Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to welcome you to this opening session, both the delegates here in this room at the Vienna International Centre, and the many more joining us virtually.
We are here because international cooperation is an investment in our common future. It is a testament to the basic truth that together we are stronger, and that the power of human resilience and solidarity can see us through even the most difficult of challenges.
Today we meet under special circumstances, in a year like no other.
All of our countries continue to struggle with the devasting effects of the global pandemic. COVID-19 has infected more than 37 million people. More than one million lives have been lost.
In the face of these terrible challenges, we remain committed to building towards our fairer future, recovering better and leaving no one behind.
Safeguarding our societies from the threats of organized crime represents an important element of that commitment.
It is in this spirit that I thank you for joining us for the 10th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
Throughout this week, and for all essential events and meetings during this unprecedented time, we are working to ensuring that Member States’ representatives and all participants are safe and feel comfortable.
The health and safety of all delegates and staff remain our highest priority.
Thanks to technology and the dedication of UN staff working behind the scenes, nearly three-quarters of the nearly 1,100 delegates have registered to join us virtually and can take part in the proceedings in any of the UN official languages via a remote interpretation system.
Nearly 60 virtual side events will be held.
I am grateful for these possibilities because important work lies ahead this week, as we mark the Convention’s 20th anniversary by advancing the fight against transnational organized crime, strengthening prevention and enhancing protection of crime victims.
Two decades ago, as a result of negotiations that took place here in Vienna, the General Assembly adopted the Convention.
Opened for signature in Palermo, the Convention represented a landmark global achievement in its recognition of the cross-border nature of the organized crime threat, and of the need for cross-border cooperation to bring criminal groups to justice and protect people.
The Convention remains the only global legal instrument against transnational organized crime, accompanied by three protocols to prevent and counter trafficking in persons, especially women and children; smuggling of migrants; and the illicit manufacturing of, and trafficking in, firearms, their parts and components and ammunition.
The international community has embraced the Convention. Its 190 parties have adapted their legal frameworks and are making use of UNTOC’s impressive international cooperation toolkit, with essential provisions on extradition, mutual legal assistance, asset confiscation and law enforcement cooperation.
The human trafficking, migrant smuggling and firearms protocols have seen their number of parties rise steadily to reach 178, 149 and 119 parties respectively.
I can only encourage the Member States who are not yet parties to the Convention and its Protocols to launch or complete their accession process.
It is essential that the world unites around common frameworks to take urgent action, as criminals are taking advantage of opportunities created by the COVID-19 crisis and new threats are multiplying.
One such emerging threat which poses an acute danger to human life is the sale of falsified medical products online.
Organized crime groups are selling substandard and falsified medical products, targeting individuals, health facilities and public agencies through internet scams.
Falsified COVID vaccines will soon be a lethal reality and governments need to be prepared to counter this threat.
Healthcare systems continue to face cyberattacks. Lockdowns have precipitated a rise in online child sexual abuse. And restrictions on movement have made migrants more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.
Criminal activity is threatening the world’s COVID response and compromising the COVID recovery. Crime groups are already diverting stimulus funds from those in need, and infiltrating the legal economy with their profits.
We need to continue to rely on the Convention and its Protocols to actively counter organized crime’s attack on our post-COVID future and on the Sustainable Development Goals.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has been working for two decades to support governments in making the best use of the Convention and its Protocols.
Our Office provides specialized assistance towards this objective, in the form of advice on adapting legal and policy frameworks; trainings for policymakers and criminal justice practitioners; as well as data collection, research and analysis to expand the evidence base on crime and inform policy.
In the past three years, UNODC has supported Convention implementation in over 130 countries, through its global programmes and extensive field office network.
UNODC is helping Member States improve their management of land, maritime and air borders, enhance cooperation to enable cross-border investigations, and strengthen criminal justice responses.
In 2018 and 2019, UNODC supported INTERPOL’s live operations “Andes” and “Turquesa” against the smuggling of migrants to the Americas.
The operations led to 170 arrests of smugglers and traffickers and enabled the identification of 23 criminal organizations and the opening of over 100 investigations.
UNODC facilitated 12 inter-regional drug investigation forums in 2019-2020, where prosecutors and investigators from source, transit and destination countries agreed cross-border investigative actions.
The work of our Global Programme against Money Laundering led to over one billion dollars’ worth of criminal assets being frozen, seized and confiscated in Southern Africa in 2016-2019.
These are just some of the many examples of the impact of our work and of the excellent collaboration we enjoy with governments, national agencies, intergovernmental organizations and other important stakeholders.
As a connector and a convenor, UNODC has supported the establishment of four regional judicial cooperation networks in Asia and Africa, focused on international cooperation and in particular, mutual legal assistance.
To strengthen prevention against evolving threats, we have engaged with thousands of educational institutions to raise teachers’, parents’ and children’s awareness of cybercrime. We have built strong partnerships on this issue across the UN system, with global tech companies, and with civil society.
UNODC has also continued to develop specialized legislative guides on particular crime types, for example on combatting wildlife crime, waste trafficking or falsified medical products.
We support policymakers with our research and analysis, most recently the Global Study on Firearms launched in July, and a research brief on the impacts of COVID on crime.
Later this year, the new edition of our biennial Global Report on Trafficking in Persons will provide a comprehensive update on trafficking dynamics.
We strive to make knowledge and resources available on a broad scale, notably through SHERLOC, the Sharing Electronic Resources and Laws on Crime knowledge management portal.
The portal now contains more than 3,000 case summaries covering 15 crime types.
UNODC stands ready to pursue and expand these assistance activities, under your guidance and with your support, in response to your needs and priorities.
Seven resolutions will be brought to the attention of the Conference this year - the highest number the Conference has ever seen. It is an indicator of the importance given by the international community to the fight against organized crime in all its forms.
You can rely on UNODC for action on mandates emerging from these resolutions, on effective implementation of the trafficking in persons protocol and the Convention; strengthening international cooperation against illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms; falsified medical products; environmental crime; and trafficking of cultural property.
Crucially, the Conference has now before it the task to adopt the resolution launching the first phase of the review mechanism of the Convention.
You made history by establishing the mechanism in 2018 – after nearly a decade of negotiations.
You will make history again by bringing this mechanism to life, which will help to build global knowledge on the fight against organized crime, engage civil society in a constructive dialogue, assess gaps and enable more targeted implementation support.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Our work is needed more than ever, in a post-COVID world that is poorer and more fragile, and thus more vulnerable to crime.
As criminals exploit people and planet for profit, a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality is reinforced.
People all around the world are calling on us to help break this cycle.
In the UN’s 75th anniversary survey, over one million respondents called for fairer societies, with better access to basic services and equal opportunities.
They also made it clear that they wanted more international cooperation to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.
We are all gathered here, in person or virtually, because we believe in the power of the Convention and its Protocols to drive solutions to problems that no country can face alone, and to keep our societies safer and able to prosper.
UNODC is here to support you in your work for justice and for those in need.
Allow me to reiterate my gratitude to those who have joined us and to my colleagues working behind the scenes.
My thanks to Ambassador Cortese, President of the 9th session, and my congratulations to the President of the 10th session, Ambassador El-Molla.
I wish you a fruitful Conference. Thank you.