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The Transnational Criminal Law in the Americas conference and further updates on the COPLA campaign (June 2017)

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In May 2017 I travelled to Windsor, Ontario, Canada to introduce the campaign for COPLA (Spanish acronym for the proposed Latin American and Caribbean Criminal Court against Transnational Organized Crime) at the Conference “Transnational Criminal Law in the Americas,” organized by the Transnational Law and Justice Network of the University of Windsor Faculty of Law.

Jacob Leon (Dalhousie University), presented a paper in which he analyzed the draft statute prepared by the COPLA legal experts team. The statute attempts to establish the basic structure of the Court, serve as a tool for debate and as a model for the international treaty that would create COPLA.

Inspired by the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, the COPLA draft sets out the seven core crimes that the Court would have jurisdiction over. It is based on the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime – the “Palermo Convention” – and its three supplementary protocols, as well as the Vienna Convention (1988). These instruments have been ratified by all states in the region. Similar to the Rome Statute, the COPLA is intended to be complementary with domestic law: the Court only acts when a government is either not able or not willing to do so. This, together with the focused subject matter and the smaller, regional membership, indirectly addresses some of the arguments raised by the international community when the Caribbean states (led by Trinidad and Tobago) pushed to include treaty crimes such as drug trafficking and smuggling within the ICC jurisdiction. The restricted jurisdiction and the goal of prosecuting the highest echelons (“cúpulas”) of the criminal organizations would increase the Court’s ability to enforce and investigate crimes such as the trafficking of drugs, people and weapons, money laundering and political corruption.

The draft statute proposes a very “economic” structure, avoiding the addition of expensive bureaucracy. Each country would appoint its candidates (a judge and a prosecutor), and would be expected to cover their expenses should one of them be chosen. The host country (to be determined in the first Assembly of State Parties) would provide infrastructure for offices. Each state party would provide access to a maximum security prison and designate one of its elite security forces to be available and on call for the Court. Some legal experts and former officials attending the Windsor conference believed that more can be done to clarify and guarantee the financial sustainability of the new body. It was suggested that a small percentage of the asset forfeitures be set aside for paying operational costs. The Statute so far only assigns these as a reparation fund for victims and their families. Regarding more sceptical views (Why would anyone want to create another doomed-to-failure institution? How will you get these countries to comply?), COPLA proponents believe that governments have no basis for opposing the establishment of this Court, considering their ratification of related instruments and the urgency of the matter.

Keynote speaker and COPLA enthusiast, Prof. Robert Currie (Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University) suggests there needs to be more focus on transnational criminal law literature, and stresses the importance of educating domestic criminal justice systems on transnational crimes. By considering some of these crimes “petty”, we choose to ignore the enormous and disruptive impact they have on daily life. Transnational crimes still attract less attention compared to the amount of study given to international criminal law. The unique nature of these crimes means that establishing a connection between international law and domestic criminal codes is a key objective when drafting the statute.

The campaign so far

The COPLA campaign’s evolution has been anything but linear. It started out as a small NGO’s project looking to build civil society support in the region. However, receiving political endorsement from the Argentine government has given the project an undeniable boost. Last year, the Argentine Chamber of Deputies called on the government to “lead the efforts in the region towards the creation of such a Court,” following a previous resolution of support from the Senate. The Parliament of MERCOSUR also passed a declaration of support.

Argentine Vice-President Michetti was encouraged by initial support from the Presidents of Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil (Dilma Rouseff at the time) when mentioning COPLA on her first regional tour of early 2016. The President of the Brazilian Supreme Court of Justice suggested organizing a seminar in Montevideo with regional leaders to start the discussions. For Michetti, COPLA is a logical and necessary step towards the restoration of the rule of law in the region. The time has come for COPLA to be a truly regional initiative. Civil society and political leaders involved since the early stages know that progress is now tied to having their counterparts in the rest of the region adopt this campaign as their own and work toward strengthening essential civil society networks.

In Canada, we continue to meet with experts and aim to organize regional conferences where all stakeholders (government officials, media, academics, security forces, legal experts, representatives from regional and international organizations) will discuss how to build support in the most efficient way. We are thankful for the support and interest of Prof. Robert Currie, Jacob Leon, Prof. Sara Wharton and her amazing team at the Transnational Law and Justice Network at Windsor Law and all the global experts that were part of the Conference.

Transnational organized crime is at the root of the region’s most serious threats to human security. National authorities have been unable to significantly address the problem. With a COPLA, a vast percentage of the budget that states are currently allocating to security could be invested in health and education. Furthermore, there would be a better climate to receive foreign investment, as multinational corporations are currently wary of establishing their business and having to face extra costs for security.

COPLA is also a tool for regional integration, a chance for Latin America and the Caribbean to deal with regional problems independently of the United States, and thereby surmount their “backyard syndrome” and combat the criminal organizations that have infiltrated their political elites and judicial and security systems.

To learn more about the campaign and its supporters, please visit You can join the COPLA campaign by signing the petition online. Soon the draft statute will be available

(in Spanish) for citizens’ comments on and an initial English translation is under development.

Florencia Gor is Past-President of Democracia Global Argentina and a current member of the Executive Committee of WFM – Canada.

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