Yury Fedotov

Director-General/Executive Director

International Cooperation:

The Key to Halting Organized Crime

Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols

Fifth Session

Vienna , 18-22 October 2010


Madame President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am pleased to welcome you to Vienna.  Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.

Ten years after Palermo, the Conference of the Parties has gathered to assess progress and revitalize States' collective and individual efforts to fight transnational organized crime.  I come here today to offer UNODC's wholehearted support for the success of your Conference.

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is a major landmark in international law.  It is the first multilateral framework for international cooperation and prevention of transnational organized crime. Under the Convention, States are required to enact domestic legislation to deal with transnational organized crime, and they have the basis to bring transnational criminals to justice.

The Convention's provisions for international cooperation create a global base for extradition and mutual legal assistance against all forms of transnational organized crime among the 157 States Parties. Police no longer need to stop at borders while criminals cross them freely. The Convention provides new possibilities and frameworks for law enforcement agencies to coordinate their efforts, including trans-border intelligence-sharing and joint investigations.

Three Protocols to the Convention target activities that enable and support organized crime:  trafficking in persons, firearms and smuggling of migrants. Before the Protocols, human trafficking and migrant smuggling were largely ignored crimes.

These are all important achievements. However, we have to be honest with ourselves: in the ten years since the Convention's adoption in Palermo, the threat that organized crime poses to international security and development has ballooned to global proportions.

Drug trafficking continues to be the most lucrative line of business for criminals. As UNODC reported in its 2010 Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment,

  • cocaine trafficked from the Andean region to North America and Europe is worth $72 billion annually, and
  • heroin trafficked from Afghanistan to Europe has a street value of $33 billion.

Combined, these figures exceed $100 billion.  That's $100 billion stolen from people, diverted from the goals of development, invested in criminal businesses and fuelling terrorism.

One hundred billion dollars.  Let me put that figure into perspective. In 2009, according to the World Bank, 131 out of 185 countries had a gross domestic product that was less than $100 billion - and in most cases, far less.

Or, to put it another way: cocaine and heroin traffickers are earning almost $280 million every day, almost $12 million every hour, and almost $200,000 every minute.

Human trafficking is an abhorrent form of modern slavery. Trafficking in persons to Europe for sexual exploitation brings in $3 billion annually-and involves 140,000 victims, mostly women and children.

Smuggling of migrants from Latin America to North America earns $6.6 billion from 3 million illegal entries each year.

Illicit trade in firearms brings in more than $53 million annually-and puts handguns and assault rifles in the hands of criminals and insurgents.

Beyond highlighting the damage to peace and security, to development, and above all to human lives, these figures make another critical point:  Today, the criminal market spans the planet. Taking advantage of open borders, open markets, ease of transit and communication, organized crime is more diversified and better connected than it was a decade ago. Illicit goods are sourced from one continent, trafficked across another, and marketed in a third. Criminal groups are collaborating and forming transnational networks, especially in the world's most vulnerable areas.

Criminals and insurgents exploit regions that offer a strategic location, porous borders, weak governance and institutions, widespread poverty and corruption. West Africa, in particular, serves as a transit point for cocaine trafficking between South America and Europe, which is undermining development across the region. Central America is caught in the crossfire of the international drug trade, plagued by drug-related gang violence. In South West Asia, profits from Afghan opium trafficked to Europe not only enrich criminals but also support terrorists and threaten security in the region and beyond. There are other examples I could mention; no region is immune.

Criminals are entrepreneurs, seizing new opportunities for profit wherever they appear. This adaptability is giving rise to new and emerging forms of crime that have devastating effects on the environment and public health, on development and security.

  • Trafficking in natural resources : timber from South East Asia to the European Union and Asia accounts for criminal revenues of $3.5 billion annually-and contributes to deforestation, loss of habitat and loss of species, climate change and increased rural poverty.
  • Counterfeit medicines from Asia valued at $1.6 billion end up in South-East Asia and Africa, where instead of curing people, they kill them. Counterfeit medicines can also foster drug-resistance among deadly infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.
  • Cybercrime : Identity theft produces $1 billion for criminals each year, with a far-reaching impact on the economy and online commerce. The Internet also feeds the market for child pornography, with profits of $250 million annually-and untold costs in terms of the victimization of children.

The Convention offers an important opportunity here: its definition of transnational organized crime can be applied very broadly, including to new and emerging forms of transnational crime.

As all of these examples show, money is the lifeblood of illicit enterprises. Criminals don't care about the source of their profits, or the cost in human lives. As long as they can enjoy their ill-got gains somewhere in the world, they will always have an incentive to engage in crime. The Convention offers rich and detailed measures to combat money laundering; to confiscate and seize criminal assets; and to end banking secrecy. If we can separate criminals from their cash, we can drive them out of business.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Convention is a powerful tool, but it remains underutilized. We need to achieve full ratification and full implementation. A review mechanism could be instrumental to deeper collaboration and effective implementation of its provisions.

I would like to take this opportunity to urge you to push for full ratification and full implementation of the Protocols. We are doing well with the Protocols against Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling, but we are still lagging with the Protocol against Trafficking in Firearms.

We also need to raise awareness of the Convention among law enforcement agencies and other relevant authorities in States across the globe-they need to know what a powerful tool they have at their disposal. To date, we know of only 19 of the 157 States Parties having used the Convention to facilitate international cooperation, including extradition, to fight organized criminal groups. It is time to recognize that international cooperation and information sharing offer a way to strengthen sovereignty, not weaken it.

We also need a comprehensive, system-wide response that strengthens resistance to organized crime at its points of origin, along trafficking routes, and at the final destinations for its illicit goods. The United Nations must integrate responses to transnational organized crime (including criminal justice reform) into its peace-keeping, peace-building, security, development and disarmament activities.

UNODC is ready to help. Transnational organized crime is a key pillar in our regional programme networks, and it overlaps with our other thematic priority areas-crime prevention and criminal justice reform; drug use prevention and health; and prevention of corruption and terrorism. Demand for our services continues to grow. We have countries in Central Asia, West Africa, Central America and other regions asking for our help in counteracting the devastating impact of organized crime on communities and neighbourhoods, on families and children.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

UNODC will work hard to support the outcomes of the Conference of Parties and facilitate effective cooperation among States to implement the Convention, and to assist you in overcoming any difficulties that might arise.

I hope that your discussions this week will be wide-ranging and productive. The Convention has the potential to make life better for women, men and children on every continent and in every region, in cities, towns and villages in every country.  Let us help turn that potential into reality.

Thank you.