UN launches initiative to rid West Africa of organized crime, drug trafficking

8 July 2009

To combat organized crime and drug trafficking wreaking havoc in West Africa, the United Nations today launched a new initiative to tackle the scourge in the region, where $1 billion worth of cocaine transits through annually.

The West Africa Coast Initiative is a partnership of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), along with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Interpol.

The new scheme seek to address West Africa’s porous borders, weak governance and corruption, which have been allowed traffickers to operate in a climate of impunity.

According to a new UNODC report released yesterday, organized crime – including trafficking in human beings, counterfeit drugs, toxic wastes and even natural resources – is arresting development in the region while lining the pockets of a select few.

In some cases, the value of trafficked goods exceeds the gross domestic product (GDP) of West African nations, which are among the world’s poorest, it added, noting that a powerful select group is profiting from the illegal trade.

“We’ll be focusing on post-conflict situations,” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told reporters at UN Headquarters today, noting that Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone will be the focus of the Initiative.

He added that if democratic elections can be held soon in Guinea, it, too, will be added to the list of nations.

Yesterday, Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa and head of UNOWA, briefed the Security Council, underscoring that the already fragile situation in the region has been exacerbated by drug trafficking and organized crime.

UNOWA, he said at today’s press briefing, has been working to sensitize the region, especially the leaders of its countries, about the implication of the scourge on efforts to consolidate peace and stability in West Africa.

For his part, Andrew Hughes, UN Police Adviser for DPKO, said that the Initiative will comprise UN Police (UNPOL), who will be mentored and advised by international experts, with participation from Interpol.

“It will have global reach through the Interpol network, be regionally coordinated, internationally mentored, but locally owned,” he said today, voicing hope that this collaborative method will be successful in disrupting organized crime networks.

 

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