The UN Security Council faces organized crime: fact-finding, regulation and enforcement strategies


This article analyses the United Nations (UN) Security Council’s (SC or Council) use of its powers under the UN Charter in the face of organized crime by drawing on an empirical analysis of the Council’s resolutions as adopted over the past 20 years. It argues that the UN executive organ, and its subsidiary bodies, have played an underexamined role in the fight against this challenge to international peace. It has done so by adopting an approach to law enforcement that draws increasingly on domestic criminal justice discourse and techniques, including: investigations on crimes; sanctions and responsive regulation. Specifically, the article focuses on the Council’s experimentation with UN’s direct involvement in fact-finding related to organized crime, and on the evolution in the use of sanctions as a preventive and control mechanism, i.e., to prospectively manage risks to international peace and security generated by organized criminal activities and illicit markets. This article offers a detailed illustration of the Council’s engagement with organized crime and elucidates, including in quantitative terms, the different strategies that the UN executive body uses in dealing with organized crime. It then discusses the notion of ‘threat to peace’ in Article 39 of the UN Charter as the main legal vehicle for the extension of Council’s action to organized crime and illicit markets. Against this backdrop, the article examines the involvement of the UN subsidiary bodies in fact-finding and monitoring, as well as the integration of regulatory elements and private enforcement techniques into contemporary sanctions practice. The article concludes by arguing that the Security Council’s complex response to organized crime demonstrates that the collective security system has evolved markedly. From a systemic perspective, the Council may now be seen as exercising functions of law enforcement and regulation far from the kind of functions it was originally intended to exercise.