Yury Fedotov

Director General/Executive Director


Remarks at the UN Security Council briefing on drug trafficking in West Africa as a threat to stability

by VTC, 19 December 2018

Mr. President,

Members of the Security Council,

I thank you for the opportunity to address this very important topic.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is registering new, alarming trends in drug trafficking in West and Central Africa, with disruptive and destabilizing effects on governance, security, economic growth and public health.

Criminal networks are no longer limiting activities to transiting cocaine and heroin through Africa for destination markets in Europe and elsewhere.

UNODC's 2018 World Drug Report shows that West and Central Africa, along with North African countries, accounted for 87 per cent of pharmaceutical opioids seized globally.

This is largely due to rising use of tramadol, an opioid painkiller that is widely trafficked for non-medical use in the region.

Africa, along with Asia, also saw the largest rises in cocaine seizures, suggesting that cocaine trafficking and consumption have spread to these markets.

Through UNODC AIRCOP, which works in several African airports, we know that heroin seizures are on the rise across the region with Lagos, Accra and Cotonou airports high on the list, closely followed by Bamako, Lomé and Ouagadougou.

Methamphetamine seizures have now almost reached the same level as cocaine seizures, with Lagos and Cotonou the main airports concerned.

Recently, an increased number of seizures of precursors such as Ephedrine and Phenacetine has been recorded at both airports, which may indicate the existence of new laboratories producing psychoactive substances.

At the same time, drug use in West and Central Africa is rising, representing a serious threat to public health.

With the caveat that there is a lack of reliable and recent data on the extent of drug use in the area, UNODC estimates that in 2016, there were more than 34 million cannabis users in West and Central Africa, as well as 1.8 million cocaine users.

Globally, only one in six people suffering from drug use disorders receive treatment. However, in Africa this figure is much lower, with only one in 18 problem drug users having access to treatment.

At the same time, the region is grappling with many other crime-related security threats, including arms trafficking, money laundering, human trafficking, cybercrime and maritime piracy, as well as threats posed by terrorism.

The linkages between terrorism, illicit drugs and other forms of crime have been widely acknowledged, including by this Council.

In August 2018, the Security Council expressed serious concerns about continuing terrorist activities of Boko Haram and other groups in the Lake Chad Basin; links between illicit trafficking in wildlife and natural resources and financing of armed groups; maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea; and mercenary activities linked to transnational organized crime, including trafficking in persons, arms and drugs as well as the smuggling of migrants.

The Sahel Region, which receives particular attention through the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, is also an area of focus for UNODC.

The upcoming phase of the strategy, which aims at supporting the Police Component of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, is focusing on strengthening the capacity of the Joint Force in tackling terrorism and organized crime, including drug trafficking.

UNODC continues to reinforce regional and inter-regional dialogue and responses to drugs trafficking.

This includes efforts to disrupt illicit trafficking of drugs and precursors, as well as intercept financial flows; law enforcement capacity building; and scaling up drug use prevention and treatment services.

We seek to support national intelligence and interdiction services, providing capacity building through training workshops and e-learning courses, including on intelligence-led policing, detection and investigation techniques, crime scene management, electronic evidence collection and analysis, profiling and targeting, anti-money laundering and maritime crime.

At the regional level, our work focuses on establishing inter-agency cooperation platforms and mechanisms, through AIRCOP, the West Africa Coast Initiative, the Container Control Programme, and the Network of West African Central Authorities and Prosecutors.

Our Office has partnered with ECOWAS to support the implementation of the Regional Action Plan on illicit drug trafficking, organized crime and drug abuse in West Africa, through technical assistance to enhance prevention and drug dependence treatment, legislation, forensics, and law enforcement.

That is just a select overview of what we are doing to support West and Central Africa. For more on UNODC's work, allow me to refer you to the briefing note circulated to Council members.

Mr. President,

While strengthened technical assistance has resulted in some positive developments, there remain formidable challenges for countries in West and Central Africa in building stability and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Post-conflict states and states in transition, including Guinea-Bissau, require greater attention, as recognized by this Council, to address drug and organized crime challenges alongside political reforms.

UNODC remains fully engaged in supporting West and Central Africa, working closely with all our other regional and international partners.

I am grateful to this Council for bringing attention to the need for urgent and determined international action and support to address the threat of drugs, and help pave the way for a safer, healthier and more prosperous West and Central Africa.

Thank you.