Looking back and forging ahead: 10 ways UNODC makes a difference

Photo: UNODC29 December 2009 - As 2009 draws to a close, UNODC revisits its work to promote global justice, integrity, health and security. Here are 10 ways that UNODC makes a difference.

1. Reducing vulnerability to organized crime

Transnational organized crime is one of the biggest threats to security. UNODC helps States to reduce their vulnerability to organized crime by assisting them in implementing the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. It provides legal and technical assistance, produces evidence-based reports, promotes regional cooperation and mobilizes national and international action to prevent and control organized crime.

2.Containing the world drug problem

Over the past decades, UNODC has helped to contain the world drug problem. It promotes alternative development to help States to eradicate poverty, not just illicit crops. It promotes regional and national cooperation to disrupt drug trafficking. Furthermore, it works to reduce demand for drugs, for example through a programme with the World Health Organization to provide universal access to drug treatment and, as a co-sponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), to prevent the spread of HIV among injecting drug users.

3.Fighting modern-day slavery

At any given time, millions of people are suffering the exploitation of human trafficking. Criminals obtain victims through force, abduction or fraud, and exploit them in a variety of ways, including through prostitution, forced labour and the removal of organs. No country is immune. UNODC helps States to prevent this crime, protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators in line with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. It also rallies wide-ranging support against modern-day slavery - among the private sector, civil society and the media - through the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) and the Blue Heart Campaign. In addition, it seeks to increase information on and analysis of this crime, for example by publishing (in 2009) the first global assessment of trafficking in persons.

4. Ensuring container security

More than 420 million sea containers move around the globe every year, virtually uninspected. But organized crime syndicates and terrorists can use containers for criminal purposes. UNODC and the World Customs Organization have established the Container Control Programme to help Governments control the movement of sea freight. Through the Programme, they assist port enforcement teams (for example in Ecuador, Ghana, Pakistan, Panama and Seengal) in establishing profiling systems and modern control techniques to inspect high-risk containers. A number of major seizures have been made as a result.

5. Helping West Africa, a region under attack

West Africa has become a key transit hub for hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of cocaine smuggled from Latin America to serve a booming market in Europe. Operating largely with impunity, drug traffickers are breeding widespread corruption and threatening security in the region. It was UNODC that first sounded the alarm on the crisis and spearheaded efforts to build national capacity and regional cooperation to reduce the vulnerability of West Africa to drugs and crime.

6. Building humane prison systems

Many of the world's prisons are overcrowded, often with people waiting in pre-trial detention. Others are far below minimum international standards. As part of its mandate to help States abide by the rule of law through fair and effective criminal justice systems, UNODC assists Governments with prison reform. This includes reducing the number of prisoners in pre-trial detention, improving prison management, finding alternatives to imprisonment and assisting with the social reintegration of prisoners. UNODC also works to ensure that prisoners receive adequate health care, particularly to prevent and treat HIV and drug abuse.

7. Monitoring illicit crops

UNODC's publications on illicit crops (like opium poppy and coca bush) are considered the gold standard of research in this field, contributing to powerful knowledge-based policy. Governments, the media and even intelligence agencies rely on these authoritative crop surveys and trend analyses. Generated by satellite imagery or field researchers, the data help Governments to plan strategies to tackle the illicit crops. To monitor cultivation, UNODC works with the main producer countries: Colombia, Peru and Bolivia for coca; Afghanistan, Myanmar and Laos for opium; and Morocco for cannabis.

8. Recovering stolen assets

In the last decade, the list of corrupt leaders who have stolen billions of dollars from the countries they ruled has lengthened.  UNODC, together with the World Bank, helps poor countries recover stolen assets that could then be used for development purposes. The Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) initiative fosters cooperation between developing and developed countries, and between the public and private sectors, to repatriate looted assets. The aim is to reduce vulnerability to this crime, eliminate safe havens for dirty money and help countries get their money back.

9. Preventing crime from disturbing the peace

Even with thousands of peacekeepers and millions of dollars' worth of assistance, peace will not hold in a troubled country unless it is rooted in the rule of law. UNODC therefore works to strengthen criminal justice systems in conflict and post-conflict situations (like Afghanistan, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Sudan and Somalia). It also helps States and organizations carry out organized crime threat assessments in order to prevent spoilers, who profit from instability, from disrupting peacebuilding and peacekeeping processes.

10. Strengthening regional security

States must work together to tackle transnational threats. Instability in one country can spill over to the wider region and become a threat to international security. UNODC has a number of regional programmes to reduce vulnerability to drugs and crime. These are supported by regional declarations, at the ministerial level, and regional plans of action - for example in the Caribbean, in Central America and in West Africa. UNODC has brokered the creation of a Central Asia regional intelligence-sharing centre and a platform for trilateral (counter-narcotics) cooperation between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

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