Delivered by John Brandolino, Director of Division of Treaty Affairs, representing the Executive Director of UNODC, Ms. Ghada Waly
Distinguished experts and ministers,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to be here to represent the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Ms. Ghada Waly, and to address this timely conference.
At the outset I wish to thank you, Minister Dupond Moretti, for bringing us together to discuss the threat posed by organized crime and the importance of multilateral cooperation in tackling this global issue.
Let me start by noting that, some time ago, the Secretary General of the United Nations appointed a High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism – a distinguished group of former Presidents and others from around the globe – to review the current state of multilateralism and make recommendations for strengthening multilateralism.
Just last week, the Advisory Board issued their final report, which includes some very bold recommendations.
The panel recommends six major “shifts” in our current global governance system – and one such shift is entitled “Strengthening Governance for Current and Emerging Transnational Risks.”
The report identifies four extremely critical risks that require intense multilateral attention, namely climate change, biological and health risks, the threat of emerging technologies – and, last but not least, organized crime.
Think about this – organized crime is being put at the same degree of human concern as climate change, pandemics and accelerating AI and other technologies.
To be sure, organized crime has long been a challenge.
We all know the stories and legends of the Italian mafia, among other groups, from the 1970’s and 1980’s – family-based hierarchical clans who controlled crime within communities and whose operations quickly became global due to the profit from moving illicit goods internationally.
It was only about 20 years ago when the international community finally came together to recognize that organized crime had become transnational in nature and cooperation among states was necessary to address it in a meaningful way.
That was the impetus for adopting in 2000 the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols, which still stands today as an important tool for fighting transnational crime.
Ironically enough, the very success of the Convention in bringing the world together to develop concrete responses to organized crime may have had the unintended effect of “siloing” the challenge as a criminal justice issue, and obscuring the true extent and pervasiveness of the organized crime threat.
But we see growing international recognition and understanding that transnational organized crime imperils global peace and security, undermines sustainable development, and violates and impedes human rights.
Simply put, organized criminal groups today are plundering the resources of communities and our planet, undermining the rule of law and governing institutions, and subjecting people to violence and harm.
How did organized crime evolve to this current point?
First, since the days of the local mafias, transnational organized crime groups have evolved from hierarchical and clan-based institutions into complex, dispersed networks.
These networks can be informal and opportunistic in nature, but they have the ability to connect beyond borders at speeds and using tools, including emerging technologies, that we could not even have imagined during the heyday of La Costra Nostra in the 1990’s.
Second, since the start of the twenty-first century, organized crime has become increasingly deadlier, killing about as many people as all armed conflicts across the world combined - and the indirect death toll is incalculably higher.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, organized crime and gangs have contributed to the highest homicide rates recorded in the world.
Just yesterday, the Executive Director of UNODC briefed the UN Security Council on the deteriorating security situation in Haiti, where drugs and firearms trafficking are fueling rising levels of violence and instability not seen in decades.
An assessment of Haiti’s criminal markets released by UNODC last month found that increasingly sophisticated high-caliber firearms and ammunition are being trafficked into Haiti, while the country also serves as a trans-shipment hub for drug trafficking.
National police, customs and coast guard officials are under-resourced and outgunned by heavily armed criminal gangs who are seizing large swathes of territory and terrorizing neighborhoods, while corruption in the criminal justice system perpetuates impunity.
Third, organized crime groups are finding more ways than ever to make a profit.
Criminal networks are engaged in a variety of serious crimes that, on a larger scale, have a devastating impact on our world.
These include trafficking of illicit drugs, firearms, and various other commodities, from falsified medicines and cultural property to wildlife and illicit and toxic waste.
Pandemics and government spending on emergencies have opened new opportunities for criminals – and have adversely affected government responses to these emergencies.
And, of course, the darkweb and emerging technologies are constantly creating paths for criminal activity and a base to defraud people all over the world, particularly since the advent of the smartphone and the growing number of individuals around the world having access to the digital space.
Two things remain constant in the evolution of transnational organized crime.
Criminals and criminal groups are motivated primarily by profit and sometimes power.
That means corruption and money laundering are continuously needed to facilitate criminal activities and allow perpetrators to profit, generating illicit revenues for organized criminal groups.
Since 9/11, we have come to understand quite clearly that even terrorist groups and armed non-state actors resort to illicit sources of income, which in turn often fuels and even prolongs conflicts.
The profit-seeking activities of organized crime groups have differing effects in different parts of the world.
We need to understand collectively these effects in order to best address the problems.
I mentioned the deadly violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, often resulting from illicit drug trafficking.
To our South, multiple challenges plague the Sahel region of Africa, which remains one of the most fragile and conflict-affected areas in the world - challenges intertwined with and exacerbated by organized crime.
Trafficking in firearms, including newly manufactured weapons sourced from Libya, is driving insecurity in the Sahel and escalating violence beyond clashes between armed groups and non-government forces.
According to UNODC’s new Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment in the Sahel, more than 9,300 people were killed in violent incidents in the Sahel countries last year.
This instability is also driving other forms of organized crime in the region, such as trafficking of falsified medicines, which is killing hundreds of thousands of people, with access to healthcare and medical products through formal channels increasingly limited.
Here in Europe, the armed conflict in Ukraine is creating heightened risks of trafficking in persons and the smuggling of migrants, with the humanitarian crisis creating new vulnerabilities and threats that organized criminal groups may seek to exploit.
UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, released at the start of this year, also showed that the COVID-19 pandemic may have weakened law enforcement capacities to detect and combat trafficking in persons, with the number of victims detected globally falling for the first time in 20 years.
Pandemic lockdowns and other restrictions in turn may have driven trafficking further underground, out of reach of law enforcement, increasing the risks and dangers facing trafficking victims, and making the crime and its associated profits harder to track.
At the same time, prosecutions of human traffickers have declined, with convictions falling by twenty-seven percent globally and traffickers acting with greater impunity.
Another example of the effects of transnational organized crime can be found in the global illicit drug market, which is the largest illicit market in the world and continues to expand.
UNODC’s Global Cocaine Report, launched last month, showed that the global supply is at record levels -- and seizures reached a new record high of nearly 2,000 tons in 2021.
A perfect storm of swelling demand and supply appears to be driving the market upwards, and new trafficking hubs have emerged, triggering increased crime and violence in countries such as Ecuador and also here in Europe, while new trafficking hubs are beginning to appear in West and Central Africa.
In North America, deaths due to drug overdose continue to break records, driven by an epidemic of the non-medical use of fentanyl.
In Afghanistan, the illicit opiate economy has further gained in importance as the licit economy contracts.
Last year’s income from opium sales accounted for nearly one-third of all agricultural sector value, based on 2021 UNODC figures, and since the de facto authorities announced a ban on opium cultivation last year, opium prices have soared.
Much larger revenue flows are made along the illicit supply chain outside the country, and the trafficking of Afghan opiates as well as methamphetamine via the Western Balkans as well as South Asia through maritime routes remains an urgent security threat.
Organized criminal groups are also threatening communities and our planet at large, and all of its inhabitants, by engaging in crimes that affect the environment, illicitly exploiting natural resources, trading in endangered species, driving deforestation, and more.
Such crimes contribute to the triple planetary crises of biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change, and we are grateful to France for their efforts to bring more attention and encourage more international cooperation and action against this growing threat, including at key intergovernmental fora in Vienna.
As I mentioned earlier, in the midst of these challenges, organized crime has grown more sophisticated in the online sphere, exploiting cryptocurrencies, the darkweb and social media for trafficking of illicit goods, online sexual abuse and exploitation, money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
Of particular alarm, there has been a sharp growth in online child sexual abuse and exploitation being registered globally.
Member States are taking steps to address emerging technologies in the criminal world through the first UN convention on cybercrime.
They concluded the fifth round of negotiations last week in Vienna, and the process is continuing with UNODC serving as Secretariat.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Transnational organized crime continues to evolve, both offline and online, adapting to the changing geopolitical landscape and exploiting crises around the world.
As it evolves, so too must we evolve with it.
International cooperation and coordinated cross-border responses are needed more than ever to confront these threats.
You asked me to focus my remarks on the evolving threat of organized crime, and I have not focused on the tools and actions being taken that give us hope in addressing it.
That will be the topic of discussions for the next two days among this distinguished group.
We do believe the challenge is not insurmountable.
For example, the one constant for organized crime operations over many decades is the strive for profit – which translates into continuing opportunities for governments to identify illicit financial flows and resulting operations and dismantle organizations by making it harder for criminals to enjoy their illicit gains.
We are supporting law enforcement agencies in adopting an intelligence-led approach to policing, by exploiting the full range of intelligence sources and analytical tools to identify vulnerabilities in criminal networks, as well as opportunities to disrupt their activities across multiple jurisdictions, in full compliance with human rights.
It is important also to work with stakeholders outside government and to engage communities holistically to help address organized crime.
But more on this later in the conference.
I would like to once again thank Minister Dupond Moretti and the French Ministry of Justice for organizing this event, so that we may find joint solutions to these joint problems.
UNODC is committed to supporting our partners, many of whom are present here today, in this endeavor.
Through our joint efforts, we can tackle organized crime and ensure a safer world for all.