20.1.

The homicide rate in 2018 was 11.7 per 100,000, almost half the figure for Latin America. In 2018 there were 586 homicides, 16 fewer than in 2017. That fall is the first in the last 6 years, with homicide trending up in Costa Rica since 2012.

In 2018, 91% of murder victims were men; despite that, the rate of homicides against women rose by 0.3 percentage points in comparison with 2017. The principal victims of homicide are men aged 18-30. Men in that age band made up 41% of victims.

The provinces of San José and Limón saw the highest number of homicides. One in every two homicides in the country was committed in those two provinces.

In 2018 there were 504 reported rapes and cases of sexual abuse. Those offences show a greater decrease relative to 2017, with a fall of 5%.

Approximately 9 out of 10 reports were made by women, and the principal victims were aged 15-17. The rate of rape in this group of women is 4 times higher than in other age groups.

Crimes against property are the most frequently reported in Costa Rica. The main property crime is theft, with a total of 18,489 reported offences in 2018, 31% of the total.

Most thefts were, however, committed against people. However, thefts from homes and vehicles are a larger proportion than muggings. Finally, robbery is principally committed against homes, followed by vehicles.

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Fighting Human Trafficking in the Digital Era

Modern communication technologies –namely the internet, social media and mobile applications –have significantly impacted the way in which organised crime groups involved in the international trafficking of human beings operate. The issue was covered by a recent October 2020 Europol report on the challenges of countering human trafficking in the digital age.

Technology has broadened criminals’ ability to traffic human beings for different types of exploitation, including sexual and labour exploitation, the removal of organs, illegal adoption of children and forced marriages.

For traffickers, the advantages of using technology include increased anonymity, the ability to take part in real-time yet encrypted communications, the possibility of reaching a broader audience (in terms of victims and clients), geographical mobility, and the ability to control victims from a distance. Today, technology is exploited by traffickers during every phase of sexual exploitation, from the recruitment and advertisement of victims, to blackmailing them with photos and videos and controlling their movements at all times. The financial management of the criminal business is also often done online.

According to the Europol report, importantly, modern technology means that human traffickers no longer need to be in close proximity to their victims in order to control them. Traditionally, control over victims involved violence and physical restriction of movement. Today, control can be exerted via various forms of blackmail (e.g. by threatening to share photos and videos of sex acts online) as well as via virtual forms of movement restriction and real-time monitoring (e.g. GPS and built-in video cameras in smartphones, and location-sharing applications).

The use of modern technology has also influenced the traditional structure and division of tasks within trafficking networks. Criminals have taken on central roles facilitated by the internet, particularly in trafficking networks involved in sexual exploitation.

The current economic context, primarily shaped by the COVID-19 crisis, is likely to have dangerous consequences for the issue of human trafficking. Criminals could have access to a wider pool of individuals in economic distress, and potentially increasingly prone to accept any kind of job opportunity. At the same time, an increased demand for cheap labour may work as a pull factor, provoking a potential rise in trafficking within the EU.

According to the Europol document, the next few years will be critical in terms of identifying and agreeing on the legal and technical frameworks that can be implemented to act effectively against trafficking in human beings in the digital age.

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El Salvador’s Citizens Identify Security as their Primary Concern

Until 2009, the population of El Salvador identified the country’s economic performance as their primary area of concern. After 2009 however, this changed, and since then, residents have viewed crime and insecurity as the most significant problems faced by the country. The data in this report was obtained from the Transparency Portal of El Salvador’s National Civil Police Force, the Public Opinion Institute of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (IUDOP/UCA) and the Latinobarómetro.

Despite occasional reductions in violent deaths since 2010, they remain significantly higher than those recorded in Latin America as a whole. In 2018, men accounted for the majority of violent deaths (88.4%),and 44.3% of the victims of the crime were people aged between 18 and 29 years old.

In general, between 2017 and 2018, the total number of crimes, excluding violent deaths, decreased by 6%. The crimes to have experienced the sharpest increases are vehicle robbery (+19.4%) and vehicle theft (+9.0%), followed by kidnapping (+6.7%). Homicides that take place in cars or deaths caused by traffic accidents also increased (+5.5%). Conversely, the theft and robbery of goods vehicles saw a decrease (-16.7%), as did robbery (-13.6%) and theft
(-12%).

With regard to victimisation, between 2001 and 2018, two out of ten Salvadorans were the victims of a crime, although in 2018 the rate lowered slightly to 16.5%, its lowest figure since 2005.

It should also be noted that in 2017, 78.1% of victims did not file a complaint with the relevant authorities. And this figure rose to 80.5% in 2018. This high level of unreported offences means that only two out of ten crimes ever get recorded by the National Civil Police (PNC) or the courts. What’s more, in 2018, only 35.4% of those surveyed said they had some confidence in the PNC.

On the other hand, the percentage of people who say they are afraid to walk around their neighbourhood alone decreased slightly between 2017 and 2018. The decrease was primarily reported by women, falling by 3.1% between 2017 and 2018. However, incidences of femicide increased by 184.5% in 2018 compared to 2013, the year when the crime was classified under the First Comprehensive Law for a Life Free of Violence against Women (LEIV).

With regard to classification, in 2015, 59.4% of violent female deaths were classified as femicides. In 2017, this figure was 75.9% and in 2018 81.9%. This increase could be linked to the improved capacity for properly documenting these violent acts.

On prisons, the data shows that overcrowding rose from 202% in 2010 to 378% in 2016. In 2018, El Salvador’s incarceration rate was 609 for every 100,000 inhabitants, making it one of the highest in Latin America. In the same year, the average rate in Latin America was 376 for every 100,000 inhabitants, and the global figure was 145.

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Far-Right Extremism Taints German Security Services

A report by the German Federal Intelligence agency listed more than 1,400 instances in which soldiers, police officers and Intelligence officials were suspected of extremist actions.

The report is a first attempt to document the extent of far-right infiltration in the security services. It comes as the number of cases of extremists found in police forces and the military has multiplied.

Dozens of police officers have been suspended for joining far-right chat groups and sharing neo-Nazi propaganda. In June this year, the Defence minister disbanded a whole company of Germany’s Special Forces after explosives, a machine gun and SS memorabilia were found on the property of a sergeant major.

Horst Seehofer, the German Interior minister, insisted that there was no structural problem, and said the vast majority of people in the security services were loyal to the German Constitution. He said that we are dealing with a few cases, and that the overwhelming majority of the employees at the security agencies (over 99 per cent) “are firmly rooted in the Constitution”.

The 98-page report, which covers a period beginning in January 2017, explains that the real number of extremists was almost certainly higher than that reported and warned that even a relatively small number of highly trained officers who are radicalised constituted a significant danger for the State and for society. According to the report, identifying extremists remains a high priority for the security service.

For years, German politicians and security chiefs rejected any suggestion that the security services had been infiltrated by the far right, acknowledging only individual cases. But the number of cases has continued to rise since data for the report was collected.

Last month, the head of the military counterintelligence agency, Christof Gramm, was dismissed because the agency on his watch had repeatedly failed in its mission to monitor and detect extremism in the armed forces.

Haldenwang, the head of the Federal Intelligence, whose agency was founded after World War II and is known as the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, has warned that far-right extremism and terrorism constitute the biggest risk for Germany’s democracy today.

Over the past 15 months, Germany has witnessed three deadly terrorist attacks by far-right extremists. A regional politician was shot on his front porch, a synagogue was attacked, and nine people of immigrant descent were shot.

In September this year, the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia suspended 29 police officers suspected of sharing images of Hitler and violent neo-Nazi propaganda in online chat groups. Last week, another group, this time Intelligence agents responsible for monitoring far-right extremists, was found to have shared xenophobic and anti-Islamic videos.

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Public safety statistics improve in the Dominican Republic

The study on public safety was carried out with official figures from the eleven institutions that make up the Dominican Republic’s Citizen Security Observatory.

The rate of wilful homicides per 100,000 inhabitants continues to follow a strong downward trend, closing 2019 with a rate of 9.9, the lowest in the last ten years, bearing in mind that in 2011 it was 21.9. Thus, between 2011 and 2019, incidences of wilful homicide have fallen by 60%.

The number of women killed has reduced numerically, from 233 in 2011 to 145 in 2019. However, in percentage terms, the number of female victims has increased from 9.3% in 2011 to 14.1% in 2019.

The homicide rate shows seasonal patterns, with nearly all occurring during the summer months or in December. Furthermore, two-thirds of wilful homicides took place in domestic settings: arguments, fights, domestic violence, etc.

With regard to the age and sex of victims, the majority, 42%, were young people between 20 and 34 years old, and 86% were men.

The study also provides information about the use of firearms used in a large proportion of killings. However, the use of these weapons has been declining in recent years, from 67% in 2015 to 49% in 2018. The same is true of gunshot wounds, which fell from 2,542 in 2017 to 2,145 in 2018.

Improvements can also be seen in the entries on deaths caused by traffic accidents, which have historically been the main cause of premature mortality in the country. In 2018 there were 1,588 deaths on the roads. This number fell to 1,418 in 2019. Several studies have concluded that fatal accidents are most likely to occur on weekends, particularly in the timeslot between 18.00 to 23.59 hours, which accounts for 28% of cases. Lastly, it should be noted that motorcycles were involved in 68% of all fatal accidents.

With regard to the theft of motor vehicles, in 2018, 6,145 vehicles were reported stolen. It’s one of the few indicators to increase year after year; in 2016, 5,455 vehicles were reported as stolen, and in 2017 that number increased to 5,970.

The study also reports on suicides, as it’s one of the few indicators with a clear upward trend. The number of suicides in the Dominican Republic has increased from 557 in 2014 to 571 in 2016. By 2018, that number was 648, with a rate of 7.0 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 84% of suicide victims were male.

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EU terrorism situation and trends 2020

Europol has published the (TE-SAT) 2020 report, which provides an overview of terrorism incidents and developments in the EU during 2019.

Ten people died as a result of terrorist attacks in the EU, and 27 people were injured. All deaths and the injuries of 26 people were the result of jihadist attacks. Only one person was injured in a rightwing terrorist attack. In addition to these terrorist attacks, Germany reported two major violent extremist attacks that killed three people and injured several others. Outside the EU, 17 civilians from EU Member States died in a terrorist attack (in Sri Lanka on the 21st of April 2019).

In 2019, 1,004 individuals were arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offences in 19 EU Member States, with Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and the UK reporting the highest numbers. The overall number of arrests decreased slightly for the second consecutive year in 2019, but the figures show that terrorism remained geographically widespread in the EU.

EU Member States reported that individuals imprisoned for terrorist offences and prisoners who radicalise in prison pose a threat both during their imprisonment and after release. In 2019 the failed attack on the 5th of March in a French prison, the thwarted 23rd of July attack on prison guards in France and the 29th of November attack in London by a recently released prisoner, are indicative of the threat. France reported that more than 500 terrorist convicts live in French prisons alongside 900 radicalised individuals. Between mid-2018 and the end of 2019, a total of four attacks in French prisons were foiled.

The total number of jihadism-related incidents in the EU decreased slightly (21 in 2019; 24 in 2018) but continued to be geographically widespread. Eight EU Member States suffered completed, failed or foiled jihadist terrorist attacks, the same number as in 2018.

As in previous years, the attacks specified as ethnonationalist terrorism represented the largest proportion (57 of 119) of all terrorist attacks. Their number decreased compared to 2018 (83).

In 2019 nearly half of all reported jihadism-inspired attacks and disrupted plots involved the use of explosives. Terrorists mostly aimed to target civilians and places of mass gathering. All jihadist bombing attacks failed or were thwarted by authorities.

In the EU, there is little evidence of a systematic nexus between crime and terrorism. Criminals and terrorists coexist in certain marginalised areas, within the same family structures or in prison, thereby enabling contacts and transaction-based cooperation. However, criminals are observed to be wary of terrorist suspects drawing attention to their activities. Skilled criminals are attractive recruits for terrorist groups.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified cybercrime

This October, Europol published its 2020 cybercrime report, with updates on the latest trends and the current impact of cybercrime within the EU and beyond.

The global COVID-19 pandemic that hit every corner of the world forced us to reimagine our societies and reinvent the way we work and live. During the lockdown, we turned to the internet for a sense of normality: shopping, working and learning online at a scale never seen before. And cybercriminals took advantage of it to commit many different types of crimes.

Phishing remains an effective threat. Criminals use innovative methods to increase the volume and sophistication of their attacks. Criminals quickly exploited the pandemic to attack vulnerable people; phishing, online scams and the spread of fake news became an ideal strategy for cybercriminals seeking to sell items they claim will prevent or cure COVID-19.

Encryption continues to be a clear feature of an increasing number of services and tools. One of the main challenges for law enforcement is how to access and gather relevant data for criminal investigations.

Ransomware attacks have become more sophisticated, targeting specific organisations in the public and private sector through victim reconnaissance. While the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an increase in cybercrime, ransomware attacks were targeting the healthcare industry long before the crisis. Moreover, criminals have included another layer to their ransomware attacks by threatening to auction off the comprised data, increasing the pressure on the victims to pay the ransom.

The main threats related to online child abuse exploitation have remained stable in recent years; however, the detection of online child sexual abuse material saw a sharp spike at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. Offenders keep using a number of ways to hide this horrifying crime, such as P2P networks and encrypted communications applications.

Livestreaming of child abuse continues to increase, becoming even more popular than usual during the COVID-19 crisis when travel restrictions prevented offenders from physically abusing children. In some cases, video chat applications in payment systems are used, which becomes one of the key challenges for law enforcement as this material is not recorded.

SIM swapping, which allows perpetrators to take over accounts, is one of the new trends this year. Criminals fraudulently swap or port victims’ SIMs to one in the criminals’ possession in order to intercept the one-time password step of the authentication process.

In 2019 and early 2020, there was a high level of volatility on the dark web. The lifecycle of dark web marketplaces has shortened, and there is no clear dominant market that has risen over the past year. Tor remains the preferred infrastructure; however, criminals have started to use other privacy-focused, decentralised marketplace platforms to sell their illegal goods. Although this is not a new phenomenon, these sorts of platforms have started to increase over the last year.

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