Localising the Millennium Development Goals
on the foundation of the rule of law

Address to the 4th World Urban Forum

 

Nanjing, 4 November 2008

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have entered the urban millennium. More than half of all people on the planet now live in cities. Most national income is generated in cities. And most crime is committed in cities. This trend is bound to continue, even accelerate, as urbanization - particularly in Africa and Africa - grows at a rapid pace.

This presents a number of threats and challenges with implications for global, not just local, security.

Urbanization and the MDGs

Urbanization is a social challenge: to ensure harmonious living among people of different backgrounds (ethnic, linguistic, and religious) as well as between rich and poor. Gated communities for the rich (protected by private security guards) and slums for the poor (tormented by gangs) show the stark contrast of social inequality, and the failure of public authorities to protect the public. Rioting in major cities - from Lima, to Nairobi and Paris - demonstrates the dangers of social exclusion.

Urbanization is a health issue. Most of the world's drug users live in cities. Cities are also, increasingly, sources of drug supply - like amphetamine type stimulants and cannabis grown indoors. Drug prevention and treatment in urban areas are therefore essential for global drug control.

Urbanization is a security challenge. Human security is threatened when city dwellers are caught in the cross-fire of neighbourhoods out of control. The problem is not only petty crime, like burglary or muggings. Cities are magnets for organized crime. People, guns, and drugs are trafficked into urban areas - where demand is highest. Cities enable criminal groups to cover their tracks - by money laundering, and bringing illicit goods onto the open market. Cities are also the biggest targets for terrorist attacks, and provide coverage for terrorist cells.

Most of all, urbanization is a development issue. UNODC has issued reports on regions where crime has an impact on development - for example in Africa, the Balkans, the Caribbean and Central America. We have demonstrated a causal link: underdevelopment increases vulnerability to crime, and crime hurts development.

The same logic can be applied to cities. Cities can be a motor for growth - a place of hope. But they can also be nests of poverty and deprivation - places of fear. Vulnerability to crime is highest in poor neighbourhoods where public authorities can not provide security, justice and public services. Other factors of vulnerability include inequality, a large population of unemployed youth, and poor urban planning. This can become a fertile environment for crime, which in turn hurts a city's image and its sense of security - causing brain drain, scaring away tourists and investors, and deepening poverty.

The bottom billion live in slums

This spiral is becoming ever more malign. One billion people on our planet now live in urban slums. Improving their situation is essential to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.

What can be done to reduce their vulnerability to drugs and crime, and to build safer cities?

The key is to strengthen the rule of law. This is not one of the Millennium Development Goals, but it is the key to them all. So if we are to localize the MDGs, we need a strong local focus on strengthening the rule of law. That is what UNODC, in partnership with UN-Habitat, municipal governments and civil societies, can contribute to building safer cities.

The rule of law: the foundation for safer cities

What does this mean in terms of policy? How can the rule of law make people feel safer on their streets and in their homes? Elements include:

• improving community policing to restore order and trust.
• implementing the UN Protocol against Trafficking in Persons to stop people from being exploited, in cities, as slave labourers on construction sites, sex workers, or domestic servants.
• ensuring respect for human rights, to stop extra-judicial killings, to reduce the number of people deprived of their liberty while rotting away in pre-trial detention centres, and to stop violations of social security, and the right to secure tenure, for example by forced evictions.
• It involves improving prison management to prevent jails from becoming headquarters for gang activities, finishing schools for re-offenders, or breeding grounds for the spread of HIV.
• It may necessitate better surveillance, for example through the installation of close circuit cameras.
• It means preventing youth crime by giving young people the skills, opportunities and self-esteem to have a life of purpose rather than a life of crime.
• It certainly requires strengthening integrity to stop the corruption that steals money from infrastructure projects, bends the rules of property development and tendering processes, erodes trust in the police, and deprives the poor of receiving basic services - like water, electricity, and sanitation. The implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption can help.

Strengthening the rule of law is therefore the foundation for safer cities, and the basis for security, justice and development. Of course, other elements are also required, like urban planning, accessible drug treatment, pro-poor housing, the delivery of public services, and other important topics that are on the agenda of this Forum.

Global threats, local responses

It is also important to keep in mind that there is no "one size fits all" solution. The UN has universal Guidelines for Crime Prevention and Conventions against corruption and organized crime. These should be applied to take into account specific local conditions. That is why UNODC carries out threat assessments, for example currently in Honduras and Nicaragua, to identify local risks and needs.

At the same time, local conditions should not be looked at in isolation. Cities are not islands. They are part of a globalized world. They benefit from the mobility of capital, labour and technology. And they are threatened by transnational crime. National security affects urban security, and vice versa. Therefore, municipalities must be part of national and regional crime prevention strategies, especial in federal states. Criminals move freely across borders. Police must be able to do the same.

Harmonious urbanization

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our beautiful host city of Nanjing shows how it is possible to achieve harmonious urbanization - uniting ancient and modern, and achieving sustainable growth.

By strengthening the rule of law, we can prevent pedestrian zones from becoming war zones, and playgrounds from becoming battle grounds. We can ensure that our cities are places where people can lead fulfilling lives, in dignity, safety, and with hope.

Thank you for your attention.