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

Third session

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa


Ladies and Gentlemen,

My apologies for not being able to address you during the opening session. I was asked to brief the Security Council on the situation in Afghanistan.

No doubt you all do a lot of flying.  You must have experienced turbulence, at times rather unpleasant.  Imagine if on one of these occasions you heard the following announcement:  This is your captain speaking.  We have run into heavy turbulence and started to lose altitude.  Ahead is thick fog and we are losing fuel.  Soon after taking off from Palermo, our compass stopped working.  We have lost our direction.

This is the sort of message that you would never want to hear at 10.000 metres. But this is the warning I would have to make today, if the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime were an airplane.

In other words, this Conference, a travelling party that took off from Palermo in December 2000, is losing altitude in the sense that the political will that was so evident during the drafting of the Convention clearly has vanished.  This may be due to other multilateral priorities (counter-terrorism for example), or to specific forms of organized crime that are emerging as top concerns (like money-laundering or corruption).  Yet, the trend is evident.  Some issues, like the firearms protocol, are already off the radar screens of most States. 

Our imaginary aircraft is low on fuel because the resources committed to tackling transnational crime are below commitments, and much lower than what's needed. There is a major discrepancy between the mandates that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime is expected to carry out and the resources it is given to do so.

We are flying through a statistical fog because there is almost no data available on crime:  is it increasing or not? What comparisons can be made among countries? What forms of crime are greater threats than others, and why? Our compass is broken because we are not even sure how to measure organized crime, let alone what to measure.

Since I am sure you all remain committed to preventing and combating organized crime, we need to pull our aircraft out of this nose dive.  As custodian of the Convention and secretariat of the Conference of the Parties, my Office shares the blame for having flown into this rough weather.  Allow me to suggest a new flight plan.

First:  political will. The World Summit Outcome Document and other high level resolutions are full of references to the danger of organized crime and the determination of Member States to fight it. That determination was evident in the adoption of the Palermo Convention in 2000, and its quite rapid entry into force in 2003. But the impressive rate of ratification has not been matched by the follow up:  implementation is lagging. Is that because interest is fading? I challenge you to prove that this is not true by restoring the priority merited by the Convention and its Protocols.

Second:  resources.  If you look at the budget and output of my Office, you would think this is just a UN Office on Drugs. The crime pillar is weak and resources for crime prevention are limited. Of course, we will never match the billions of dollars that criminals make through illicit activities every year and we don't need to. But there must be a more realistic correlation between what UNODC is expected to do in terms of crime prevention, and what it can afford to do.

Of course it is not up to my Office alone to rid the world of organized crime. But it is our job to help you. And frankly we cannot do that very effectively without something else. And that is. . .

Third:  information. Compare our analysis of drugs with our analysis of crime. On drugs, UNODC issues highly credible reports based on crop surveys, drug addiction data, and trend analysis. Our reports are relied on by governments, by the media, by experts, even by intelligence agencies. Look, for example, at the high level of media coverage of our recent Afghanistan opium survey. No-one else has the expertise to produce information of that calibre - and, as a consequence, nobody can produce equally powerful knowledge-based policy analysis. 

On crime, we don't make the news, we are watching it - with frustration. You can see on your TV screens every night reports about the smuggling of migrants, about slavery and human trafficking, corruption, and about trafficking of small arms.  But you won't see authoritative UN figures on these subjects. Why? Because there is a shortage of raw materials, a lack of data.

Under-reporting is a problem:  many countries are not monitoring these crimes and are not providing the needed information for multilateral action. The slowly emerging review mechanism of the Convention, as it is, will be totally inadequate:  it will never provide an accurate picture of the world crime situation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me put it to you bluntly:  this Conference of the Parties is not in a position to carry out a key part of its mandate, namely to facilitate the provision and the exchange of information on patterns and trends in transnational organized crime and on successful practices for combating it. 126 countries have ratified the Convention: 126 of you have made an important commitment.  But ratification is the easy part. Implementation is what counts, and thus far you are falling short of the goals that you set for yourself.

We can rectify this situation, but time is short.  At the United Nations we know very well that when major provisions of a Convention are not respected, the instrument dies on the vine. So more political will needs to be injected into implementing the Convention. Since you recognize that organized crime is a growing threat - and most of the speeches I missed, have said so (I am told) as did interventions in the Third Committee in New York last week - then the Palermo Convention and Protocols constitute the only global framework to address that threat.  I urge you to resuscitate the Convention, and give it a shot of adrenalin in order that it can live up to its potential. How?

We need a structured method for measuring organized crime -- an authoritative, inter-governmentally sanctioned measurement tool. UNODC is ready to commit all the necessary intellectual resources to develop this methodology, but we need your marching orders.

But we need more than a methodology. To measure trends we need data, and this must come from you. After all, the legal obligation under the Convention lies with Member States.  I understand that there is a certain questionnaire fatigue - at UNODC as much as throughout the rest of the UN system. But there is no other politically correct and economically valid option than completing the current reporting period.  We are ready to help, but only if you are ready to be helped.

At the same time, to simplify the process for the future, my Office is willing to develop informal guidelines for a mutual assessment process that could be accompanied by national implementation action plans.  We do not need to involve all countries in a review of all issues envisaged in the Convention.  To the contrary, I propose a manageable mass of evidence. 

In order to move ahead with this proposal, I encourage a limited number of States to volunteer to take part in a programme assessing implementation of a limited range of crime-related issues. I propose that we test the mechanism over a two-year period leading up to the Fourth Conference session. By that time, the methodology could be fine-tuned, and the sample size (participating countries and issues to be monitored) could be increased as practically possible. This would make effective use of the impending biennial cycle and strengthen the Conference's role as a implementation review body. 

Through this modest but realistic approach we would seek two types of information: first, on national crime trends, and second on national implementation of the Convention. The resulting pool of data will enable us to present a comprehensive assessment of the world crime situation to Member States at the Crime Commission which will enrich and inform the work of this governing body. As a by-product we could then produce an annual World Crime Report, for wider dissemination of the information. This could generate greater public understanding and support for achieving the objectives of the Convention.

Where States need help, technical assistance should be made available. In an interconnected world where weak criminal justice in one country can have implications on the security of others, we have a common interest in making sure that no state is left behind. UNODC is your service provider to ensure that there are no gaps in compliance - and that there are synergies between crime prevention, drug control and terrorism prevention.

Let us make the Conference of the Parties exactly what the Convention says it should be - a peer review body with the means to review and assist implementation of this first, and foremost, international agreement to combat organized crime.  If you can agree with my proposal, the aircraft of our travelling party will climb back to the cruising speed and altitude needed to steady its course - flying above statistical fog, adequately fuelled, at a political speed as required to reach the ultimate destination: a world characterized by greater security and justice.

Thank you for your attention.