The United Nations today denounced organized crime as a threat to international peace and security, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling on Member States to confront the scourge with the same unity and determination they have shown in fighting pandemics or terrorism.
“Our response must be global and integrated,” he told the Security Council at the start of a debate on the issue, citing efforts already taken to fight drugs and human trafficking and the so-called Kimberly process against blood diamonds to prevent the smuggling of illegally mined natural resources to arm and fund conflicts.
“But there is so much more to be done against emerging threats like cyber-crime, money-laundering, environmental crime, and the dumping of hazardous waste,” he said. “Member States have united to fight pandemics, poverty, climate change and terrorism. We can and must do the same to counter organized crime.”
At the same time, he warned that justice and human rights must be respected, with law enforcement never descending to the level of the criminals. “We cannot fight fire with fire. The criminals use ruthless and exploitative methods which we can never contemplate,” he said.
He called for integration at all levels, nationally, regionally and internationally, noting that in West Africa lack of capacity has been overcome and vulnerability to drugs and crime is being reduced thanks to the work of the 16-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The West Africa Coast Initiative involving the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) is also a good example of the “one UN” approach, he said.
“I urge you to support similar regional initiatives, like the Santo Domingo Pact launched here at the United Nations today, which has the same aims for Central America and the Caribbean,” he declared. “With transnational threats, States have no choice but to work together. We are all affected, whether as countries of supply, trafficking or demand. Therefore, we have a shared responsibility to act.”
UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa highlighted the dimensions of what is at stake, citing the profits of just the drug trade. “To put into perspective the massive proceeds from crime, think of this: the regular budget of UNODC is 1 per cent of the UN budget, that itself is less than 1 per cent of the yearly proceeds from the global drug trade – $320 billion,” he told the Council.
“One line of cocaine snorted in Europe kills one square metre of Andean rain forest, and buys 100 rounds of AK-47 ammunition in West Africa. Multiply this by 850 tons of cocaine per year and you see that is a bigger mismatch than David versus Goliath.”
He highlighted the interconnection between transnational crime and conflicts, development and endemic corruption. “International mafias exploit the instability caused by conflicts, they thrive in areas lost to insurgency, and take advantage of a government’s inability to provide security,” he said.
“This creates a vicious circle… vulnerability attracts crime, crime in turn deepens vulnerability. In a chain reaction, humanitarian crises follow, development is stalled and peacekeepers are deployed,” he added, calling development and security key tools in eliminating vulnerability.
“To illustrate all this, take a map of illicit trafficking routes and overlay it with a map of conflicts. Then juxtapose a histogram of per-capita incomes. You will see that crime, violence and underdevelopment overlap. And these regions, of course, coincide with UN peacekeeping operations.”
Better knowledge of the ways of organized crime is also essential, he said, noting that smugglers, insurgents and terrorists operate in precisely those places that are out of government control and too scary for tourists or investors, running fleets of ships and planes, trucks and containers carrying tons of drug and weapons, unperturbed and undetected.
Or if they are detected, it is most likely to be by pure chance, as in the case of a drug-trafficking Boeing 727 jet that crashed last year in the Gao region of Mali, an area plagued by insurgency and terrorism.
In a presidential statement read by Ambassador Gérard Araud of France, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency for February, the 15-member body cited the links between drug trafficking and financing terrorism, noted kidnapping and hostage-taking for political and fundraising reasons, and called on States “to increase international and regional cooperation on the basis of a common and shared responsibility.”