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UNICRI and the UK initiate cooperation to prevent and mitigate CBRN proliferation financing risks in Southeast Asia


The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have signed a new agreement to implement the project: “Strengthening capacities to identify and mitigate chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) proliferation financing risks in Southeast Asia”.

The project envisaged in the agreement, signed in September 2022, aims to enhance understanding of CBRN proliferation financing risks, as well as awareness of and compliance with international standards and sanctions in the Kingdom of Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) and the Republic of the Philippines.

At present, the proliferation of CBRN weapons and their means of delivery represent one of the most pressing threats to international peace and security. Actors involved in the financing of such activities exploit loopholes in the global financial system to move and raise funds for the development of CBRN programmes.

The international community’s concern towards risk associated with financial products and services linked to the trade in proliferation-sensitive items has increased recently. This is mainly due to the sophisticated evasion techniques and the wide range of actors engaged in such activities.

Nonetheless, most states appear to have a limited understanding of how vulnerable their economies are to proliferation financing risks, especially when the link between proliferation actors and their financial activities is indirect, due, for instance, to the involvement of intermediaries or front companies. This threatening scenario is further exacerbated by malicious actors’ ability to conceal illicit schemes behind operations that are allegedly legitimate.

Commenting on the agreement, the Director of UNICRI, Antonia Marie De Meo, said: “We are grateful to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the support and partnership in addressing an issue which is becoming increasingly relevant in the current volatile security context.”

Despite efforts put in place by countries to detect financial activities related to CBRN proliferation and to improve compliance with sanction measures, the effectiveness of domestic counter-proliferation financing regimes worldwide remains low. The COVID-19 pandemic, on-going conflicts such as in Ukraine, and the ever-evolving threat posed by violent non-state actors, further heighten proliferation financing risks. None of these risks should be overlooked; they require an adequate level of preparedness and awareness.

The objectives set by the project will be achieved through:

  • Consultations and workshops with relevant stakeholders, to identify existing loopholes and vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors.
  • Expert-level meeting to exchange lessons learned and good practices at the regional level.
  • Preparation of a report on the challenges facing Southeast Asian countries in addressing CBRN proliferation financing activities, with recommended priority actions to mitigate the most pressing risks.

“Supporting states to effectively combat the threat of proliferation finance grows ever more important. The UK Counter Proliferation and Arms Control Centre looks forward to working closely with UNICRI on this capacity building project”, Sarah Price, Head of the UK Counter Proliferation and Arms Control Centre said.


Background information

UNICRI is the United Nations research and training institute mandated in the area of crime prevention and criminal justice.  UNICRI has been implementing projects related to CBRN security risk mitigation for more than 15 years. 

This project stems from UNICRI’s overarching programme on “Strengthening capacities to identify, assess and mitigate CBRN proliferation financing risks and to investigate proliferation financing-related activities”. As such, this initiative will serve as a foundation for longer term engagement – to be implemented in different regions – which foresees development of a proliferation financing risk assessment methodology; delivery of trainings on the detection, investigation and prosecution of proliferation financing activities; and establishment of inter-agency coordination mechanisms between the governments and private sector.