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The United Nations congresses on crime prevention and criminal justice are one of the main periodic conferences of the United Nations and play a major role in international standard-setting and policy-making in crime prevention and criminal justice. The congresses bring together policy-makers and practitioners in the area of crime prevention and criminal justice, as well as parliamentarians, individual experts from academia, representatives from civil society and the media.


The efforts of the international community to lay down standards, norms and guidelines in criminal justice are not without precedent. One of the earliest forms of cooperation between sovereign States in law enforcement involved efforts to control piracy on the high seas, but those measures were often undercut in some countries by the practice of chartering freelance privateers to harass their rivals.


In the nineteenth century, as large-scale police forces, court systems and prisons began appearing in the major cities, studies on the causes of crime drew widespread attention to the field of criminology. A series of conferences in Europe, of which the most notable was the International Congress on the Prevention and Repression of Crime, held in London in 1872, brought together experts and professionals from various countries. Leading issues under consideration included the proper administration of prisons, possible alternatives to imprisonment, modes of rehabilitating convicts, treatment of juvenile offenders and extradition treaties.


At the close of the International Congress in London, the International Prison Commission was formed to collect penitentiary statistics, encourage penal reform and convene further international conferences. Later affiliated with the League of Nations, the Commission held three conferences in European capitals from 1925 to 1935. At the last of those conferences, the International Prison Commission was renamed the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission.


Following the dissolution of the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission, its functions and archives were incorporated in the operations of the new Organization. The General Assembly, in its resolution 415 (V) of 1 December 1950, approved a plan concerning the transfer of the functions of the Commission to the United Nations, including the convening of international congresses every five years.


1955: The First Congress


The First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Geneva from 22 August to 3 September 1955, was predominantly concerned with the treatment of juvenile delinquents and prisoners. The number of juvenile delinquents and prisoners had risen dramatically in post-war Europe. The First Congress considered the possibilities of “open” penal and correctional institutions, the selection and training of prison personnel and the proper use of prison labour. It was attended by 512 persons from 61 countries and 3 territories, observers and representatives from numerous intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and 235 individual participants. The First Congress approved a set of Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, based on revisions by the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission of standards endorsed by the League of Nations. The Standard Minimum Rules were later approved by the Economic and Social Council in its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and extended by the Council by its resolution 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, becoming a prototype for international models, standards, norms and guidelines on the administration of criminal justice.


1960. The Second Congress


Crime resulting from social changes accompanying rapid economic development, including juvenile delinquency, was at the center of attention of the Second United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in London from 8 to 19 August 1960. The range of issues discussed was broader than at the First Congress; the issues included: (a) special police services to prevent juvenile delinquency; (b) the impact of the mass media on juvenile deviancy; (c) the role of national planning in preventing crime; (d) questions of short-term imprisonment and prison labour; and (e) released prisoners’ transition to community life.


1965. The Third Congress


Newly independent countries of the third world appeared for the first time in large numbers at the Third United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Stockholm from 9 to 18 August 1965. Representatives of 74 participating Governments and other participants, totaling over 1,000, focused their attention on: (a) technical assistance in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice; (b) criminological research for the prevention of crime and for vocational training; and (c) recommending the employment of United Nations regional advisers. The Third Congress also developed policy on: (a) the relation between social change and criminality; (b) community action for preventing crime; (c) reduction of recidivism; (d) probation policies; and (e) special preventive and treatment measures for juveniles and young adults.


1970. The Fourth Congress


The Fourth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Kyoto, Japan, from 17 to 26 August 1970, was the first of the congresses to be held outside Europe. “Crime and development” was the overall theme, and special emphasis was given to: (a) incorporation of prevention policies into development planning; (b) organization of research on social defence policies and community-based prevention; and (c) public participation in crime prevention.

The Fourth Congress also discussed nation-by-nation implementation of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. A survey of Member States found the Standard Minimum Rules had contributed to advancing basic human rights for millions of prisoners.


1975: the Fifth Congress


“Crime prevention and control—the challenge of the last quarter of the century” was the theme of the Fifth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Geneva from 1 to 12 September 1975. Nearly 1,000 representatives of 101 countries and numerous organizations discussed, for the first time, the concept of crime as a business and looked into the changing forms and dimensions of national and transnational crime and violence, including the role of organized crime in seemingly legitimate businesses, criminality stemming from drug and alcohol abuse, and terrorism. The Fifth Congress adopted recommendations on: the abuse of economic power; drug traffic; terrorism; theft and destruction of cultural property; interpersonal violence; and changing expectations of police performance.

On the recommendation of the Fifth Congress, the General Assembly, in its resolution 3452 (XXX) of 9 December 1975, adopted the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In its resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984, the Assembly, recalling its resolution 32/62 of 8 December 1977, in which it requested the Commission on Human Rights to draw up, in the light of the principles embodied in the Declaration, a draft convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, adopted the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention, which entered into force on 26 June 1987, obliges States parties to make torture a crime, prosecute offences and punish those found guilty.


1980: the Sixth Congress


The Sixth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders was held in Caracas from 25 August to 5 September 1980. It was the first time that one of the congresses was held in a developing country. The Sixth Congress was presented with the first detailed United Nations survey of crime worldwide, based on information received from 65 Member States. The study revealed that the great majority of developed and developing countries were facing an escalation of violence and criminality, that crime was taking on new forms and dimensions and that traditional measures of crime prevention and control were not able to deal with the situation.

Crime prevention and the quality of life” was the overall theme of the Sixth Congress. United Nations norms and guidelines were recognized as important tools for Governments to use in dealing effectively with crime while preserving human rights. Juvenile justice was placed in the context of ensuring social justice for all children, and crime was examined in relation to abuse of power.

The Caracas Declaration was adopted by the Sixth Congress and endorsed by the General Assembly in its resolution 35/171 of 15 December 1980. Thus, the Sixth Congress was the first to recognize that crime prevention programmes must be based on the social, cultural, political and economic circumstances of countries and form part of the developmental planning process. The Caracas Declaration contained recommendations for standard minimum rules for juvenile justice, public participation in crime prevention, improved statistics and eradication of extralegal executions.


1985: the Seventh Congress


The theme of the Seventh United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Milan from 26 August to 6 September 1985, was “Crime prevention for freedom, justice, peace and development”. The Seventh Congress adopted the Milan Plan of Action, which was subsequently approved by the General Assembly in its resolution 40/32 of 29 November 1985. The Milan Plan of Action outlined a worldwide programme for crime prevention and criminal justice, in key priority areas such as illicit drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and terrorism, stressing the need for action-oriented research and providing technical assistance to developing countries. 22. The Seventh Congress adopted or recommended for adoption by the General Assembly other instruments that set basic standards for criminal justice reform:

(a) The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules), adopted by the Assembly in its resolution 40/33 of 29 November 1985;

(b) The Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, adopted by the Assembly in its resolution 40/34 of 29 November 1985;

(c) The Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary;

(d) The Model Agreement on the Transfer of Foreign Prisoners (the first model bilateral treaty) and recommendations on the treatment of foreign prisoners.


1990: the Eighth Congress


The Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders was held in Havana from 27 August to 7 September 1990. Over 1,400 participants from 127 countries discussed, inter alia: theft of archaeological treasures; the dumping of hazardous wastes in ocean waters; and the burgeoning international trade in illicit drugs and the lethal connection between drug abuse and AIDS, as well as the prevalence of both among prison populations.

The Eighth Congress disseminated information on: criminal justice computer networks; provisions for seizing the financial proceeds of organized crime and examining bank records; and the growing body of experience relating to the link between crime control and socio-economic development.

The Eighth Congress also reviewed: the development of community-based crime prevention; and non-custodial alternatives to prison. The Congress also adopted or recommended for adoption by the General Assembly more international instruments than all the preceding congresses combined.

In addition, the Eighth Congress adopted or recommended for adoption by the General Assembly five model treaties draft bilateral agreements to guide Governments in their negotiations: the Model Treaty on Extradition (Assembly resolutions 45/116, annex, and 52/88, annex), the Model Treaty on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (Assembly resolutions 45/117, annex, and 53/112, annex), the Model Treaty on the Transfer of Proceedings (Assembly resolution 45/118, annex), the Model Treaty on the Transfer of Supervision of Offenders Conditionally Sentenced or Conditionally Released (Assembly resolution 45/119, annex) and the model treaty for the prevention of crimes infringing on the cultural heritage of peoples in the form of movable property.

The Eighth Congress adopted a resolution on corruption in government, which it recommended the development of what later became the International Code of Conduct for Public Officials, adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 51/59 of 12 December 1996. The Congress also adopted resolutions on organized crime, on the prevention and control of organized crime and on terrorist criminal activities.

Further, the Eighth Congress adopted a resolution on computer-related crime, in which it called upon Member States to consider a number of measures, including the improvement of computer security and prevention measures, taking into account the problems related to the protection of privacy, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and regulatory mechanisms pertaining to computer usage.


1995: the Ninth Congress


The Ninth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders was held in Cairo from 29 April to 8 May 1995. The Ninth Congress further developed the United Nations portfolio of action for crime prevention and criminal justice. Heading the agenda were plans to combat transnational crime syndicates and economic crime through strengthened international cooperation and practical technical assistance for enhancing the rule of law, as well as measures against money-laundering.

Discussions at the Ninth Congress focused on exploring new concepts and concerns in the areas of: crimes against the environment; criminal justice and police systems; and strategies to be used against violent crime, urban crime, crime among young people and violence inflicted on women.

The consideration by the Ninth Congress of organized crime benefited from the achievements of two other meetings held in 1994: the International Conference on Preventing and Controlling Money-Laundering and the Use of the Proceeds of Crime: a Global Approach, held in Courmayeur, Italy, from 18 to 20 June 1994 (E/CONF.88/7); and the World Ministerial Conference on Organized Transnational Crime, held in Naples, Italy, from 21 to 23 November 1994 (A/49/748). The workshops held during the Ninth Congress were an integral part of its proceedings. National strategies to combat specific forms of crime were discussed, and recommendations were made to improve the international response to those forms of crime. The demonstration and research workshops had been initiated in order to facilitate more effective action in the prevention of crime and victimization, as well as criminal justice reform worldwide. They provided unique forums in which lessons learned and successful measures used to confront specific problems related to the substantive topics of the Ninth Congress could be discussed. Representatives of Governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and scientific institutions attending the Ninth Congress were invited to participate in the workshops and to make presentations. For each workshop, a position paper was prepared to serve as background for discussion. Participants were invited to share their experiences and to present information on existing or envisaged research-oriented projects, programmes or other measures that had been effective or innovative in relation to the specific goals and objectives of the workshops. Particular emphasis was given to those initiatives that had enhanced, or had the potential to enhance, bilateral and multilateral technical cooperation and transfer of knowledge or technology.


2000: the Tenth Congress


The Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders was held in Vienna from 10 to 17 April 2000. The theme of the Tenth Congress was “Crime and justice: meeting the challenges of the twenty first century”. Hundreds of representatives of Governments, academia and non-governmental organizations attended the Tenth Congress. The Tenth Congress discussed:

(a) How to promote the rule of law and to strengthen the criminal justice system;

(b) International cooperation in combating transnational organized crime: new challenges in the twenty-first century;

(c) Effective crime prevention: keeping pace with the new developments;

(d) Offenders and victims: accountability and fairness in the justice process.

38. In addition, workshops were held on the following subjects:

(a) Combating corruption;

(b) Crimes related to the computer network;

(c) Community involvement in crime prevention;

(d) Women in the criminal justice system.

At the Tenth Congress, representatives from 119 countries, including 76 ministers and other high-level officials, decided to take more effective concerted action to combat the world crime problem, in particular, the worst forms of transnational organized crime. During the high-level segment of the Tenth Congress, the Vienna Declaration on Crime and Justice: Meeting the Challenges of the Twenty-first Century (General Assembly resolution 55/59, annex) was adopted. In the Vienna Declaration, Member States set out an international agenda in crime prevention and criminal justice at the beginning of the new millennium. The Vienna Declaration captures the essence of the work carried out over many years and sets out specific key commitments that should reflect a vision for the future work of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme and of Governments. More specifically, Member States pledged to take resolute and speedy measures to combat: terrorism; trafficking in human beings; illicit trade in firearms; smuggling of migrants; and money-laundering.


2005: the Eleventh Congress – Bangkok


The Eleventh Congress was convened at a momentous period in the history of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice programme. The international community had witnessed the entry into force of major international instruments, namely, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and two of its additional protocols (the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air supplementing the Convention). In the months following the Eleventh Congress, also the third supplementary Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition and the United Nations Convention against Corruption received the required number of ratifications and entered into force.


2010: the Twelfth Congress , Salvador, brazil


The Twelfth Crime Congress marked the fifty-fifth anniversary of United Nations congresses on crime prevention and criminal justice. The agenda of the Twelfth Congress focused on: children, youth and crime; smuggling of migrants; trafficking in persons; money-laundering; and cybercrime. It offered a unique opportunity to stimulate in-depth discussion and proposals for action along three principal avenues by:

• Establishing firmly the criminal justice system as a central pillar in the rule-of-law architecture;

• Highlighting the pivotal role of the criminal justice system in development;

• Emphasizing the need for a holistic approach to criminal justice system reform to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice systems in dealing with crime

Four regional preparatory meetings were held (in Latin America and the Caribbean, West Asia, Asia and the Pacific and Africa), providing a platform from which to discuss the issues raised at the Twelfth Congress from a regional perspective. At the regional preparatory meetings, participants highlighted special problems and concerns, as well as successful experiences and promising approaches to addressing them.

The conference agenda included eight articles covering the following issues:

1 . Children, youth and crime

2 . Terrorism

3 . Prevention of crime

4 . Smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons.

5 . Money laundering

6 . Cyber Crimes

7 . International cooperation in the fight against crime .

8 . Violence against migrants and their families .

The conference also included five workshops centered on the following:

1 . International criminal justice and awareness about the rule of law .

2 . Surveys conducted by the United Nations and others on best practices in the treatment of prisoners in the criminal justice system ;

3 . Practical approaches to prevent crime in urban areas.

4 . The relationship between drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime .

5 . Strategies and best practices to alleviate overcrowding in correctional institutions .


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