First Webinar 2020

May 11 , 2020

Webinar series Coalition of Faith-Based Organizations

The first program for the Coalition of Faith-Based Organizations’ Spirituality and Justice Initiative webinar series, on the topic “Faith-Based Organizations, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Addressing the Urgent Challenges of our Time,” had over 120 participants from 24 countries.

Opening remarks, introducing the mission of the Coalition of Faith-Based Organizations, were given by Dr. Thomas Walsh and Dr. Michael Platzer (Co-Chairs, Coalition of Faith-Based Organizations).


Amb. Alvaro Albacete (Deputy Secretary General, KAICIID) introduced the mission of his organization, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. Too often religious and cultural differences are reduced to simple conflict narratives. More than 80% of the world population self-identifies as religious, so, though underutilized, the potential for faith-based leaders to address these conflicts is great. KAICIID recognizes the need for justice has many dimensions, including ethics, anti-corruption, good governance, and gender, racial, and economic justice. Multi-stakeholder partnerships must respect differences between groups in order to have credibility. KAICIID has worked in many countries locally as well as contributing by connecting political, academic, and religious groups. FBOs and leaders have shown undisputed commitment and motivation to go the extra mile with regard to crime prevention. Their day-to-day presence in communities gives them high credibility, making them a key resource for crime prevention and restorative justice. Amb. Albacete concluded by calling for the voices of religious leaders and communities to be brought to the center of the global crime prevention conversation.

Mr. Jean-Luc Lemahieu (Director of Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, UNODC) observed that due to the current crisis, the world is under strain, businesses are struggling, and ordinary lives are on hold. COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of the globalized world order. However, we want to defeat the virus, it requires global collaboration. The crisis has reduced the risk of crime in public spaces, but not everywhere. The risk of crime in domestic spaces has increased: for “intimate homicides” taking place in domestic settings. 82% of victims are women and girls. Furthermore, a sharp spike in unemployment may lead to a post-crisis crime rise in places where social safety nets are weak. The crisis has created opportunity for wildlife trafficking and the co-option of resources by corrupt actors. Excessive density in prisons puts those vulnerable people at risk. There is a risk that the emergency measures may lead to a loss of liberties in authoritarian systems. Governments and non-state actors are fighting one-another for legitimacy and scarce resources. Mr. Lemahieu congratulated the Coalition on its new initiative, and stated his organization’s willingness to further cooperate.

Dr. Azza Karam (Secretary General, Religions for Peace) described her organization, Religions for Peace, as the “United Nations of Religions,” with interreligious councils legally registered in 90 countries and 6 regions. The social contract and the very nature of religious worship are being challenged and renegotiated throughout this crisis. Normal worship is being disrupted by social distancing. Four of the top-ten humanitarian responders in the world are faith based, but they do not cooperate with one-another. Religions for Peace began The Multi-Religious Humanitarian Support Fund in order to foster collaboration among these institutions. We need not only interreligious dialogue but diapraxis – sharing and working together. Religious extremism must be addressed. Some religious extremist groups are shoring up legitimacy by performing social services where governments are failing, while other extremist groups have taken advantage of the vulnerability of their communities to ramp up their violent activities. If faith-based organizations can serve well now, they can later serve as legitimate agents of peace.

Ms. Saskia Schellekens (Senior Adviser Culture UNFPA / Coordinator Executive Secretariat UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Sustainable Development) saidboth the UN Task Force and UNFPA welcome opportunities for cooperation among faith-based organizations. The Task Force gathers various global entities to discuss the relationship between faith-based actors and their strategic objectives. UNFPA seeks to create a world “where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, and every young person can achieve their full potential.” It works towards women’s equality, ending female genital mutilation and child marriage, and supporting governments in data collection. There is a growing awareness of the importance of engaging with FBOs in order to move towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. She encouraged the coalition to focus particularly on young people. Ms. Schellekens wrapped up with a few thoughts on the current crisis. She reiterated that facing the pandemic has reinforced the need for UN engagement with religious leaders and FBOs.

Bishop Munib Younan (Lutheran Bishop, Jerusalem) spoke of intertwining justice with righteous acts. Justice is the central moral concept of the Bible — it is religious, political, and concerns the individual human being. Theologians have spoken repeatedly of God’s care for the oppressed and humbling of the lofty. Truth, justice, charity and liberty are the basis of human rights. Feminist theologians have drawn attention to the alienation of women. Lutheran churches have gender justice policies. He told the story of the Prophet Nathan’s confrontation of King David, stating that religious leaders must not be complicit with their coreligionists in injustice. They must address domestic violence and structural discrimination, including and especially within their own church institutions. They must boldly speak on peace based on justice. He concluded: “I will never stop working for justice until I find that peace based on justice, reconciliation and forgiveness are realities in our world.”

Dr. Platzer concluded the panel. He summarized the findings of the panel, noting that most panelists particularly addressed environmental stewardship, gender justice, and prisons, all of which could be future topics of Coalition of FBO webinars.

Q&A followed: On the issue of economic justice, Mr. Lemahieu pointed out the link between vulnerability and opportunity. It’s not that people who are poor are inclined to go on a criminal track; there is a greater complexity. But if poverty and criminal opportunity both exist, those who are vulnerable will be enticed to engage in criminal activities. Rev. Younan called for all countries, secular and religious, to respect international law and be ready to hear prophetic leadership which challenges and takes us into a new ethical understanding.

Amb. Albacete noted that public interaction is necessary in order to bring about positive changes in the social contract. Rev. Younan expressed a hope that the crisis will spur nations to greater goodwill into the future, and that it will inspire European countries to critique some neocolonial viewpoints.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, (Director of Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, UNODC), remarks the First Webinar of the Coalition FBO

Dear Excellencies, esteemed colleagues, dear friends,

It’s an honour to share a few remarks with you at today, as the Coalition of Faith-Based Organizations convene this first online meeting, for what I understand will be a series of webinars on topics related to crime prevention and criminal justice going forward.

Friends, it is with regret that we observe a world that is in a state of crisis.

Around the world, health systems are under strain, businesses and employees are struggling, and ordinary life for many is simply on hold, or going downhill fast.

As we are yet to see the full extent of the spread and impact of Covid-19, restrictions are being loosened in some parts whereas on a standstill in others

It has added an interesting discussion about the value of human lives versus economic value – how to protect health systems, economies, and societies, with the hope to prevent both worst-case health and economic scenarios.

For this very reason, we were not able to meet face-to-face at the planned side-event at the UN Crime Congress in Kyoto which was originally scheduled for April.

Indeed, 2020 is becoming a year the world will never forget, unprecedented in the UN`s 75 years history, that will leave an impact of yet unknown proportions.

What we do know, is that this crisis exposes the fragility of the current globalized order and poses fundamental questions about the way we live, work and travel.

Today we face a catalytic moment – an opportunity to redesign our social compact – our social contract, rebalancing human development away from what had become the overarching economic concerns.

But allow me to recall, that 2020 also marks the 75th Anniversary of the UN Charter in San Francisco.

This formed the beginning of multilateralism that has become an essential component for how “we the peoples” of this world work together to find solutions to common threats and challenges that affect us all.

Instead of turning the bandwagons in a circle, protecting the in-group and excluding the other, now more than ever, cooperation across borders is important.

If we cannot deal with the corona globally, if we leave it to continue creating havoc within some parts of the globe, then aiming to control it in other parts will be to little avail. Human solidarity is of essence.

2020 is not only the year of the pandemic and the marking the 75th Anniversary of the UN Charter. It also marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, reminding us how essential it is to respect, celebrate and find common grounds in the faiths and beliefs of one another to rise as one people, as one love, against the greed, the egoism of an in-group, and the cruelty and evil of our nature.

As beautifully written by the Lebanese-American poet and mystic Khalil Gibran, embodying the marriage between East and West, “I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are [children] of one religion, and it is the Spirit.”

As with other parts of the UN system, UNODC strives to find common ways to reinforce the values expressed in the resolutions of the World Interfaith Harmony week, including how this can assist in implementing our crime prevention and criminal justice mandates.

On criminality and justice, a topic at the centre of this webinar, UNODC has been keeping the finger on the pulse to see how the situation has altered – or not – within this new paradigm of the pandemic.

Allow me to share some of the most important potential dynamics

1. From street crime to domestic crime. “Stay at home” restrictions in some countries have curtailed the opportunities for crime in public spaces while increasing risks in the domestic sphere, particularly in relation to violence against women and violence against children.

At the global level, men represent 81 per cent of the homicide victims, but when it comes to intimate-partner homicide, women and girls represent 82 per cent of the victims.

Six out of every ten women killed worldwide are murdered by an intimate partner or other family member. With home being the most dangerous place for women, lockdown measures put women at higher risk of violence.

2. New priorities and challenges for law enforcement. While the increased presence of police officers in the streets to enforce lockdown conditions and attend emergencies, might deter certain types of crime their attention may be drawn away from proactive enforcement, including against organized crime.

Large recent drug seizures in Iran and Turkey suggest that, in some areas, enforcement may be strengthened, especially along borders. In other countries such as Italy drug seizures have drastically declined after the lockdown. Changes in the official crime statistics should be interpreted through this lens.

3. Unemployment, economic strain, and crime. Economic difficulties for legitimate businesses and a sharp spike in unemployment may precipitate a rise in acquisitive and profit-oriented crime in countries where economic and social safety nets are insufficient to ensure livelihoods.

Looting and riots a possibility in areas where the population is especially desperate in aiming to fulfil their basic livelihood needs or dissatisfied with what the government has ro can offer as relief.

4. Profiteering by organized crime. The demand for new products and services in an environment of tightened controls on movement and markets will produce opportunities for organized crime.

While falsified medical products have been associated with developing countries in the past, universal demand, an expansion of online pharmaceutical sales and the greater buying power make it likely that richer countries will be affected as well, offering a large profitable market to criminals.

COVID-19 may have a double-edged effect on wildlife trafficking. Rhino poaching has reportedly increased after the lockdown in South Africa. Because tourists and their guides provide a presence in game reserves far greater than that provided by the rangers alone, their sudden absence has made it easier for poachers to operate undetected.

5. Circumventing border controls. Tightened border controls will reduce certain trafficking flows while increasing profits for those able to circumvent them.

Land borders have seen more restrictions than container traffic, and this has already had an impact on different drug markets. Cross-border heroin trafficking, for example, is more reliant on road transport than cocaine trafficking. There are signs that the heroin markets are already experiencing shortages at retail level in Europe, Africa and Asia, particularly where the lockdown measures are more severe.

6. Opportunistic cybercrime. Cybercriminals have already been seen leveraging the public desire for information and resources to weather the pandemic.

As people are spending more time on-line during lockdowns, their exposure to cybercrime increases. Forms of cybercrime that affect women and girls disproportionately also seem to be increasing.

7. Corruption and misallocation of public resources. Fraud, embezzlement and money laundering related to the mass transfer of public funds and other resources to individuals, businesses and healthcare providers affected by the crisis, such as mass rescue funds, stimulus payment, medical equipment and supplies pose a significant risk to economic rescue and recovery, as well as adequate health responses.

8. Devastation of prisons and detention centers. The impact of COVID on overcrowded prison and detention systems is likely to be profound and long lasting, undermining rehabilitation efforts.

UNODC data show that in over half (58%) of countries worldwide are over its official capacity. Over one quarter (28%) are running above 150% capacity, and the worst cases have two to five times more prisoners than beds. The situation represented a human rights crisis before the pandemic, and it has become a severe public health threat as well.

National responses to this situation have varied around the world. In some countries, mass release of minor offenders has provided some relief. In others, prisoners have rioted against their exposure or the measures taken to protect them, such as the restriction of visitors. Lack of access to family is a serious problem in some national prison systems.

9. Loss of liberties. The limitations and restrictions to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights posed by emergency measures may have long-term impact for criminal justice and human rights.

10. Growth of non-state actors and violence. Non-state groups, including organized crime, rebel groups, terrorist and/or violent extremist groups are likely to battle for legitimacy among certain population groups.

Competition for scarce resources in highly-stressed areas is likely to increase, and public discontent with local and national governments is likely to grow, feeding into the anti-government narrative used by terrorists to radicalize and recruit.

Studies that have looked at the impact of natural disasters on terrorism suggest that the pandemic could fuel these groups. State authorities are distracted by response to the virus, competition for scarce resources in highly-stressed areas is likely to increase, and public discontent with national governments is likely to grow.

All these factors represent opportunities for those who seek to undermine national governments and recruit the disenfranchised.

In normal days this assessment of the current situation would have been submitted for discussion at the annual session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), the main policymaking body of the United Nations addressing crime prevention and criminal justice issues.

In fact, the Crime Commission would normally have taken place in Vienna this month. Evidently, this too, has been temporarily postponed.

But while we are looking into new ways to continue important multilateral discussions, modern technology allows us to maintain open lines of dialogue.

Hence, our gratitude to you for this series of Webinars. I hope that the above assessment, still evolving, will help you in guiding your discussions.

Through crisis, comes also new opportunities. Perhaps a chance to set things straight. I welcome your thoughts on this, and how to continue our collaboration and joint efforts to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and for building a safer world.

Many thanks for your kind attention and for sharing your important messages here today.

more Informations about the UNODC here

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: