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In January this year we reported on the illicit copper economy in South Africa and how not only petty crooks are involved in the theft of this sought-after metal, but also big, highly organised criminal syndicates. Our mini-series was based on a research report titled South Africa’s Illicit Copper Economy, released in December 2023 by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC).

Copper theft is one of several interconnected organised criminal markets in South Africa, all of which are causing major damage to the country’s economy, infrastructure, and residents, undoing the few hard-won gains of the past few decades.

GI-TOC noted this in another report released in September 2022, titled Strategic Organized Crime Risk Assessment report for South Africa. “Organised crime is an existential threat to South Africa’s democratic institutions, economy, and people. It often lies behind and connects numerous seemingly disparate criminal incidents we see occurring in South Africa every day.”

Transnational organised crime in our daily lives

It is unnecessary to turn to Hollywood movies on transnational organised crime – it no longer lives on the screen and in our imaginations but is a living threat to global economies, national and public safety and security, democracy, and human rights.

Corruption plays a big role in the growth of illicit copper networks and markets, said the Illicit Copper Economy report, as well as other criminal markets – and when the transnational element is added in, the result is a real and present danger to the rule of law around the world.

Recognising this, the UN General Assembly at the end of March adopted a resolution establishing 15 November as the annual International Day for the Prevention of and Fight against All Forms of Transnational Organized Crime.

The initiative was led by a core group of UN member states, including Austria, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Peru, and Saudi Arabia, and was adopted by consensus at the General Assembly on 21 March 2024. The only African countries involved in leading the push for the commemorative day were Tanzania and Zambia.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is the custodian of the event.

The occasion, says the resolution, aims to “raise awareness of the threats posed by all forms of transnational organised crime and to enhance international co-operation in this regard”.

It also points out the impact of organised crime on global security, stability, the rule of law, and sustainable development. GI-TOC research shows the significant negative impact that illicit economies and those who promote and profit from them, has on these important UN development goals.

“The problem is not one product or one trafficking route – illicit economies are entire ecosystems that deprive societies of their rights to development, security and even to life,” said GI-TOC in a statement. “Because organised crime is not just a law enforcement issue, it requires a whole-of-society response. And because it affects almost every country in the world …  a global effort is essential. “ 

The designation of 15 November was chosen to recall the adoption of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (also known as the Palermo Convention) on the same day in 2000.  

Finally, it is a fitting opportunity to remember to the victims of transnational organised crime, including the judicial officers and other public servants who have committed to working for the cause.