The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has called on countries to give priority to the rule of law which he says is one of the keys to achieving the set of anti-poverty targets world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“Where the rule of law is weak or absent, crime and corruption hold back development and democracy. This can cause conflicts, mass poverty and environmental degradation, creating further instability,” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which opened its 17th session today in Vienna.
“Stronger justice and integrity can break this vicious circle,” Mr. Costa added, stressing the role of the rule of law in helping States make progress toward the MDGs.
The current session of the Commission, which runs until Friday, is focusing on ways of preventing violence against women. This is a particularly important issue in conflict and post-conflict situations, stated the Executive Director, where women and girls are especially vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking.
Mr. Costa also highlighted a number of other global concerns, such as the dangerous links between drugs, crime and terrorism across Africa, which he noted “is a major windfall for criminals, a funding source for terrorists and insurgents, and a grave threat to us all.”
Drawing attention to the threat posed by the illegal trade in weapons, which contributes to other crimes such as terrorism and drug trafficking and the deaths of millions every year, Mr. Costa urged States to ratify and implement the UN Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms.
He also stressed the need to focus on “green crimes,” stating that “the way that our environment is being destroyed is, quite literally, criminal.”
Crimes such as dumping hazardous waste or illegal logging not only damage the environment, he noted, but they also plunge many countries where pollution, deforestation and population displacement lead to conflict and hamper the achievement of the MDGs into deeper poverty. In particular, Mr. Costa urged countries “save the lungs of our planet by stopping the illicit trade in forest products.”
The UNODC chief also highlighted the need to work more closely with the private sector and labour unions to tackle economic fraud and identity-related crime, as well as the need to address crime in urban areas. “With half of the world’s population now living in urban centres, we need to stop drugs, crime and terrorism from creating failing cities,” he stated.
He added that the fight against crime requires the mobilization of all segments of society. “Schools, places of work, religious groups, the media, and the film and entertainment industries all have a role to play. Most of all, we must curb demand for illicit goods and services that are the incentive for criminal activity – whether trafficked people, drugs, weapons, forest products, rare species, cigarettes, or precious metals.”