HEUNI, the regional institute for Europe, was established through an Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Finland, signed on 23 December 1981. HEUNI operates as an independent unit under the auspices of the Finnish Ministry of Justice.
The primary objective of HEUNI is set in the Agreement and it is the promotion of international exchange of information on crime prevention and control among European countries. This is realised by the organization of meetings, the conduct of research and the provision of technical assistance to Governments on request.
HEUNI's activities are constantly evolving, which is a reflection of the changing nature of crime, of the national and international response to crime, and of the structure for international decision-making relevant to crime and criminal justice. Among the more significant developments in HEUNI's thirty years of operations have been the following:
• the restructuring of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme (1991-1992);
• the political changes in Europe, in particular during the 1990s;
• the continuous expansion of the Council of Europe;
• the expansion of the European Union and its heavy involvement in criminal justice (in particular since 1995); and
• the entry into force of the UN Conventions on Transnational Organized Crime and on Corruption (2003 and 2005).
As the European regional institute in the UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme, HEUNI is in a unique position. It serves a region with an exceptionally active criminological community, with a number of different legal systems, and with governments that are relatively receptive to research and innovation in criminal justice. HEUNI also serves a region that has two intergovernmental organizations that have fostered international cooperation: the Council of Europe and the European Union.
Europe thus forms a hothouse for innovation in national and international criminal justice, and for innovation in research. The lessons learned in Europe may have wider application, and HEUNI has sought to identify these lessons and, through the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme, bring them to the attention of the world community.