Drugs and Crime:
Transnational Challenges to Stability
in Europe and Central Asia
Vienna, 24 May 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the International Peace Institute for organizing, with the cooperation and support of the Government of Austria, this very timely and important seminar. I expect that it will generate new ideas and innovative approaches to the shared challenges that Europe and Central Asia face today.
Illicit drugs and organized crime are among the fastest-growing threats to political and economic stability and the health and well-being of people in these interdependent regions.
Drugs are killing people in both Europe and Central Asia. In Europe alone, over 25,000 people die from drug use annually. Young people are especially hard hit; 4 percent of deaths among 25- to 39-year-old Europeans are caused by drug overdoses each year.
What's more, drug use is fuelling epidemics of HIV and Hepatitis C. Sharing infected syringes heavily contributes to the rapid spread of HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where an estimated one in four injecting drug users is HIV-positive. Meanwhile, 47 percent of injecting drug users in Europe have Hepatitis C, but in several countries the infection rate is over 70 percent.
Drug trafficking is one of the most profitable activities for criminals. Heroin trafficked from Afghanistan to Europe is a multi-billion-dollar criminal business. Over $30 billion are invested every year in criminal enterprises, diverted from economic development, and in some cases, funding terrorism.
Meanwhile, other criminal activities are growing quickly in Europe and Central Asia, and also between these two regions, especially low-risk, high-profit crimes like human trafficking and migrant smuggling.
Europe is the destination for human trafficking victims from the widest range of countries and regions-including many countries in Central Asia and in Europe itself. Trafficking in persons to Europe for sexual exploitation brings in $3 billion annually-and involves 140,000 victims, mostly women and children.
Migrant smuggling is often connected with organized crime as well. Central Asia is both a place of origin and a transit point for illegal migrants heading for the Russian Federation or onward to Europe.
Money is the lifeblood of organized crime. Despite the existence of anti-money laundering tools, it appears that less than 1 percent of proceeds from crime laundered through the global financial system is intercepted. As long as criminals have "safe havens," they have an incentive to continue to engage in crime.
Corruption, which both feeds on and facilitates organized crime, poses a clear threat to stability in Central Asia and parts of Europe. Recent developments in North Africa and the Middle East show us that corruption has the power to shake the very foundations of society.
When criminals and traffickers control billions of dollars, no single country, no matter how powerful, can confront the threat from drugs and crime on its own.
So what can we do--and what must we do?
We need to address the threats at their source. This calls for international cooperation centred on a comprehensive strategy. We must build new partnerships. Governments and civil society must work together. States have to join forces in promoting regional cooperation. International organizations and regional security organizations need to coordinate their efforts. By working together, we can create synergies and maximize the impact of our resources.
This kind of strategy is already having some success against the heroin trade. The Paris Pact unites more than 50 States and international organizations in the fight against Afghan opiates. I hope that the Paris Pact will convene a Third Ministerial Meeting later this year in Vienna to reaffirm its commitment to a unified response to this challenge.
At the regional level, this translates into counternarcotics information-sharing and joint cooperation initiatives like the Triangular Initiative (involving Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan), the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre, and Operation TARCET. These initiatives have intercepted and seized tons of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals.
UNODC, meanwhile, is developing a Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries, and new country programmes for Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. Speaking in particular about Kyrgyzstan, which I visited three weeks ago, we consider this country a priority because drug trafficking and organized crime are undermining stability, development and the rule of law, and jeopardizing the political reform process. UNODC capacity-building assistance, including strengthening Kyrgyzstan's new State Service on Drug Control, will help to stabilize the country and allow political reform and democracy to take root.
UNODC helps to build the capacity of States to confront drugs and crime by strengthening every link in the criminal justice chain, from proactive investigation to convicting traffickers. We help States to introduce measures to prevent drug use and to support alternative development.
This is an important point. Unless we reduce demand for drugs, our efforts against supply will never be effective. There is growing recognition that treatment for drug use offers a far more effective cure than punishment. We are seeing progress in drug use prevention through family skills training, and more attention is being paid to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment and care. Yet even in Europe, only one out of every four or five heroin users typically receives treatment. We must do more to help drug users. It is also essential that we more vigorously raise public awareness against narcotics, and facilitate healthy and fulfilling alternatives to drug use, which must not be accepted as a way of life.
Illicit drugs and organized crime are a global threat, so fighting them is a shared responsibility. Many European countries, as well as the European Union, are helping the Central Asian States and Afghanistan to resolve these problems, including by supporting the work of UNODC. They recognize that helping to strengthen stability and security in Central Asia is in Europe's interest too. I hope that Europe will continue to provide assistance and support to this region.
We have no time to waste in confronting the threat from drug trafficking and organized crime. The United Nations recognizes the need to mainstream the fight against drugs and crime into the global security and development agenda. The UN can play a critical role as honest broker, helping Member States to find solutions to these challenges.
But solutions are not easy and will take time. We must be prepared for a sustained process that will require a long-term commitment from all partners, including Governments, civil society, international organizations and regional security organizations. By working together-by strengthening existing partnerships and creating new ones-we can help make life safer, healthier and more just for women, men and children throughout Europe and Central Asia and beyond.