Global perspective Human stories

UN peacekeepers and crime fighters team up to combat drugs, crime in conflict zones

UN peacekeepers and crime fighters team up to combat drugs, crime in conflict zones

Alain Le Roy (left) and Yury Fedotov shake hands after signing pact to fight organized crime in conflict areas
The United Nations peacekeeping and crime fighting divisions today launched a joint action plan to further strengthen their cooperation in the battle against drugs and crime, particularly in West Africa, which has become a hub in the illegal narcotics network from South America to Europe.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) have mandates and comparative advantages that complement each other, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov told a news conference at which he signed the cooperation agreement with the head of DPKO, Under-Secretary-General Alain Le Roy.

“This complementarity enhances the impact of both of our departments and the efforts to strengthen peace and stability and support the United Nations security and development agenda,” Mr. Fedotov said, giving West Africa as an example.

“Organized crime has turned this region into a hub for the traffic in illegal drugs, weapons and contraband goods. Criminals are exploiting West Africa’s strategic location, porous borders, weak governments and institutions, widespread poverty, corruption.”

It is estimated that at least 50 tons of cocaine transit West Africa annually, heading north to European cities, where they are worth almost $2 billion on the streets.

In Guinea-Bissau, joint action by the two divisions supports a national counter-narcotic plan and security sector reform, Mr. Fedotov said, noting that UNODC has also provided $4 million for the West Africa Coast Initiative, in which it has teamed up with DPKO, the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA), the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Interpol to fight ship-borne drug smuggling.

Traffickers are also using planes to replace camel caravans in their circuitous routes across West Africa. In 2009, investigators found the debris of a Boeing 727 jet in the Gao region of Mali, an area plagued by insurgency and terrorism.

UNODC officials say drug trails crisscross West and East Africa, with cocaine pouring into the west, and 30 to 35 tons of Afghan heroin trafficked annually into the east, and the Sahara becoming “a free economic zone” for all sorts of trafficking, whether drugs, migrants, guns, natural resources or hazardous waste, mainly due to the chaotic situation in Somalia.

The two illicit streams meet in the Sahara, creating new trafficking routes across Chad, Niger and Mali, with cocaine and heroin becoming a new sort of currency, being traded at par.

The discovery of seven laboratories in Guinea a year ago shows that West Africa is also becoming a producer of the synthetic drug amphetamine and of crystal cocaine refined from the base paste.

“Our combined efforts to build peace and security in post-conflict regions will benefit women and men, families and children who now live in fear of becoming victims of drug traffickers or other criminals,” Mr. Fedotov said. “Together we can help build and restore communities that are safe, healthy and just and that would be the best reward for us.”

Mr. Le Roy, too, stressed the “many ways we can strengthen our capacity in the rule of law” to fight drugs and crime while keeping and building peace in conflict-stricken regions.