February 01, 2014

Stronger Regional Relationships Help Combat Transnational Crimes

February 2014

When asked why he chose to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Pathfinder Dialogue conference, Steven Galster says he sought to connect with “honest, charismatic government officials…[that were] willing to open up to the public about sensitive issues.” As the director and founder of the Freeland Foundation, which works to end wildlife and human trafficking through comprehensive capacity building support for law enforcement networks and public awareness campaigns featuring key opinion leaders, he recognized the event as a real opportunity. 

The Bangkok conference, held in September 2013, gathered 200 representatives from more than 20 member nations from APEC, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Pacific Islands Forum. ABA ROLI’s regional anti-corruption advisor (RACA) program played a central role in organizing the conference, which was hosted by the governments of Thailand and the United States, along with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The event was widely attended by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to combat cross-border crimes in the region, as well as by ABA ROLI Director Rob Boone and other top anti-corruption officials from participating countries.

“As an NGO that navigates corruption to help good law enforcement officers fight transnational organized crime, we felt that we suddenly had a strong, caring friend on our side,” says Steven. “I’m sure others—from both government entities and NGOs—felt the same.”

The substantive sessions developed as part of Pathfinder focused on combating illicit trade networks engaged in human trafficking, wildlife trafficking and money laundering, and emphasized the importance of inter-regional partnerships and mechanisms in addressing such crimes.

The event aimed to provide a high-level, multidisciplinary forum to foster open discussion around illicit trade networks. Many participants noted the rare opportunity to speak among one’s peers about successes and failures, with the hope that others might offer constructive advice and that they themselves would learn from the challenges of others.

“While it can seem daunting to fight the combined ills of corruption, money laundering and illicit trafficking,” says Rob—who previously served with UNODC and as a deputy assistant secretary of state for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs—“it is heartening to see the talent and commitment that so many professionals worldwide bring to bear to combat these crimes—these offenses against people, animals and our environment.”

Presentations emphasized how illicit trade harms citizens worldwide, adversely impacting the environment and public health and hampering prosperity and security.

“Pathfinder brought the elephant [i.e., corruption] into the room and let us all talk about it. That’s rare,” says Steven. “Even more rare are situations where NGO and government officials are talking about this sensitive subject together.” He and other participants expressed an interest in the conference continuing as an annual event, as well as excitement about the supplemental resources and year-round networking opportunities that the RACA program provides.

“I’m sure if we keep networking and talking about ways to fight transnational organized crime and corruption,” Steven says, “we’ll make faster progress by meeting as a large group at least once a year, and perhaps as working groups in between ... to wed our approaches and learn from each sector’s own experiences.”  

To learn more about our regional anti-corruption work in Asia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.