Towards an effective crime control regime

Address to the 16th Session of the

United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

Vienna, 23 April 2007

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa

Mr. Chairman,

Honourable Ministers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the 2007 meeting of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.  Formed in 1992, this is one of the youngest governing bodies at the United Nations:  young, brave and challenged.  There are heavy responsibilities on the adolescent shoulders of this Commission:  its coming of age is happening at the outset of a century when time, space and values have been, if not abolished, certainly reduced as impediments to people's behaviour.

A Global Priority

This is a century on the move: people, goods, services, money, ideas and cultures are crossing borders at a speed, and with an ease, that exceeds anything humanity has ever known.  Since both public goods and public bads cross borders with the same ease, there are risks of sudden breaks within, and among societies. Drugs, crime, trafficking, corruption and terrorism are dark externalities of contemporary globalization: they hurt individual and collective rights to justice and security.

I see this Commission as a gate-keeper: letting through time and space what is of benefit to humanity, and blocking what's detrimental.  The issues this Commission deals with are very concrete:  they have a direct impact on people's lives - and, without overdoing it, on the future well-being of this planet. Here are a few examples. 

In some of the world's biggest cities there are neglected and dangerous neighbourhoods where even the police fear to go. Close to one billion people live in hellish ghettos and shanty-towns -- that's 1/6 of humanity, where the conduct of daily life is 30 times riskier than elsewhere. 

Fragile regions, debilitated by mass poverty and unemployment, are vulnerable to corruption and violence, and risk becoming breeding grounds for criminals and terrorists alike.  Some areas -- within countries and across their borders -- are out of government control:  hell for their citizens, oases for organized crime.  UNODC has provided ample evidence - with analyses covering Africa, Central America and soon the Balkans -- that the poverty-crime cycle is doubly vicious: for its brutality and because it perpetuates itself. 

Illicit goods and illegal services often sail on the wave of legitimate trade and finance. Criminal networks exploit weak links and malign neglect in global markets to launder money, pilfer identity, steal intellectual property and trademarks, and traffic counterfeit products, ideas and currencies around the world.     

The environment is being plundered by illegal logging, unlawful exploitation of underground resources, illicit fishing, the dumping of hazardous waste, and the destruction of pristine forests for drug cultivation.  Without exaggeration, we can say that this Commission, in a way, has an environmental mandate as well.

Corruption is both a crime in itself and a lubricant for other crimes - it facilitates criminal actions that result in the stealing of public property and of poor people's essential services. It thrives on open yet not so transparent financial markets.

Cyber-space is abused to steal our identity, incite hatred, promote child pornography - even to auction human beings and their organs. 

Terrorism lurks in the shadows and strikes in the heart of our cities - it nourishes itself on each of, and all, the criminal activities I just mentioned.

These are not threats that any state can fight alone. Along with reducing poverty, preventing pandemics and saving the environment - which are high priorities for the United Nations - fighting organized crime is one of the best examples of why, and how states must work together to deal with contemporary challenges.

From Legislative Frameworks to Effective Action   

The need for cooperation was recognized in the Palermo and Merida Conventions, and also expressed in the General Assembly global counter-terrorism strategy adopted last December. Are these encouraging words being translated into action?

Regarding crime control, ratification rates of international instruments are climbing. There are now 132 parties to the Convention against Organized Crime.

But the Convention is far from reaching its potential. Its teeth are only starting to nibble on extradition, mutual legal assistance and cross-border judicial cooperation.  The Conference of the State Parties has yet to agree on monitoring mechanisms and reporting obligations. I therefore welcome the proposal to create a "Friends of the TOC" group to give the Convention and its Protocols some bite. 

Uneven progress is being made regarding the three crime protocols.

Consider human trafficking.  Despite the emotions this issue stirs up, and despite the good crop of Protocol ratifications (111), this horrible business is spreading facilitated by ever growing demand, opening of markets and easiness of communications.

Look at the smuggling of migrants. Hardly a day goes by without a news report about a boatload of young people sinking off the Horn of Africa, or washing up on West African or Mediterranean coasts. Or of rusty ships, owned by criminal gangs, cruising rudderless in South-East Asian seas or in the Caribbean.  All too often we hear of the grisly discovery of bodies in containers, fellow men dead or dying after a perilous voyage half way around the world - having surrendered their identity papers and life savings to professional human smugglers.

The Protocol against smuggling of migrants has 105 Parties. Let's turn this solid international obligation into deeds. I'm glad to hear that the Irregular Migration Pact (IMPACT), that I proposed last July at a Euro-African Ministerial Conference in Rabat, is being considered for implementation in West-Africa - and for possible duplication in other parts of the world where human vultures pray on vulnerable migrants and refugees.

What about the protocol on firearms?  On average, each year these weapons, small but treacherous, are responsible for more deaths than terrorism or natural calamities.  And yet only 62 Member States are party to this Protocol.  Let's put this forgotten instrument back on the agenda - and on our minds and conscience.

More promising developments characterize the anti-Corruption Convention (91 Parties).  Not only are government-sponsored initiatives marching on: the media and public opinion are taking up the cause. I'm also pleased that implementation of the anti-corruption Convention is now recognized by multilateral development banks and international financial institutions as the unifying legal instrument to promote integrity in governance.

To demonstrate that the United Nations can "lead by example" (as Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says), last week at the meeting of the UN Chief Executives in Geneva I proposed an "Institutional Integrity Protocol" for the UN family, to be applied to all international civil servants and aligned with the state-of-the-art standards embodied in the Convention. The proposal was favourably received and I thank the Secretary-General for his personal support.

Turning to terrorism, in the past 4 years the number of parties to the 12 instruments has more than tripled (to 85). Given that violent acts continue to occur across the globe, we need to do more to prevent terrorism. 

Completing the Crime Control Architecture

While the building blocks of a global crime control regime are taking shape, the overall architecture needs to be made more explicit, coherent and results-oriented. Several institutional questions remain unresolved: for example, how can we create closer synergy between the two Conferences of the Parties and the Crime Commission?  Or between the CND and CCPCJ?  How can we link the Global Forum against Corruption with the work of the Conference of the States Parties? How can we re-energize the Crime Congress as a natural incubator of ideas and a promoter of initiatives to be formalized by this Commission?

Without a coherent blueprint, crime control efforts will be diffuse and unfocused. 

This Commission should be more than a policy-setter and a collective think-tank.  It should establish the architecture of the global crime control regime and then help stake-holders to put it into place. UNODC, now re-oriented, re-energized and re-financed, is a treaties-based institution (for both drugs and crime), with a vested interest in clear political guidance in order to help governments protect the universal right of their citizens to live in security and justice.  We are ready to help.

More Knowledge   

To do this, we need more knowledge. I say it every year, and I will say it again:  despite the fact that trans-national crime is a great threat to security, we operate in an information fog.

We do not know the scope of the threats we face and cannot gauge global trends. At times we cannot even define the enemy we face or assess its strength.  We just see the tips of icebergs or, if you allow me another metaphor, the shadow of dangerous entities. But the actual objects - whether submerged in murky waters or casting dark shadows - remain unfathomable.

Anecdotal evidence is abundant - yet confusing - about human trafficking rings broken up, traffickers prosecuted, victims rescued, corrupt (public and private) officials indicted, boat-loads of smuggled migrants intercepted, and shipments of illicit firearms seized. All this needs to be systematised and rendered coherent.

I dream of a UNODC able to give you the means to measure all of the above - as we do on drugs.  At the moment we can't go beyond press reports and second-hand information. And yet when we rely on this information, some of you get upset.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I urge you to complete the questionnaires on implementation of the crime Convention. This may not be a user-friendly method, but it is a multilateral obligation you have sanctioned.  So do complete the reporting cycles. We can help you more than in the past: expert meetings, for example on technical assistance, crime statistics and human trafficking, have been organized to fine tune implementation of our instruments. 

I appreciate the emphasis that was put on policy and trend analysis in the Office's medium-term Strategy. I attach particular importance to what were described as cross-sector trends -- for example, the links between drugs and crime, or crime and terrorism, and their impact on security and development. 

I take this opportunity to draw your attention to the UNODC report on crime and development in Central America (soon to be released), and on similar forthcoming reports on the Caribbean (co-authored with the World Bank) and the Balkans. This research should lead us to more active operational engagement in these regions. 

To further enhance our knowledge, I urge the 17 Institutes that are part of the UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Prevention Network to help us more.       

Building Capacity

Against this background of patchy information on, and even poorer understanding of crime trends, governments' desire for technical assistance is increasing. 

Our challenge is to provide technical assistance to make the rich UN body of crime-related standards and norms (recently gathered in a useful Compendium) a reality on the ground, for example by improving investigation techniques; mutual legal assistance; anti-money laundering; financial intelligence; criminal justice and prison systems; as well as by assisting states to prevent terrorism.  The full range of activities is showcased in our 2007 Annual Report

Such projects are, as they must be, needs driven. In order to help identify some of those needs, UNODC - together with the OSCE - has launched a Criminal Justice Assessment Toolkit. This is a big help for UNODC staff in field offices around the world, to supplement their knowledge on drug control with more expertise on crime prevention. At this Session we will launch a software version of the Toolkit.

Computer-training can reach a wide audience at low cost. An inter-active law enforcement training package, first applied in South East Asia, is now used in over 200 training centres in 50 countries, in 16 languages. Don't just take my word for it. The project is so good that the Secretary-General himself gave it a UN21 award when he recently visited our Office -- one of the four prizes received by our staff in Vienna (out of 20 decided at HQs in New York:  a remarkable 20% of the total).

UNODC's role as a technical assistance provider for terrorism prevention was highlighted in the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy. The Strategy's call for this assistance to be enhanced requires us to better link terrorism prevention expertise with the Office's work against money laundering, organized crime, corruption and for criminal justice reform.

The growing quality of this work is mirrored in the growing quantity of resources made available. The budget of the Office has increased by 71% in the last 3 years, the crime program alone by 200%, while terrorism funding is up by 170%. Further resource mobilization is likely in related areas: here is an example.

Fight Human Trafficking Together

As you know, UNODC - with the initial generous support of the United Arab Emirates - has launched a Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, also known as UN.GIFT.  It is a global program designed primarily to motivate and assist governments and civil society:

-         to understand factors of vulnerability to human trafficking;

-         to reduce its impact and its human cost;

-         to take action to prevent and stop it;

-         to help states implement the anti-trafficking Protocol.

We are holding periodic consultations - including at the margins of this Commission - to keep Member States informed of developments and engaged in the process. Your ownership, guidance and involvement are essential.

Strong partnership has been built by UNODC with a core group of relevant organizations: ILO, UNICEF and OHCHR within the UN system;  IOM and OSCE outside it.  Civil society, the private sector, academia and the media are being mobilized, together with parliamentarians and religious groups.

The launch of this Initiative in late March in London coincided with the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade in the British Empire. As a result of media attention on that occasion, public interest in UN.GIFT is high and growing.

Thematic and regional events are being organized around the world - for example regarding the role of the tourism industry; what the media and the film industry can do to increase awareness;  the importance of faith-based work to protect vulnerable people - first of all women (often openly sold and traded), and children (enslaved and drugged in conflicts). Before year-end we hope to gather here in Vienna key stakeholders to take stock of the progress made in understanding an issue that escapes moral, as much as scientific, understanding.

The Initiative's on-the-ground operations will start in early 2008 on the basis of the acquired knowledge. The Office's reputation is at stake, as we are committed to make a real difference in the lives of those who are most vulnerable to, and affected by, this crime.  Do guide, assist and accompany us.

Leveraging Mandates and Resources

The Global Initiative is a good example of the how UNODC can leverage its mandate by joining forces with others, and how it can mobilize the resources of others to support its mandate.  This is the reflection of a sober reality - namely, the threats that we face are too big to be tackled alone.

UNODC is breaking new methodological and operational ground. In the drug control area, we have positioned the Office at the intersection of health and law enforcement initiatives.  In crime control, we are aiming to position the Office at the intersection of security and development, with criminal justice as the lynchpin. After all, there cannot be security without development, and vice-versa. And for both to be sustainable, there must be justice and the rule of law.

We are working with the World Bank to harmonize global anti-corruption efforts and help countries recover stolen assets. At the meeting of G8 Finance Ministers in Potsdam in mid-May we will introduce a Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative.   

We work with partners within the UN family, with DPKO for example, to channel mutual expertise into post-conflict work; and with the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the CTED, to strengthen global action against terrorism.

With the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Development Bank we are working to make countries in Central America and the Caribbean less vulnerable to crime, corruption and drugs: these are societies caught in cross-fire.

Relations with the African Union are getting deeper and stronger: at its Ministerial Conference next October, the AU is scheduled to adopt an Action Plan harmonized with the UNODC-promoted Abuja Programme against crime.  

Our Container Control Programme, launched with the World Customs Organization, has proved so successful (in Ecuador and Senegal), that it is being expanded to Ghana and Pakistan this year.  More resources will allow us to expand its roll-out. Do help us.

Having promoted the inclusion of corruption in the UN Global Compact with the private sector, we are now assessing with its Secretariat what to do on the ground.  

Our work with civil society is a quarter century old and growing:  I look forward to new initiatives launched at the margin of this Commission.

Reloading UNODC 

Multilateral crime control is at its infancy, but maturing. Not surprisingly -- and you made it clear by the objectives you set in the UNODC medium-term Strategy -- you expect more from us.

This week you will discuss urban crime, fraud and identify theft. Other areas deserve this body's attention: environmental crime (identified as a priority area already in 1992);  cyber-crime;  and the effect of crime on conflicts and vice versa.  In the spirit of shared-responsibility we need to pay more attention to reducing demand for the goods and services provided by criminal activity - blood diamonds; illegally-logged luxury wood; cheap goods made in sweatshops; sexual exploitation.  But the list is endless -- anything we touch, consume, wear, hear, watch or sense may have been tainted by the blood and tears of crime victims. 

The first steps have already been taken, not least with the adoption of the medium-term Strategy and the steady growth of the crime and terrorism prevention programs. Many thanks for your work, Mr. Chairman and Friends of the Chair, so instrumental in finalizing the Strategy.  I urge delegates to adopt it at this Session. 

Furthermore, now that you have control over the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme Fund, I urge you to ensure that resources are aligned with the operational objectives outlined in the Strategy. 

In closing, let me be a bit emotional.  Last December, the General Assembly placed drug control, crime prevention and combating terrorism among priorities of the United Nations, for the biennium 2008-09. At UNODC we commit ourselves to do the utmost to meet these expectations. Personally, I thank the Secretary-General for his renewed trust in my leadership: in the management compact I just signed with him, I made our work program the defining moment of my tenure at UNODC.  Help me honour it.

Thank you for your attention.