The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting crisis are posing unprecedented global challenges to public health, social well-being and the economy. During this emergency, as limited national resources are being directed towards urgent public health measures, it is important to identify and address additional risk exposure. One of the key challenges Member States are facing relates to non-state actors (including terrorist and criminal groups) that are taking advantage of the crisis to jeopardize the efficacy of governments' responses, as well as undermining the safety of citizens through a wide spectrum of criminal activities. It is very likely that these corrosive criminal actions will not be limited to the present crisis but will continue during its aftermath. Multiple United Nations entities are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. UNICRI is monitoring the situation and advising Member States on issues related to organized crime, terrorism and radicalization, the use of frontier technologies, and the protection of vulnerable groups. UNICRI continues to work with its partners, advocating for responsibility, solidarity, and protection globally. Below are some of the activities implemented by the Institute to address the Covid-19 emergency:
First responders' protection against Covid-19
Within the framework of the European Union Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Centre of Excellence Risk Mitigation Initiative (EU CBRN CoE), UNICRI is supporting an extensive network composed of more than 60 partner countries in risk mitigation and fight against the pandemic through constant consultations and webinars, in order to ensure knowledge sharing and dissemination of good practices.
CBRN risk mitigation
Exploring the opportunities of artificial intelligence for maintaining public safety and social order during the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the use of new technologies that play a major role in improving global health and well-being. It is important, however, to not let consideration of fundamental principles and rights be set aside. At the same time, it is equally important to empower citizens by keeping them updated with reliable information while motivating the population to cooperate with the public authorities. Promoting trust in science, politics and media is essential to build resilient communities. Should our new post-Covid-19 world be characterized by increased digitization and accelerated automation, which is highly likely, the importance of using technology responsibly becomes even more essential.
Artificial intelligence and robotics
Malicious use of social media and cyber-attacks
UNICRI is organizing a series of Expert Teleworkshops to discuss how the malicious use of social media by non-state actors is affecting government strategies to mitigate and contain the impact of Covid-19. The teleworkshops aim at analysing the profiles of perpetrators of fake news, the techniques employed to amplify false information, the types of messages communicated, and the objectives that criminal and radical groups are trying to achieve by maliciously using social media. Furthermore, the teleworkshops aim at exploring possible technology solutions to detect and debunk misleading information.
Detecting and debunking fake news
The European Union and UNICRI have launched a new initiative to hunt down assets linked to organised crime in Eastern partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine). This initiative will provide experienced and proven advice and support to officials on how to efficiently identify and liquidate the assets of organised crime, and to channel the resulting funds to high-priority development needs, especially within the health and education sectors.
Returning illicitly obtained assets to help local communities
Tourism Security and Covid-19
UNICRI and the Organization of American States, are organizing webinars on Tourism Security in Central America and the Caribbean in times of Covid-19. The webinars serve as occasions to discuss the unprecedented challenges faced by the Member States in managing the global Covid-19 crisis within the tourism sector. In particular, they provide an opportunity to understand which policies and practices Member States have been adopting to ensure the safety and security of tourists visiting their countries as the crisis evolves.
Tourism Security in Central America and the Caribbean: Enhancing the Response to the Covid Epidemic
Cyber-crime during the Covid-19 Pandemic
The proliferation of unethical, corrupt and misleading practices, including fraud and counterfeiting, are on the rise and facilitated by the high demand for crucial medical supplies. The growing number of people spending time online (including children), combined with the sense of confinement and the anxiety and fear generated from the lockdown, have provided additional opportunities for cybercriminals to take advantage of the situation and make more money or undermine institutions.
The increase of cyber-crimes
Preventing gender-based violence and discrimination
UNICRI continues to advocate for the prevention and mitigation of gender-based violence and for enhanced support to families, including promoting healthy lifestyles and youth resilience. Those affected by gender-based discriminations might be the ones paying the highest price for the consequences of Covid-19, due to their position in society. The social lockdown increases isolation and domestic violence. Additionally, the social and economic crisis may be further exacerbated for women if gender differences continue to be undervalued in national development policies. Where the gender-gap is greatest - in the status of women's health, participation in the economy, education levels, and representation in politics - women are more likely to be subjected to violence. In the effort to create a prevention strategy, economic and social empowerment are paramount.
Covid-19 pandemic and gender aspects
Providing support to the countries in the Sahel-Maghreb
UNICRI is addressing radicalization and the prevention of violent extremism, particularly through youth empowerment and focusing on radicalization in prisons with specific regard to Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The Institute is engaging local communities to build resilience and support conflict-resolution and development during the Covid-19 epidemic.
The Impact of Coronavirus on Terrorism in the Sahel
Organized crime and illicit drug abuse
Since the beginning of the pandemic, no clear evidence has emerged of a significant decrease in the supply of drugs. Most drug selling moved to online or home delivery, or to designated places. Substances, mostly cocaine and heroin, were reported to be cut so that the stock could last longer. Organized criminal groups may use the pandemic as an opportunity to stockpile and resell at higher prices when restrictions are lifted. Home confinement might increase anxiety and fear, that constitute vulnerability factors for the onset of mental health conditions. Such scenario might increase not only drug related risk behaviours but also additional vulnerability to Covid-19 mortality, due to a compromised immune system.
Covid-19 pandemic and illicit drug
Stigma, hate speech, xenophobia, racism and discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic
Equality is the most basic principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a pillar on which the United Nations was founded. Yet, following the emergence of the coronavirus, this long-established fundamental human right is being increasingly threatened. Indeed, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, observed, “COVID-19 is not just a health issue; it can also be a virus that exacerbates xenophobia, hate and exclusion.” The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis.” He has emphasized the need to remember that ‘the threat is the virus, not people’.
The principles of equality and non-discrimination under viral attack: stigma, hate speech, xenophobia, racism and discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic
The infiltration of organized crime during the Covid-19 pandemic
The pandemic has opened new scenarios for organized crime which has been capable of fully exploiting opportunities created by the COVID-19 crisis. UNICRI has been closely monitoring the role of organized crime during the pandemic, collecting information and discussing findings with a series of key partners. The preliminary results of our activities allowed for the identification of three main areas of interest for criminal organizations, each one progressively presenting a different level of challenges for both the governmental and law enforcement response: 1) new opportunities and markets; 2) the infiltration into the legal economy; and 3) the control exercised over the territory.
The analysis of UNICRI demonstrates the impressive capacity and rapidity that criminal groups have to quickly grasp any opportunity created by new or mutated conditions.
How organized crime is expanding during the COVID-19 crisis