Distinguished Members of the Council,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to join SRSG Annadif at this briefing. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is proud to support UNOWAS and regional efforts for peace, and I welcome this opportunity to brief the Council on our work in this regard.
I thank the Presidency of Norway for inviting me to speak today, and for the continued attention of this Council to threats posed by crime, drugs, corruption, and terrorism to peace and security in West Africa, the Sahel, and beyond.
I had the privilege of briefing the Council last August at the high-level open debate on maritime security, held under the Presidency of India.
As this Council has repeatedly recognized, piracy and armed robbery at sea, along with other forms of transnational organized crime, are threatening international security and the global economy.
The Gulf of Guinea region continues to be a priority concern. Incidents in the Gulf account for the majority of kidnappings of seafarers for ransom around the world.
According to a UNODC study conducted last year, these kidnappings are being carried out by pirate groups who are gaining in sophistication, and who are increasingly able to conduct attacks against international vessels in deeper waters.
As noted in the report of the Secretary-General, the overall number of incidents in the Gulf of Guinea decreased last year, thanks to national anti-piracy efforts, including the adoption by many States of relevant legislation and maritime strategies.
Nonetheless, progress has stalled in operationalizing the Gulf of Guinea maritime security architecture, and the repercussions of piracy and maritime insecurity on regional peace, stability, and development remain profound.
A new study by Stable Seas, conducted in partnership with UNODC and funded by Norway, estimates that piracy and armed robbery at sea are costing the Gulf of Guinea states a total of some 1.94 billion dollars annually. Port fees and import tariffs lost due to decreased shipping activity are estimated at 1.4 billion dollars per year.
These billions represent lost potential, and funds that could otherwise be invested in licit economies and in developing coastal communities – funds that are needed now more than ever in the continuing COVID-19 crisis.
More broadly, across West Africa and the Sahel, we see that organized crime, facilitated by corruption, is perpetuating instability, violence, and poverty.
Lack of opportunities and frustration drive more youth to piracy and crime, and leave them more receptive to radicalization narratives.
Desperate conditions render more people vulnerable to human trafficking and migrant smuggling, and more women and girls at greater risk of exploitation and sexual violence.
According to the 2020 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, some 59 percent of detected trafficking victims in West and Central Africa are children, and 27 percent are women.
Member States in the region have also sounded the alarm about a marked increase in drug trafficking and related insecurity in recent years.
Rising non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids and drug use disorders are harming health and public safety in West Africa, as the region continues to be heavily affected by illegal tramadol imports.
At the same time, West Africa has emerged as a manufacturer of methamphetamine, mainly destined for markets in East and South-East Asia.
The greater security threats are posed by cocaine trafficking, with West Africa serving as a major transit area for onward shipments to Western and Central Europe, as well as cannabis resin trafficking.
Individual drug seizure data suggests cocaine trafficking through countries including Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Senegal has increased over the past two years.
Since 2019, very large cocaine seizures are being registered in West Africa. The seizure of 214 kilos of cocaine reported in Niger at the start of this year illustrates the size of the problem. The Sahel is also a major route for cannabis resin trafficking, with the reported involvement of individuals affiliated with Sahelian armed groups.
The value of these illicit flows exceeds the national budgets of some transit countries, which is highly destabilizing in this complex security situation.
Moreover, drug trafficking, as well as illicit trade in firearms and other goods, are contributing to terrorist financing and operations.
Terrorist groups are reported to be engaged in the taxing and protection of illicit drug shipments passing through areas under their control; small arms trafficking; kidnapping for ransom; cattle rustling; and illegal gold mining.
It is clear that maritime insecurity, illicit flows, and linkages between transnational organized crime and terrorism all represent major obstacles to achieving peace, security and development in West Africa and the Sahel.
Alongside efforts to provide humanitarian and emergency assistance, and to prevent conflict and promote dialogue, including among local communities, we must encourage political will and increased international support to strengthen comprehensive and cooperative crime responses. Such effective responses must build on international legal and institutional frameworks, regional partnerships, and national capabilities.
UNODC has been supporting the countries of the region to advance such action, including through our Global Maritime Crime Programme and the Strategic Vision for Africa we launched last year.
To confront crime at sea, we are assisting in the review of legislation and regulatory frameworks in 16 coastal countries in West and Central Africa, and we have trained almost 2,000 judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers.
UNODC technical assistance activities supported Togo and Nigeria in achieving the first-ever successful prosecutions of piracy in the region last year, a landmark step towards achieving maritime security in West Africa.
We are also promoting more effective regional cooperation, including through work with the ECOWAS Commission.
Moreover, UNODC is supporting governments in the Gulf of Guinea, and across West Africa, to strengthen criminal justice capacities and cooperation through the UN conventions against transnational organized crime and corruption, as well as the global counter-terrorism instruments.
This year, UNODC will develop a new regional programme to provide integrated support across UNODC mandate areas. The programme will be guided by our Strategic Vision for Africa, which reinforces the role of women and youth, and prioritizes innovation and prevention.
We will also continue to strengthen our partnerships with regional organizations, and we rely on our collaboration with UNOWAS, which co-leads with UNODC the Peace and Security Pillar of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, and co-chairs the Steering Committee for the UNODC Sahel Programme.
Distinguished Members of the Council,
A peaceful West Africa and Sahel can only be attained if the international community comes together with Member States in the region to support local and cross-border efforts to address interconnected drug, crime, corruption, and terrorism threats.
We cannot allow pirates, criminals, and terrorists to take advantage of poverty and instability, or gain impunity by exploiting vulnerability.
UNODC remains fully engaged with our partners in advancing holistic crime prevention as part of broader peacebuilding and development interventions that promote responsive state institutions; improve accountability; and provide opportunities for education and work, including for youth and women.
Together, we can strive for justice as an essential building block for the sustainable prosperity and security that the people of West Africa and the Sahel deserve.