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A six-day gathering of United Nations criminal justice officials, experts, and civil society members opened Sunday in Kyoto, with attendees participating in-person and online.

The 14th U.N. Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, originally scheduled for last year, became the first major international conference to be hosted by Japan since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Kyoto congress, and ancillary meetings with criminal justice and crime prevention experts, will focus on greater international cooperation efforts between nations to address long-standing cross-border crimes ranging from cybercrime to human trafficking. Technical assistance between countries to address all forms of crime will also be discussed.

“Crime prevention, criminal justice and the rule of law have a key role in renewing the social contract between states and their populations. People need an inclusive justice system that works for all and is intolerant of discrimination. Restoring confidence in institutions and strengthening the rule of law and access to justice is necessary to prevent corruption, deter illicit financial flows and protect vulnerable people from organized crime, violence, human trafficking, online exploitation and radicalization to terrorism,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres from New York.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga traveled to Kyoto for the conference and noted that the coronavirus was also creating new challenges with specific types of crimes.

“Cyberattacks and online fraud have become serious problems worldwide. These crimes not only trample on the hearts and minds of people as they strive to endure the crisis, they also threaten to jeopardize efforts toward global recovery. A safe and secure society is a prerequisite for realizing social and economic recovery,” Suga said.

One of the first acts of Sunday’s gathering was the adoption of the Kyoto Declaration, a set of principles that acknowledged the need to review, based on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, criminal justice systems in order to make them more effective, accountable, transparent, inclusive and responsive through promoting their digitalization.

The declaration specifically calls on member states to tackle issues ranging from domestic violence to safeguarding victims’ rights and improving prison conditions. It also called for getting youth more involved in crime prevention efforts through increased social, educational, cultural, and sports-related programs and using digital tools to amplify their voices.

The Kyoto congress also takes place at a time when Japan’s own justice system has been the subject of international headlines over the extradition of two Americans, Michael Taylor and his son Peter, to Japan last week for their alleged role in helping former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn flee to Lebanon in December 2019. The case put a spotlight on Japan’s detention system, dubbed “hostage justice” by critics, for its treatment of detainees.

In his remarks, prosecutor general Makoto Hayashi said Japan has long held the title of the safest country in the world and that its crime clearance rate has remained consistently high.

“Prosecutors, members of the police force, and all others who strive to enforce the law are the ones who, in ensuring the proper functioning of the criminal justice system and that it works appropriately, allow the maintenance of public order. However, there is another incredibly important factor which allows the criminal justice system to function effectively. Our citizens attach a great deal of importance to the law and are acutely aware they must abide by it,” he said.

Of the 5,600 registered participants for the conference, the organizers said about 4,200 had registered to participate online. There are about 280 in-person participants in Kyoto from the member states, including those based at embassies in Tokyo as well as from overseas.

Health and safety protocols for the in-person conference were announced last month. Member states were allowed to send only 10 delegates to Kyoto. In-person attendees had to declare they had not been diagnosed with COVID-19 or had symptoms consistent with it during the previous 14 days. They also had to declare they’d not had close contact with someone who had or showed signs of COVID-19 during the previous two weeks.

Finally, participants had to declare that they’d taken a COVID-19 PCR or antigen test 72 hours before arriving in Kyoto and had tested negative.

“COVID-19 continues to threaten our well-being with new and more infectious variants. Nevertheless, with strong determination, we have succeeded in holding this congress,” Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said in Kyoto during her opening remarks.

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