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With international exchanges of people and goods expanding at an accelerated pace, cross-border organized crime is also rising rapidly. In a concerted effort to combat the globalization of crime, the United Nations in 1999 set up a special panel to work out a global anticrime treaty. Now that drafting is in its final stages, the treaty is expected to be given a green light at the General Assembly by the end of the year.

All signatories to the treaty will be required to take legislative measures to ensure compliance. In Japan’s case, the investigative and judicial cooperation system, for instance, will have to be changed, in part because domestic laws do not give foreign witnesses immunity from criminal prosecution — a privilege that would be granted under the proposed pact.

The international community has long been aware of the need for a comprehensive treaty against organized crime. The subject was broached for the first time six years ago, and in 1998 the U.N. General Assembly decided to create an ad hoc committee to draft such a treaty. The panel, represented by about 135 countries, is also drawing up three protocols to control trafficking in women and children, illegal immigration and gun smuggling.

The treaty is expected to define organized crime as felonies committed by organized groups to gain undue profits — major crimes that would bring prison terms of at least four years. Money laundering, for instance, will be punished severely if it is used as a means of illegally concealing profits from criminal activities, such as drug trafficking. This is a crime of international dimensions, and it should be treated as such by all.

As to the handling of criminals, the draft makes it clear that they will be either turned over to other countries involved or tried in their own countries. It also provides for “video-link testimony” so that witnesses can speak in other countries’ courts via international communications lines. Also in the works is a provision that will allow prisoners to be sent abroad temporarily to stand witness in foreign courts.

One of the three draft protocols — the documents that will supplement the treaty — says organizing and directing the illegal transportation of would-be immigrants, not just the act of transporting them, is a crime. It is targeted chiefly at those who pull strings behind undercover groups that help stowaways.

The draft protocol against trafficking in women and children is designed to protect them from prostitution and forced labor. Abducting or exploiting them for monetary gains across national borders, not just within them, is clearly a crime. The purpose of an anti-firearms protocol is to control the export and import of bombs as well as firearms.

What is particularly notable about the proposed treaty is that it calls for individual countries to protect victims of organized crime. This is indeed a question that demands no less international cooperation than crime control itself. In this and other areas, Japan, the world’s largest provider of foreign aid, needs to consider ways of financially assisting developing countries.

The treaty as it stands includes measures that will be difficult to implement under the nation’s current legal system. A case in point: The draft calls for international cooperation in criminal investigations and trials, but under existing laws Japan cannot cooperate unless the act in question is recognized as a crime both at home and in the country requesting cooperation. To comply with the treaty Japan will have to change this provision.

Another obstacle is the absence of legislation that allows prisoners here to be transported abroad for testimony. The current system also makes it impossible to bring foreign witnesses into Japan by giving them safe-conduct, or freedom to travel safely without fear of arrest or harm. Safe-conduct means immunity from criminal prosecution. However, it is not allowed under the current Code of Criminal Procedure.

Japan’s criminal laws, particularly the criminal-procedure law, include outdated provisions that make it difficult to meet the requirements of modern investigations and trials. It is imperative, therefore, to update these laws so that Japan can play an effective role in the global fight against organized crime across borders.

As a step in that direction, the Diet passed legislation against organized crime last year, including a measure that allows police to use wiretaps. But international criminal issues, such as money laundering, received little attention. With members of the U.N. panel expected to adopt the draft treaty and its three protocols in September, there is not much time left for Japan to do its necessary homework.

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