Speech to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly

 

New York, 9 October 2008

 

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my capacity as Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in the past I have reported on the dark side of globalization -- addressing you as a self-styled Under Secretary General for Sinister Affairs.

Today, I will not focus on what we are against, namely drugs, crime and terrorism. Rather, I'll speak about what we are for - namely, noble goals like justice, security, health and development. In this General Assembly, so focussed on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, let's start with development.

Development

The countries at the bottom of the human development index obviously have in common mass poverty. Yet, if we look closer we see other commonalities - like violence, mal-administration, illegality and crime.

There is a clear correlation between weak socio-economic performance and weak rule of law. Actually, there is what economist's call binomial causality, otherwise known as a vicious circle. Countries so poor that their governments cannot run proper administrations or control their territory are vulnerable to crime - for example vulnerable to illicit exploitation of natural resources, drug production and arms trafficking. In turn, countries ravaged by crime and violence cannot prosper.

Strengthening the rule of law is not one of the Millennium Development Goals, but is key to unlocking the MDGs. Without the rule of law countries cannot promote integrity, security and justice. They are trapped in a malign spiral of underdevelopment leading to violence that feeds back into even greater poverty -- as domestic savings and the brightest minds leave the country, and foreign investors move to other locations.

That is why, since 2004, UNODC has called for greater support for countries in West Africa which lack the means to defend themselves from the onslaught of drug traffickers, who use this region as a hub for shipping their deadly wares from Latin America to Europe. The chance that these African countries will reach the MDGs shrinks with every day that goes by, because the rest of the world fails to face its responsibility.

Other regions, under attack from organized crime, also face major hurdles in attaining the MDGs: for example the countries of Central America and the Caribbean that are caught in the cross-fire between the world's largest producers and biggest consumers of cocaine.

My Office is working with regional organizations and development banks to help these three regions (West Africa, Central America and the Caribbean) to address the threat. We are also appealing for more aid for opium regions in Afghanistan and coca regions of the Andean countries to provide development as an alternative to drug crops. Eradicating poverty and drugs must coexist.

Another threat to development comes from corruption: it steals public money needed for education, roads and hospitals. It undermines trust in government and democracy.

As the broker and guardian of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, my Office feels a special obligation to promote the world's main integrity building instrument. We have assisted countries to develop a review mechanism for the Convention and provided technical assistance. Still, there is a long way to go to strengthen a culture of integrity. Many countries, including members of the G8, have not even ratified the UNCAC. Others lack the will, or the means, to implement it. UNODC is therefore assisting states to develop national anti-corruption strategies and establish financial integrity units.

One of the highlights thus far has been the joint UNODC/World Bank Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (or StAR) designed to get back wealth stolen by kleptocrats. Although asset recovery is a lengthy process, there have already been results in StAR's first year, including the establishment of national asset recovery teams (in Bangladesh and Indonesia) and collaboration between national authorities (in Haiti and Nigeria) and the financial centers where the stolen money is. There is plenty of scope for greater assistance.

Security

Lack of security also enables criminal activity to thrive. It is no coincidence that illicit drugs are grown in parts of Afghanistan and Colombia largely uncontrolled by the central government. It is also no coincidence that routes for smuggling drugs, people, money and arms follow the path of least resistance - where border controls and law enforcement are weak, officials are corrupt and interdiction poor. And it is no coincidence that the illicit exploitation of resources - whether diamonds, precious metals, timber or oil - occurs in unstable regions. Criminality profits from instability and tends to perpetuate it.

Unstable regions can also provide convenient cover for insurgents and terrorists. In dangerous parts of the world drugs and crime have linked up with politically motivated violence - like in parts of Europe (the Balkans in the '90s), and right now in several theatres in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

To enhance security in the face of trans-national threats, we need to make more effective use of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its 3 Protocols. I urge Member States to make full use of the UNTOC Conference of States Parties, that began yesterday in Vienna, to flex the muscles of this potentially powerful instrument.

While we must think globally, we must act regionally. Trans-national threats, by definition, spill over borders. Strengthening national defences is insufficient. Neighbours must work together. That is why my Office has brokered the establishment of a Central Asia crime intelligence sharing centre (CARICC), soon to begin operations. A similar centre in being planned among the 6 countries of the Persian Gulf region (GCCI).

We are also promoting tri-lateral counter-narcotics cooperation between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. We are working with CARICOM and the OAS to reduce vulnerability to drugs and crime in Central America and the Caribbean. I have just come from the first ever meeting of Ministers responsible for Public Security in countries of the OAS (in Mexico City) that addressed this very problem.

Having alerted the world to the threat to security posed by drug trafficking through West Africa - now addressed by the Security Council and the Peace-building Commission - we are promoting a ministerial conference in Cape Verde (28-29 October), sponsored and hosted by ECOWAS. I urge you to provide the economic assistance and political support needed to help West Africa fend off the attack from drug traffickers.

We provide assistance in other areas as well. In line with the GA Counter-Terrorism Strategy, UNODC provides counter terrorism technical assistance. We have also developed a range of practical tools - including the software to strengthen criminal justice, combat money laundering and the diversion of precursor chemicals.

Our work against human trafficking is now focused on the delivery of technical assistance to strengthen prevention, protection and prosecution in line with the Protocol. Still, much more needs to be done to stop this modern form of slavery. I therefore support the proposal for a General Assembly Plan of Action against human trafficking to complement and give political support to the UNTOC Conference of Parties.

Health

Thus far I have focused on development and security. What about health? What is the connection between our physical well-being and drugs and crime?

Organized crime can be a health issue, for example because of fake medicines or the forced removal and trade of human organs. These are areas that require more attention.

Obviously, drug trafficking is a major health issue. As we approach the end of a first century of drug control (that started in Shanghai in 1909) and the end of the decade launched by a Special Session of the UN General Assembly Session (in 1998) to motivate countries to be proactive in reducing drug supply and demand, I can report of strong evidence that the world drug problem has stabilized. We have documented this in the past few years in our World Drug Reports.

Occasional drug use (at least once a year) has been contained to less than 5% of the world population, as opposed to 5-6 times this proportion for people addicted to tobacco or alcohol. Severe drug use has been contained to less than 0.5% of the world population: i.e. no more than 25 million people are drug dependent. That suggests that the drug threat is being contained.

But this news comes with a warning message. The world's drug problem has not moved irreversibly into remission. The situation is fragile. In order to make sustained progress in drug control, greater emphasis must be put on drug prevention and treatment.

Over the past years, my Office has helped bring health back to the centre of drug control. We have promoted the concept that drug dependence is a health and social problem. We have stressed the need for prevention, treatment and for the reduction of the health and social consequences of drug abuse. In the process, we have removed the ideological positions over the issue of "harm reduction" which, in my interpretation, begins with A - namely abstinence. We have also engaged NGOs in the UNGASS process and encouraged them to come up with a common position to look "Beyond 2008".

In short, we are promoting a healthier approach to drug control. I urge you to actively participate in the preparations for the UNGASS Ministerial meeting in Vienna in March 2009 by finalizing a future drug control blueprint (along with a Ministerial Declaration) that builds on lessons learned from the UNGASS process.

Fighting drugs and crime as 'one UN'

Ladies and Gentlemen, as you can see, because drugs, crime and terrorism cut across so many aspects of the UN's work, my Office faces a big problem: UNODC's mandate is too big to be small, while the UNODC as an institution is too small to be big. Hence, and I say this with pride, we must count on UN-wide cooperation. In other words, out of necessity, we fight the dark side of globalization as "one UN".

• In the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (known as UN.GIFT) we bonded with ILO, IOM, UNICEF, OHCHR and the OSCE, as well as the private sector, the media, and civil society to promote implementation of the relevant Protocol.
• Fighting corruption, we work with the World Bank on the StAR Initiative and with UNDP and UNAMI to strengthen integrity in Iraq.
• We work with DPKO and DPA to improve crime prevention in peacekeeping and peace-building operations.
• With UN Habitat we work to promote safer cities.
• With CTC and CTED we contribute to the Implementation of the GA Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
• In Afghanistan we enjoy excellent cooperation with UNAMA while in Guinea Bissau, we work with the Security Council, Peace-building Commission, the SG's Representative, and the Special Representative for West Africa.
• We are working closely with the WHO to bring drug prevention and treatment into the mainstream of health and social services.
• We are an active partner of UNAIDS, reducing the vulnerability of at-risk groups to HIV, particularly injecting drug users, victims of human trafficking, and people in prison settings.

Living up to expectations

Ladies and gentlemen, our portfolio is expanding, along with its resource needs. Your expectations are also rising about what we can deliver. I thank you for your support, not least the initiative to form a Working Group on Governance and Budget at UNODC.

Thanks to steps undertaken in recent years, UNODC is now better positioned and better equipped to contribute to a safer, healthier and more prosperous world. The focus shift from sinister affairs to noble goals has paid back handsomely. I thank you for your attention.