Image: Tim Tebow Foundation (Unsplash)
In 2020, we have witnessed a renewed focus by the media concerning the scourge of human
trafficking and how governments and organisations combat it. There has also been
a lack of attention on the context of human trafficking and its perpetrators. The fact is that
the trafficking in persons (TIP) is but only one element in the larger web of transnational
organised crime (TOC) and terrorism. The phenomenon of convergence, first described by
Phil Williams in 1998, looks at the intersection between illicit traffickers, organised crime
Tamara Makarenko, an expert and international consultant working with the United Nations
Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), identified four types of
relationships describing the intersection of transnational organised crime (TOC) and
terrorism, explaining that a group can move along the spectrum based on their transactions
The first type of relationship is that of an alliance, whereby, a terror group and a criminal syndicate work together in the form of either sharing expert knowledge, such a bomb-making, money-laundering, and tactics, or in the form of operational support. In particular, gaining access to smuggling routes and the trafficking of weapons, wildlife trafficking, the trafficking of drugs and the trafficking of people. The TIP being divided between commercial sexual exploitation, forced economic exploitation, and organ harvesting. The markets of the former two have been estimated, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), to amount to $99 billion and $51 billion respectively. Estimates for organ trafficking being difficult to establish, due to blurred lines between legal and illegal organ transplants, conservative estimates place it at about $1.7 billion.
The second relationship, Makarenko argues, is grounded by an operational motive, meaning
that criminal and terror groups might integrate tactics of the other to improve security and
The third relationship describes the phenomenon of convergence. This relationship represents the amalgamation of tactics and motivations to the point where the group presents the characteristics of both a criminal and terrorist organisation. Examples of the integration of the different forms of trafficking as a means to recruit members and finance operations are evident in the modus operandi of: the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS and Da’esh) in Iraq and Syria; Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad; Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Examples like ISIL in Iraq and Syria, represent the fourth type of relationship, the black hole. Whereby, the conditions of a weak or failed state create a conducive environment for the convergence of TOC and terrorism. In the absence of law and order, the operations of organisations like ISIL expand beyond conventional terrorism into the political and criminal realms.
The convergence of TOC and terrorism, there are paths of illegality thatemerge. It is the paths themselves and the ability to smuggle humans, weapons, drugs and contraband both domestically and abroad that constitute the most valuable commodity for these convergent organisations.
Mark Jacobson and Max Daurora applied a macro perspective to the issue. They discovered that due to an ever increase in interconnectivity between nations and advancements in surveillance and tracking technology, a premium has been placed on the ability to smuggle everything from weapons, people, currency, drugs, and wildlife to even information. As such, both terrorist organisations and organised crime groups are recognising the value of horizontal expansion and integration into facilitating illicit trafficking.
This overlap of illegality, the intersection between the forms of trafficking, TOC and terrorism is what complicates efforts to effectively combating and prosecuting traffickers. Consequently, efforts require effective collaboration between police, intelligence and state actors to strengthen domestic anti-trafficking policies, to reassess a lack of regulation and revisit diluted laws. Therefore, it is essential to identify the trafficking networks and to assess the vulnerabilities of the primary origin, transit and destination nations to ensure that the seams created by national borders are secured. This focuses on strengthening the rule of law and governance within affected nations first. Then, to expand international collaboration which is in-line with upholding the sovereignty of states and avoiding a “big brother” type behaviour while, most importantly, treating the problem at its source.
Henry-Dillon Peens is an honours philosophy, politics and economics student at the University of Pretoria, with his research focusing on the intersection between technology and intelligence. Henry is one of the permanent writers at The Art of Politics.