Top United Nations officials today underscored the urgency of combating organized crime, which a new report has found is gaining in global reach and posing a greater threat to peace, development and even national sovereignty.
The Globalization of Crime examines major trafficking flows of drugs, firearms, counterfeit products, stolen natural resources, people trafficked for sex or forced labour and smuggled migrants, and offers ways to tackle these threats.
Produced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the report also highlights the inadequacies of national responses to transnational crime, calling for global responses based on the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which was adopted in the Italian city of Palermo a decade ago.
“To fight transnational organized crime, we, too, must organize,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the issue. “We must work together. We must act with even greater determination than our adversaries.”
Mr. Ban stressed the need to use the “rich and detailed” measures contained in the Palermo Convention to combat money laundering, to confiscate and seize criminal assets, to end bank secrecy, to carry out joint investigations, to protect witnesses, to exchange information and to provide mutual legal assistance.
“We owe this to all victims of organized crime, and to all those who are risking their lives every day in the defence of justice,” he stated.
UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa pointed out that the threat is not just economic.
“The profits of crime, and the threat or use of force, enable criminals to influence elections, politicians and power – even the military,” he told the meeting.
“Some governments are unwilling to resist, since they are complicit. Others are unable, since they lack the means,” he said, adding that no country can tackle the problem on its own.
The report found that in Europe alone, there are some 140,000 victims of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, generating $3 billion annually for their exploiters.
The continent is also home to the heroin market with the highest regional value of $20 billion, while Russia is the largest heroin consumer in the world at 70 tons. Narcotics claim the lives of up to 40,000 young Russians every year, twice the number of Red Army soldiers killed during the invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
In addition to calling for global responses based on the Palermo Convention, Mr. Costa appealed for the market forces behind these illicit trades to be disrupted.
“The breaking-up of criminal groups per se does not work, as those arrested are immediately replaced,” Mr. Costa said, stressing that law enforcement activities against mafia groups will not halt illicit activities if underlying markets remain unaddressed, including the “army” of white-collar criminals, including lawyers and bankers, who cover them up and launder their proceeds.
He also spotlighted the difference between countries that are unwilling to fight organized crime and those which are unable to do so, urging stepped up development and technical assistance to reduce poor nations’ vulnerability.
“When States fail to deliver public services and security, criminals fill the vacuum,” he said. “Reaching the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] would be an effective antidote to crime that in itself is an obstacle to development.”
The eight MDGs were agreed upon by world leaders and have a 2015 deadline. They include slashing extreme poverty, reducing maternal mortality, improving school enrolment rates worldwide and halting environmental degradation.
“Organized crime is also a development issue,” General Assembly President Ali Treki said in his remarks to the high-level meeting. “In countries ravaged by crime and corruption, development and economic performance cannot take hold.”
While the Assembly has pledged its commitment to fighting organized crime in several important resolutions, efforts need greater coherence, he said. “We must take a tougher stand against organized crime. We must mainstream our fight against crime into broader programmes.
“Today’s meeting is an indispensable step in this direction.”
In a related development, Ireland today ratified the Palermo Convention and its Protocol aimed at suppressing trafficking in persons, bringing the number of States parties to the Convention to 156 and to the Protocol to 138.
In addition, Chile today deposited an instrument of accession regarding the Protocol to suppress the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms and ammunition, becoming the 81st nation to sign on to the pact. The Convention also has a Protocol related to the smuggling of migrants.