Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


COP10 Side event: "The Impact of COVID-19 on Organized Crime" 

  15 October 2020

Minister Zadic,

Deputy Director General Rizzi,

Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Many thanks for joining us for this discussion on the impact of COVID on organized crime.

I would like to warmly welcome Justice Minister Zadic, who joins us at the Vienna International Centre for the first time as Minister, but who, I understand, worked with UNODC early in her distinguished career.

Welcome back to the VIC, and thank you for your support in these difficult times.

Our UN headquarters is very grateful to our host country authorities, and as proud residents of Vienna and Austria we are committed to doing our part as we work together to address the continuing challenges posed by the global pandemic.

Justice represents an essential pillar in the response to the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

COVID is a health crisis, a socio-economic crisis, a security crisis and a human crisis.

Vulnerabilities and inequalities, within societies and between countries and regions, have been laid bare by the global pandemic, making multilateralism more needed than ever before.

Extreme poverty has gone up by seven percent in just a few months because of the global pandemic, ending 20 years of development progress, according to the September 2020 Goalkeepers report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Organized criminal groups will exploit hardship to expand operations, infiltrate legitimate business, target public funds intended for COVID recovery, and much more. Developing countries struggling in the crisis are hit hardest.

Market disruptions present opportunities to organized criminal groups, while gaps in regulatory frameworks and corruption help to ensure that their crimes remain low-risk and high-profit activities.

Criminals have already taken advantage of the COVID crisis and recovery efforts, through cyberattacks on health infrastructure as well as the manufacture and trafficking of falsified medical products.  

An international operation coordinated by INTERPOL recently resulted in the seizure of more than four million potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than 14 million dollars, disrupting the activities of 37 organized criminal groups.

More than 34,000 unlicensed or fake products were being sold across some 2,000 websites, including falsified masks, substandard hand sanitizers, products billed as “corona spray” and “coronavirus packages,” and unauthorized antivirals.

Organized criminal groups are expected to traffic falsified vaccines once a viable vaccine for the virus is developed, posing a direct and lethal threat to public health.

A world made poorer and more fragile by the pandemic will offer still more opportunities for criminals to exploit and abuse.

ILO estimates total working-hour losses in the second quarter of 2020 at 495 million full-time equivalent jobs, and the organization has revised downward projections for the second half of the year.

The decline in employment numbers has generally been greater for women than for men.

Almost 77 per cent of the world’s young workers were in informal jobs, without social protection, when the crisis began.

Furthermore, World Bank studies show that close to 7 million students could drop out of school due to the income shock of the pandemic.

Most countries face a prolonged economic downturn, which will put further pressure on limited public resources, and on people’s ability to cope and survive - further heightening vulnerabilities to human trafficking, to migrant smuggling, to radicalization to violent extremism and to criminal recruitment.

Protecting people throughout the COVID response, recovery and beyond requires governments to address root causes of exclusion and inequalities, and to increase social protection for marginalized and at-risk groups.

Safeguarding health, security and development also requires strengthening cross-border criminal justice responses to the threats posed by organized crime, drugs, terrorism and corruption.

To address these multi-dimensional, transnational challenges, we need to support integrated responses, making the most efficient and effective use of the resources we have developed together, with a particular focus on assistance to developing countries.

COVID has made it all too clear that no one is safe until we are all safe. This is also the terrible lesson we have learned from terrorist attacks, and from the devastation caused by drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime.

To prevent and stop such shared threats, we need shared action, based on shared responsibility and a strong commitment to working together.

The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime has brought the world together for 20 years to tackle organized crime and protect its victims.

With 190 Parties, it provides a tried and tested, near-universal framework that can support effective criminal justice responses to criminal exploitation in the COVID-19 crisis.

As guardian of the Convention and its Protocols, UNODC helps to advance implementation and international cooperation through legislative and technical assistance, capacity building and research, working through headquarters here in Vienna and through our network of field offices.

This side event draws on this extensive experience and expertise, and offers important perspectives from Member States, academia and the field.

The effects of the pandemic and of control measures have been different in different countries. By focusing on developments in countries including Nigeria and Italy, as well as general trends, this event today will help to shed light on diverse crime threats.

Our discussion is taking place on the margins of the 10th session of the Conference of Parties to the Convention, which is being organized this week in a restricted, and partly virtual, format as all our countries seek to contain the spread of the virus.

In the face of these challenges, our work to strengthen multilateral solutions continues with renewed determination, and it is in this spirit that I thank you once again for joining us today.

I reiterate my warm welcome to Her Excellency Minister Zadic, and I wish you fruitful discussions.