A UN treaty on cybercrime en route

A UN treaty on cybercrime is after years of discussion finally on its way. The UN General Assembly voted in December 2019 to begin negotiating a treaty – a treaty that focuses on cybercrime, but also has the potential to develop numerous policies on a global scale with important significance for human rights.

The treaty is an important step towards helping countries realize some of the sustainable development goals. But what is cybercrime?



There is no international definition of cybercrime or cyberattacks. According to UNODC, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, offences typically cluster around the following categories: offences that are computer-related and content-related, and offences related to infringements of copyright etc.

Broadly, cybercrime can be described as having cyber-dependent offences, cyber-enabled offences and, as a specific crime-type, online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

A blurry computer screen
Photo: Sigmund/Unsplash

While there is no specific Sustainable Development Goal to address cybercrime, the latter can be seen as an obstacle to achieving a number of targets. One of them is SDG 16, Peace, justice and strong institutions, and its subgoals (targets 16.1, 16.4, 16.5) which relate to violence and other forms of crime, such as corruption and arms trafficking.

In addition, certain criminal activities can be facilitated by information and communications technology, such as the recruitment of victims of trafficking in persons (target 10.8) or sexual exploitation of women, which would characterize a form of violence against women (target 5.2).



The Internet Governance Forum is held every year in order to discuss public policy issues relating to the internet. The Secretary-General António Guterres said at the conference in 2019 in Berlin that “the growing frequency and severity of cyber-attacks are undermining trust and encouraging States to adopt offensive postures for the hostile use of cyberspace”.

Merkel and Guterres shake hands
Photo by HAYOUNG JEON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres shake hands during the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin, Germany, 26 November 2019.

Several world leaders addressed the Forum, in person or by pre-recorded statements. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, stressed the need to talk about the values of internet governance: “We need to agree on how to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the digital age, how to strengthen equal participation and security in the network, and how to build trust in the network”.

Although there are a number of treaties and conventions of varying scope that address the issue of cybercrime, there is no UN legal instrument on cybercrime.


In December 2019, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on “countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes”, and introducing an Ad Hoc Committee. The committee was announced to elaborate a comprehensive international convention. Thus, working towards creating a new international treaty on cybercrime.

Photo from Brandolino’s Twitter

The sessions on creating the international treaty are thought to take three years. The first meeting held in March 2022. John Brandolino, director of treaty affairs for the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime, noted that it had taken years to get the UN to agree on an anti-corruption treaty. “Today, we stand at the starting point of another monumental effort relating to another area of great concern around the world: cybercrime,” he said.

Multiple governments around the world participated at the meeting with the UN, where they discussed and tried to find common ground on the treaty in order to facilitate global cooperation on cybercrime. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the EFF, “the treaty, if approved, may reshape criminal laws and bolster cross-border police surveillance powers to access and share user data, implicating the privacy and human rights of billions of people worldwide”.

The second session of the Ad Hoc Committee will be held in Vienna in May and June. Read more about it here.


More information here:

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime

The Ad Hoc Committee

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