The United Nations agency spearheading the global war against trans-national criminal networks as part of an integrated strategy to combat drugs, crime and terrorism is woefully short of the resources needed to rise to the challenge, according to a new report issued today.
“Cutting criminal networks disrupts a range of illicit activities that carve out paths of death and destruction through some of the world’s most fragile regions,” UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in a preface to the Vienna-based agency’s annual report. “Currently, resources available are minute compared to the gigantic menace that we face.”
The 71-page report deals with every aspect of UNODC’s activities, from security, justice and integrity to health, research and forensic services, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on a visit to Vienna today, said it showcased “the extraordinary task accomplished by this small office. This is further proof of how… how the United Nations can deliver assistance in the field to save people from the misery of drugs and crime,” he added.
Appealing for much grater funding, UNODC stressed how advances in globalization had helped to strengthen trans-national organized crime. “Taking advantage of innovations in technology, communication and transportation, loose networks of criminals or insurgents can easily link with each other, and also with organized criminal groups that operate internationally,” the report said.
“They smuggle illicit drugs, weapons, natural resources, counterfeit goods and human beings across borders and between continents for the enrichment of criminals, insurgents and crooked officials. In some cases, they generate economic profits that support terrorist groups as well.
The common thread connecting these malignant webs is trans-national organized crime, which is largely driven by drug trafficking.”
It warned that no country can deal with terrorism alone and called for a comprehensive global response that brings perpetrators to trial in their home countries or through extradition, with no country offering a safe haven to terrorists. This year UNODC will enhance its focus on knowledge-building in specialized areas such as nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism, the financing of terrorism, maritime issues and the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes.
Noting that organized crime, drug trafficking, corruption and terrorism are tightly intertwined, the report highlighted the potentially “catastrophic” effects of trans-national crime on security.
“Traffickers have far more resources than States in poor and vulnerable transit areas like the Andes, Central America, the Caribbean, West Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia. They use their dirty money to buy political and economic influence, often resorting to bloodshed to assert control,” it said, citing West Africa as a case in point, with the region becoming a key transit hub for smuggling $1 billion-worth of cocaine from Latin America to a booming market in Europe.
“West Africa is a paradise for organized crime, offering ideal conditions for trafficking contraband: a strategic location, porous borders, weak governance, widespread poverty and extensive corruption,” it added, noting that the region is also a destination for counterfeit medicines and toxic waste and a source of stolen natural resources, particularly oil, and for human trafficking, whether for forced labour or sexual exploitation.
Operating largely with impunity, drug traffickers are breeding widespread corruption and threatening security in the region. “As maritime interdictions of illegal cargo increase thanks in part to the global UNODC Container Control Programme, traffickers active in West Africa are increasingly taking to the skies. A clandestine fleet of jet aircraft regularly transports cocaine and possibly weapons to West Africa from Latin America.,” the report said.
“The drugs are transported onward for distribution in Europe, but it is likely that the weapons stay in the region. The planes return to Latin America carrying unexamined cargo and unidentified passengers who may be involved in illicit activities,” it added, citing UNODC efforts in West Africa to reduce vulnerability to trans-national organized crime.
It warned that of the more than 420 million maritime containers that move around the globe each year, accounting for 90 per cent of international trade, only 2 per cent are inspected, creating opportunities for crime syndicates and terrorists to use them, a gap UNODC and the World Customs Organization are trying to fill with the Container Control Programme.
“The programme has achieved spectacular results, intercepting containers carrying illicit drugs and diverted precursor chemicals, as well as halting containers transporting endangered species, hazardous materials and goods intentionally mislabelled for fraud and revenue evasion,” it said.
Stressing the need for strong domestic law enforcement, the reported cited Somalia, where the absence of an effective central Government since 1991 has provoked a surge of maritime hijackings off the Horn of Africa.
“While a few years ago Somali pirates attacked fishing trawlers, today, armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, they take on oil tankers, cruise liners and cargo ships. On average, they make $1 million per heist,” it noted.
On human trafficking, with women comprising 80 to 84 per cent of the victims, it said sexual exploitation accounted for 79 per cent, followed by forced labour with 18 per cent. But many types of trafficking may be underreported. “Through coercion, deceit or force, they are exploited for their labour, sex or even their organs,” it added. “Almost every country in the world is affected by this crime against humanity, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination.”
Currently the agency relies on voluntary contributions, mainly from Governments, which cover more than 90 per cent of its budget - $504.7 million for the biennium 2008-2009 – but much more is needed.
“We face a growing funding challenge: as demand for UNODC services has surged, support for our core functions has not kept pace,” the report stressed. “This jeopardizes our work both at headquarters and in the field, and compromises our ability to keep up with new areas of activity. Going forward, UNODC will require a much larger, more stable and sustainable commitment of resources if we are to fulfil our mandate effectively.”