Virtuous trilogy vs. sinister nexus

Speech to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly

New York, 7 October, 2009

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Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Around a decade ago, Member States had the foresight to strengthen the collective response to drugs, crime and terrorism.

  • In 1998, a special session of this Assembly focused on the threat posed by illicit drugs. A 10-year plan of action was launched with results that - as I'll show, turned out to be significant.
  • In 1999, Member States started the negotiations for a Convention against organized crime, eventually adopted by the General Assembly in November 2000 and signed in Palermo a month later.
  • In 1999, after the murderous attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, the Security Council created the 1267 Committee. Following 9/11 the Council moved quickly to strengthen the multilateral response to international terrorism through resolutions 1368 and 1373.

By any standard this represents an excellent crop of meetings, deliberations and resolutions.

Virtuous trilogy vs. sinister nexus

Yet today, namely 10 years later, people question whether the world has become a safer place:

  • some people are calling for an end to drug control, saying it is a failure.
  • others point out that organized crime has never before had such wealth, power, and global reach. And, of course,
  • the threat of terrorism still lurks, not least in failed regions where authorities have lost control of the territory.

So, who is right? Is the conventional glass half full, or half empty?

In my view, it is both. Change for the better has happened. Yet, more is necessary and possible. No doubt, over the past ten years we have learned and demonstrated that drugs can be contained by improving health, there can be justice where there has been crime, and security can prevail over terror. But these improvements do not come by themselves: we need to nurture, foster and promote them with unmitigated commitment. And then we have to build operational alliances among Member States, and with all other stakeholders.

Allow me to explain UNODC's contribution to these efforts: the extent to which we, using scarce taxpayers money, have helped promote the virtuous trilogy of health, justice and security in opposition to the sinister nexus of drugs, crime and terrorism.

A health-centred approach to drug control

Drug control originated a century ago out of the concern for the health and welfare of mankind - especially following the opium epidemic in China at the end of the 19th century. The United Nations built on this earlier experience, with its own conventions that are now half a century old.

At first, and for a long time, priority was placed on fighting drug supply. Not any longer. With a nudge from UNODC, in the past few years health has returned to the centre of drug control. At the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs this past March, the Political Declaration called for an integrated and balanced strategy to counter the world drug problem. As the greatest challenge is to reduce demand for drugs, UNODC is leading the way by joining forces with the World Health Organization to improve drug treatment, particularly in developing countries. Our goal is universal access to drug treatment.

UNODC is also working with national and municipal governments to promote the social integration of marginalized groups. No one should be left behind, or pushed to the margins of society, because of addiction.

I invite all governments to avoid criminalizing addiction. Addicts should be sent to hospitals, not to jail. We promote alternatives to imprisonment and spear-head efforts to improve drug treatment in prisons, to prevent the spread of HIV.

The supply side also counts, of course, which is why UNODC supports programmes in Afghanistan, Colombia, Laos, Peru, and Thailand that create development opportunities for opium and coca farmers. This not only reduces the world's supply of illicit drugs, it fosters economic growth and security in some poor parts of the world.

What about the crime associated with drugs that is wreaking havoc from West Asia to Central America, from West Africa to urban ghettos? This is a major cause for concern, yet legalizing drugs - to reduce crime associated with them -- is not a viable solution. And I'm please to see that not one single Member States is advocating it.

Why? For the good reason that drugs are controlled because they are harmful, they are not harmful because they are controlled. Increasing the availability of drugs would increase addiction, and unleash a social and humanitarian catastrophe, especially in developing countries.

Therefore, while UNODC promotes drug prevention and treatment, it also helps Member States to reduce drug-related crime - with better border management, higher forensic capacity, controlled deliveries and anti-money laundering operations.

We are working with ECOWAS, CARICOM, the OAS and SICA to implement regional action plans against drugs and crime in Africa, the Americas and Europe. We brokered the establishment of regional intelligence centres in Central Asia and the Gulf, and of a trilateral counter-narcotics platform between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

Security and justice for all

Fighting organized crime is another priority area for UNODC. And for a good reason. Crime has become global and reached macro-economic dimensions. It has diversified into money-laundering, identity-theft, cyber-crime, toxic waste disposal, and the exploitation of environmental resources. So serious is the crime threat that the Security Council has considered its impact on security in several theatres.

Criminals seek to maximize profits and minimize risks. They are therefore attracted to parts of the world where governance is weak due to conflict and corruption. Security and development are crucial to reduce vulnerability. But, even thousands of peacekeepers and millions of dollars of aid will not enable peace and prosperity to take root unless there is justice. UNODC is therefore working with DPKO and DPA - for example in the DRC, Haiti, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone, to strengthen the rule of law.

In the Horn of Africa we are building criminal justice capacity to fight piracy, prevent terrorism, and to disrupt the many forms of trafficking that transit the region.

We are trying to make it harder for criminals - and their white-collar accomplices - to move seamlessly between the underworld and the worlds of business and politics. This includes tightening restrictions on money laundering, and improving techniques to stop identity-related theft. And it means strengthening integrity to reduce the corruption that facilitates fraud, organized crime, and terrorism.

Could we do better? For sure, yes. How? By making better use of our strongest weapons -- the UN Conventions against crime and corruption. For example, this November at the Conference of States Parties in Doha, I urge you to agree on a mechanism to review implementation of the UN anti-corruption Convention. Furthermore, at a time when people are crying out for greater integrity in business and government, I invite you to draw on UNODC's expertise to implement all measures in the treaty - like setting up independent anti-corruption agencies, strengthening accountability of officials, returning stolen assets, and ending bank secrecy.

Better equipped than a decade ago. . .

Ladies and Gentlemen, even more so than a decade ago, drugs, crime and terrorism are high on the agenda of Member States - indeed, they are among the eight priorities of the UN identified in the Secretary-General's strategic framework for 2010-2011.

We are better equipped to meet these challenges than we were a decade ago.

Conceptually, we have been able to illustrate the drug situation in the World Drug Report, and the impact of crime on development in West and East Africa, the Balkans, Central America and the Caribbean. Soon we shall submit to you a global threat assessment - the forerunner, if you find it helpful, of a World Crime Report.

Operationally, UNODC has widened and deepened its capacity, and expanded its global coverage. It has built strong partnerships within the UN system, among regional organizations, international financial institutions, and civil society. Thematic and regional programmes provide a strategic, holistic and long-term view to tackling complex and inter-linked challenges.

. . . but still room for improvement

Yet, there is a mismatch between high priorities and low funding, making it very difficult to implement multi-year programming and to carry out core functions. Surely if drugs and crime are of such concern, the Office mandated to deal with them requires more than 1% of the UN's regular budget. Help us overcome these difficulties when assessing contributions to the regular budget.

In conclusion, many positive steps have been taken in the past decade to make the world safer from drugs, crime and terrorism. But these threats are still among the world's most acute social, humanitarian, and security challenges. I urge you to make full use of the available instruments, decision-making bodies, and co-operative arrangements, as well as UNODC expertise. Thank you.