UNODC Goodwill Ambassador for Global Justice
Vienna, 21 October 2010
Madam President, Mr. Executive Director, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your kind introduction and warm welcome. I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to speak to you this morning.
You have gathered in Vienna this week for an urgent purpose: to strengthen the world's defenses against the destructive forces of transnational organized crime. I am here today to thank you for your efforts, and to encourage you and spur you on.
Throughout my career as an actor I've played many parts: heroes and villains, lovers and losers, and yes, criminals and crime-fighters. But Goodwill Ambassador for Global Justice for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime is certainly my most challenging and meaningful role. At some point I wanted to stop being an actor and start taking action.
Yet it is also a very simple one: to publicize all the good work that UNODC is doing around the world, and to shine the spotlight on the need for global justice-and the ways that all of us can make a difference in the struggle against transnational organized crime.
Some of our roles may focus on helping one community, or even a single child. Or some, like yours, have the potential for global impact.
I find that it's easy to become overwhelmed when we talk about transnational organized crime. The statistics are mind-boggling-the colossal amounts of money criminals make from their evil enterprises, the untold numbers of victims whose lives have been damaged or even snuffed out because of organized crime. The numbers are so large that they start to become abstract, too big to comprehend. But I don't want to focus on that, I want to try to bring the impact of transnational organized crime down to a human level, particularly its impact on children.
I'd like to tell you the story of a boy I met last year during a UNODC mission to East Africa. I'll call him Rashad. Rashad was fifteen years old, not yet fully grown. He had bright eyes and an even brighter smile. To look at him, you would never guess the hardship he had already endured in his short life. Rashad was from Somalia, which means he grew up in a desperate and disorganized society impoverished by a devastating civil war. He was an orphan, so he was forced to fend for himself. Until a short time before I met him, Rashad had never left his home village. Like so many other boys in Somalia, where 45 percent of the population is under the age of fifteen, Rashad was willing to risk his life for the slightest chance of something better.
I met Rashad in Mombasa, Kenya, in Shimo Le Tewa prison, where he was serving a ten-year sentence for piracy. He had been captured off the Horn of Africa by a European naval ship. He and his comrades were put on trial in Mombasa and found guilty.
In prison at fifteen. I'm sure many of you are parents, and some of you may even have a fifteen-year-old son. If you do, what is your son's life like? Probably he's interested in music and sports and computers and girls. He goes to school, he spends his free time online or on his cellphone or hanging out with friends, probably complaining about you… does this sound familiar? Now think about Rashad, who has no parents, condemned to a decade behind bars.
Rashad is considered a criminal because he was a pirate. But it is important to recognize that he is also a victim of transnational organized crime. We must not forget there are many kinds of victims of organized crime, and that children are among the most vulnerable. It's often the most innocent people, the ones who don't have suspicion or cynicism within them who are led astray to make mistakes by predators who abuse them for their personal gain and for money. If a young child is forced to become a soldier or a drug mule or a prostitute, is that child a criminal--or a victim? If a teenaged boy sees no future for himself other than joining a gang, a drug mafia, or a band of pirates, isn't he also one of crime's casualties?
When I went to East Africa with UNODC, I met many children who were victims of crime and I listened to their stories. They were survivors of sex trafficking and former child soldiers; some were receiving treatment for drug addiction or HIV. Their stories were heart-wrenching. I met a young girl who had been the sex slave of a rebel leader and bore his child. I met a boy who was forced to kill his own sister at gunpoint. And I was told about an eight-year-old boy made to eat his 16-year-old brother alive. When he was biting into his neck, he said, "I'm still with you."
Yet I was also amazed by these children, and deeply humbled. So many of the children I met displayed incredible strength and resilience, and an almost incomprehensible capacity for forgiveness-of both themselves and others.
Although my UNODC mission was to Africa, no part of the world is immune to trafficking and organized crime. Children as well as adults, particularly women, are at risk of becoming its victims in every country on our planet.
Organized crime is a deadly infection that preys on human beings. It sows fear and violence in cities, towns and villages around the world. Its poison spreads quickly, damaging communities and institutions-sometimes to the point of failure. It targets vulnerable states and regions weakened by conflict, lawlessness, extreme poverty and corruption. It feeds off instability, and also makes instability worse.
And let's not forget that organized crime is highly contagious, easily jumping from country to country, and from continent to continent. Traffickers of illicit drugs, weapons, and human beings pay no attention to borders. And at every stop along their routes, these criminals are putting development, security and human lives at risk.
Through working with UNODC, I've come to understand who the world's real heroes are. It's not the movies stars, not the actors. I've seen the brave souls working on the frontlines, operating under the most difficult circumstances and with very limited resources, to help victims of organized crime. They are police officers, prosecutors, judges and government workers. They are NGO staff, doctors and nurses, journalists, community and religious leaders. They are the staff of UNODC and other international organizations. They are ordinary people. Yet they are also extraordinary.
But they cannot stem the tide alone. Organized crime is too big for communities or even states to confront on their own. States must work together.
The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its three Protocols enable states to do this. The Convention is a formidable tool with far-reaching potential. But the Convention and its Protocols can only stop criminals if states make use of them.
That is why your work is so important. You can help make that happen. By pushing for full ratification and full implementation of the Convention and its three Protocols, you can help make life better and safer for individuals, families and communities all over the world. You can give children like Rashad a future.
Thank you for your attention. I wish you every success.