Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


"A Universal Vision for a Global Threat": Ministerial Event Commemorating 20 Years of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols 

  13 November 2020


Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for joining us to mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

I would like to start by thanking Argentina, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Italy and Morocco for joining UNODC in holding this virtual event.

UNODC is proud to serve as guardian to the Convention, and it is an honour to have so many ministers and distinguished participants with us today.

Your involvement speaks to the continued importance and relevance of the Convention and its protocols against human trafficking, migrant smuggling and illicit firearms, to address shared challenges in every region of the world.

This high-level commitment was also very much in evidence at the recent tenth session of the State Parties to the Convention in Vienna this last October. COVID-related restrictions meant that the session was held in hybrid format, with nearly three-quarters of the 1,100 delegates participating virtually.

Despite challenging circumstances, governments negotiated and agreed seven resolutions, the highest number ever, and launched a much-needed review mechanism to reinforce and advance implementation.

I am also very grateful that the Presidents of the Security Council and ECOSOC are with us today and I welcome the messages from the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General.

Transnational organized crime hinders our efforts across the UN pillars, and stands in the way of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The Security Council has repeatedly highlighted the dangers that organized crime, illicit firearms and human trafficking pose to international peace and security.

The Council has also put the issue of linkages between transnational organized crime and terrorism high on the international agenda. In August, I had the honour of joining USG Voronkov to present to the Security Council the Secretary-General’s report on the linkages between terrorism and organized crime.

Transnational organized crime contributes to illicit financial flows that are threatening development progress around the world. According to UNCTAD estimates, Africa alone loses some 88.6 billion dollars, equivalent to 3.7 per cent of continental GDP, to illicit capital flight.

Now we see that organized criminal groups are capitalizing on opportunities created by the scramble to respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic, as evidenced by seizures of life-threatening, substandard personal protective equipment and falsified pharmaceuticals.

According to the World Bank’s latest estimates, up to 115 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year alone as a result of COVID-19, and past economic crises suggest that human trafficking and migrant smuggling will rise as a result. 

More than four billion people were without social protection when the pandemic began. Women and young people have been the hardest hit in the COVD economic downturn. ILO reports that one in six youth has had to stop work. In September, UNICEF estimated that 872 million students in 51 countries were unable to go back to their classrooms.

Without school, children are less likely to escape poverty, and are at greater risk of abuse or being trafficked for child labour. Young people without future prospects are more likely to fall prey to violent extremist narratives, or to be drawn into crime and violence.

Solidarity and shared responsibility, including to take action against transnational organized crime, are needed more than ever.

Over two decades, the Convention and its Protocols have evolved into near-universal instruments.

UNODC has supported Convention implementation in over 130 countries in just the past three years.

Our Office is helping governments adapt legal frameworks and make use of the Convention’s international cooperation toolkit, including provisions on extradition, mutual legal assistance, asset confiscation and law enforcement cooperation.

UNODC works with Member States to manage land, maritime and air borders, engage in cross-border investigations, strengthen criminal justice responses, and protect victims.

Through global, regional and country programmes, from Vienna and our field network, we have provided specialized legislative guides, practical tools and training for policymakers and practitioners, as well as data collection and research to expand the evidence base on crime.

Our reports include the Global Study on Firearms launched in July, and we will present the latest Global Report on Trafficking in Persons later this year.

The SHERLOC knowledge management portal now contains more than 3,000 case summaries covering 15 crime types.

By supporting governments to develop agile and effective international cooperation, countries and regions are better able to tackle new and evolving forms of crime. This includes urgent threats in the COVID crisis, such as trafficking in falsified medical products and cybercrime, as well as challenges highlighted in resolutions adopted in October, including trafficking in cultural property and crimes that affect the environment.


Transnational organized crime thrives where there is corruption, gaps in justice responses and poverty.

Like the virus, the threats of transnational organized crime know no borders and it is the developing world, the impoverished, the marginalized who are at greatest risk.

To build resilience, build forward and get back on track to achieve the SDGs we need to take renewed action against this threat.

We have the resources and means provided by the Convention and the Protocols, now 20 years strong, and UNODC looks forward to supporting you. At the same time, UNODC needs your political and financial support to put in place the tools and people, and the policies and programmes, to help you address the gaps identified by the review mechanism. 

Renewed action and concrete support are the true testament to commitment to tackling transnational organized crime, and protecting people. Let us use this anniversary to revitalize and reinvigorate cooperation through the Convention.  

Thank you.