Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


COP10 Side event: "The Palermo Convention 20 years after: celebrating its anniversary and unleashing its full potential through the implementation of the review mechanism" 

  12 October 2020

Vice Minister Sereni,


Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for joining us today to mark the 20th anniversary of the Palermo Convention. Grazie all’Italia, my thanks to Italy for organizing this event with UNODC.

The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime has proud Italian roots. The Convention was opened for signature in Palermo on 12th of December 2020, following adoption by the General Assembly.

The Convention, as many may know, builds on the legacy of Sicilian judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were both assassinated in 1992 by the mafia for their success in fighting organized crime.

More than 1,000 people have been killed by the mafia in Italy, according to the state police – law enforcement officials, as well as ordinary women and men tragically caught in the crossfire. Fifteen judges have been murdered.

It was the insight of Judge Falcone that organized crime, although local in its expression, was in fact transnational in nature, and could only be fought through global solidarity and international cooperation.

Cross-border operational coordination, witness protection and financial investigation are tools Falcone and Borsellino developed and used to take on the mafia, and their approaches continue to inform successful, effective law enforcement responses today.

The signing of the Convention was thus the culmination of nearly a decade of effort to bring the world together to address the shared threat posed by organized crime.

Over the past two decades, the 190 parties to the Palermo Convention have built on these hard-won achievements, and advanced cooperative action against transnational organized crime.

The Protocols have also been ratified by a very high number of States, with 178 parties to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; 149 parties to the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air; and 119 parties to the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their parts and components and ammunition.

The near-universal application of the Convention and Protocols provides a strong, global framework to tackle continuing, emerging and evolving threats posed by transnational organized crime.

Using this shared framework, governments have the means necessary to cooperate, pursue criminals across borders and protect victims.

This cooperation also extends to countries which may lack the legislation, capacities or resources to tackle organized crime. In this way, countries can work together to stop organized criminal groups from exploiting inequalities and gaps in law enforcement responses.

Furthermore, the Convention provides a means to channel support to build capacities in developing countries and address vulnerabilities.

To do this, we have developed a range of training, tools and other guidance to encourage ratification and implementation of this framework, and improve the detection, investigation and prosecution of all forms of organized crime, from human trafficking, migrant smuggling and illicit firearms trafficking, to cybercrime, wildlife crime and maritime crime.

As guardian to the Convention and secretariat to the Conference of the Parties, UNODC remains engaged in supporting Member States in all these efforts.

In addition to our comprehensive legislative and technical assistance, our Office has enriched the evidence base on transnational organized crime to support targeted and effective responses.

UNODC’s SHERLOC knowledge management portal, which brings together legal resources on organized crime and terrorism, had more than 338,000 users last year.

In recent months, we have published a series of research briefs on the impact of COVID on different forms of organized crime, including trafficking in persons and the smuggling of migrants; the illicit drug supply chain and the trafficking of Covid-related falsified medical products.

Moreover, we carried out UNODC’s most comprehensive collection of data on firearms trafficking to date, with information from more than 100 countries and territories.

The global Study on Firearms Trafficking was launched in July, and the database informing the report has been accessed nearly 11,000 times over the past year.

UNODC will also be publishing the latest Global Report on Trafficking in Persons in December.

The start of the review mechanism for the Convention and Protocols marks the next important step to further strengthen our collective efforts to prevent and stop transnational organized crime.

The review process will broaden the dialogue on implementation and bring in the perspectives of civil society and other partners.

It will help to identify good practices and priority areas which require attention, thus enabling UNODC to more closely tailor its technical assistance programmes in response to different Member States’ needs.

Furthermore, the review will take advantage of available technologies to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

The lessons learned and innovations developed to keep delivering in the face of the many challenges and restrictions posed by the global COVID-19 crisis will also serve us well in this regard.

This side event at the 10th Conference of the Parties also offers an opportunity to highlight the operational impact of the Convention and its Protocols, and to discuss how we can further improve implementation.

In addition, some 58 other virtual side events being held this week will focus on diverse challenges in preventing and countering organized crime.

Discussions will highlight the importance of inclusion and whole-of-society responses, addressing the empowerment of women in law enforcement as well as the role of faith in combatting organized crime and corruption.

Other side events will tackle issues ranging from supporting victims of trafficking in persons and strengthening youth resilience against recruitment into criminal networks, to combatting illicit financial flows.


Ladies and gentlemen,

The knowledge and experience informing the Palermo Convention, and which continues to inform our collective action against transnational organized crime today, came at the highest price, paid by heroes like Judges Falcone and Borsellino, as well as by the many law enforcement officials and others who have bravely stood up against organized crime.

We can honour their work and sacrifice by taking forward joint action and cooperation under the Convention and its Protocols, to advance justice and the rule of law, and protect people. 

Thank you once again for joining us at this high-level event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Palermo Convention.

I urge you to take the opportunities provided by this Conference and by the new review mechanism, you can count on the support of UNODC.

Thank you.