Making up for a lost decade PDF Print E-mail
The shaping of policy at UNODC (2002-2010)

Antonio Maria Costa

On 13 September, I made the following speech in Rome to G8 Speakers of Parliament, as well as quests from a number of other states:

Thank you all for this invitation. It is a honour to meet with the representatives of the people from 3/4 of humanity and review what can be done against one of today's most salient threats: transnational organized crime.

We all are familiar with the origin of the problem. Initially, in Italy we called itmafia. Elsewhere in Europe, North America and the Far East the jargon evolved into cartels, mobsters, syndicates, yakuza, triads etc. This was the time when criminal groups were domestic in size and culture, imbedded in the fabric of wealthy nation-states, with limited cross-border ties. A quarter century later, the threat looms larger, more serious and widely spread.

Why? Because, with the collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War, the planet has become a global village. By facilitating the movement of people, goods, capital and services, globalization has promoted economic growth especially in Asia and, later on, Latin America.

Together with such public goods as democracy, wealth and knowledge, globalization helped spread public "bads": insecurity, organized crime and violence. These have now become clear and present dangers the world over, even in regions (in Africa for example) that have not benefited as yet from the spreading of global wealth.

Let me give you a real example, about why and how fast the mafia globalized in the past quarter century. I go back to the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall (Nov 1989), when hundreds of thousands of people were fleeing dictatorship. In a wire-tap by Italian law enforcement, a mafia boss was heard calling an acolyte in West Berlin: " They are all coming West, you go East my friend. Go East now, and buy all you can" the boss ordered. " Buy what?", asked the counterpart. " Buy hotels, restaurants. Buy companies. Buy anything you find". This was globalization in the making, even before the term became popular.

Two decades later, organized crime has become a global business of macro-economic dimensions. The drug market alone is now roughly equivalent to the world's 20 th largest economy: Sweden, with its $300 billion GDP. More recently, it has diversified into money-laundering, identity-theft, cyber-crime, human trafficking and the exploitation of natural resources. We cannot assess the dimensions of this global business, though we can guess that, in size and impact, it dwarfs any legitimate trade.

It is (i) bad when international mafias recycle dirty money into the economy, undermining the health of productive systems. It is (ii) worse when they buy elections, the military, even presidents - in other words when they buy power. (iii) Worst of all is when they forge links with international terrorism and rogue powers. This turns them into a security threat to cities, sovereign states, even entire regions. So serious is the threat that the UN Security Council has considered its implications in several theatres. So real is the threat that around the world, the fear of organized crime has changed strategic doctrines and threat assessments. In short, the warning signs are everywhere. This is a threat to us all.

Dangerous conglomerates

World mafias are successful because they violate rules others respect, and impose rules others cannot respect. They control illicit manufacture and trade; they also trade in licit goods, acquired through, and disposed off, by illicit means. Consider this:

The trafficking of hazardous waste into Africa and the smuggling of cigarettes from the Balkans are typical examples of licit goods disposed of illegally. Conversely, the manufacturing and trading of counterfeit goods from the Far East is the licit trading of illicit goods.

Mafias relocate quickly, to reduce risks and increase rewards. West Africa is under attack by Latino cartelsbecause traditional cocaine trafficking routes into Europe and North America are now severely controlled. We are now witnessing the establishment of organized crime enterprises in Sahel-Saharan countries, along ancient trade routes - while terrorist groups ( Al Queda of the Maghreb) fund themselves by sharing crime proceeds.

Criminal groups make use of technology, often illegally acquired. In Mexico, smuggled military-grade weaponsenable drug cartels to outgun the national police. In the Red Sea poor and illiterate Somali pirates hijack container ships and tankers, using GPS and satellite phones purchased with ransom money. The entire Horn of Africa has become the world's largest trafficking area, with the free exchange of arms, fuel, rare metals, migrants and slaves.

When governance is weak, where there is no state control of the territory, mafias take advantage of the chaos and perpetuate it, no matter the humanitarian costs. Central Africa, the Andean countries, West Asiaand parts of South-East Asia have become improvised trafficking zones, run by crime cartels that operate under the protection, or in collusion with insurgents.

In the developed world, organized crime counts on corruption to prey open free trade zones and customs arrangements. In the EU and the US, for example, import quotas and customs duties are easily bypassed bymafia-controlled (air-)port operations. In Southern Afghanistan and Eastern Myanmar free trade agreements are abused to enable the free passage of illicit goods, mostly drugs and their chemical precursors.

The world over, but especially in Eastern Europe, North Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, human predators take advantage of vulnerable, unemployed and desperate people. These are easily made victims ofhuman trafficking, turned into illegal migrants, child soldiers, slave labourers and, worse of all, professional killers instead of school kids.

When we speak about mafias, who are we talking about? Shadowy characters, with white shoes, leather jacket, dark sun-glasses, with a gun on one hip and a Bond girl on the other? Not only. I'm also talking aboutla mafia borghese, as referred to in Italian - namely white collar criminals.

The underworld can not survive on its own, especially in an inter-dependent world. Criminal groups need help, and they have the money to pay for the best advice from white collar collaborators who have a veneer of respectability, but who will do anything for a price: lawyers who keep mafia out of jail; real estate agents who recycle their blood money; bankers who hide their assets; auditors who falsify their books; rating agencies who certify their integrity - no to mention tax havens and money-laundering business centres that sport living standards among the highest in the world.

The financial crisis has created a further business opportunity for criminals. At a time when liquidity is tight, cash-rich mafias are expanding their penetration of the banking sector by providing loans, buying shares and appointing Board members.

Governments saw it coming, but failed to act

Did governments see this coming? For sure. A decade ago, concerned about the threat posed by the globalization of crime, nations agreed to the UN Convention against Trans-national Organized Crime (TOC), adopted at Palermo (Dec 2000) along with 3 technical protocols against the trafficking in persons, migrants and firearms.

Did governments act on the basis of this powerful legal instrument? For sure not. Despite the strong political commitment enshrined in these international agreements, during the past few years the fight against organized crime slipped down the global agenda. Attention (and resources) were redirected against terrorism, without the realization that the latter could not succeed unless financially and logistically intertwined with crime. As a consequence, international mafias increased their power and wealth, by capitalizing on increasingly free markets and on the diversion of law enforcement attention.

As a result, today the threat posed by organized crime is even greater than it was when the Palermo Convention came into force (2003). In many countries, public security is under threat. Political and business elites have been compromised. Parliaments are afraid and inept. Judges and journalists killed. The financial system penetrated. And innocent lives are lost in the cross-fire.

I beg you to make up for a lost decade.

Defending the public interest

You, as speakers of parliaments, defend the public interest. Parliaments draft the social contract and define the law of the land. If public institutions fail to deliver public services and protect public security, if the state loses its monopoly on the use of force, the will of the people is hijacked by the bullet and the bribe. In short,because of inaction against global mafias, countries face a crime situation largely of their own making.

There are also international ramifications. The nexus between drugs, crime, and terrorism has created malign networks with a global reach. A plot hatched in Afghanistan brought down the World Trade Centre. Gang members from an American ghetto have turned up as killers in Mexico. Cocaine snorted in Europe fuels violence in Africa and environmental degradation in the Andes.

Let me be bold and suggest what can be done, especially what you can do.

Promote the universal ratification of the Palermo Convention and its Protocols. One third of UN Members States are still not parties, a G8 country among them. Let's aim for universal ratification by the next Conference of Parties in 2010, and finalize a mechanism to monitor compliance.

Implement the Palermo Convention . Pass the laws needed to stop the flow of illegal guns, prosecute traffickers, and improve international cooperation, including extradition. Make sure that your domestic legislation is in line with international standards in crime prevention and criminal justice.

Mandate governments to improve data collection and analysis about crime. At the moment policy operates in a vacuum, mostly without the facts, data and the evidence needed to assess threats and make remedial laws. While information on conventional crime (violence against individuals and property) is abundant, we have few statistics on organized crime, the size and shape of its activity, the areas it prevails, and the theatres where it operates.

Build capacity to improve criminal justice and law enforcement. Make sure that your practitioners have the necessary legal, forensic, financial, IT, and operational expertise to keep up with evolving crime trends.

Strengthen governance through the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption. Mafias can only survive with the collusion of public officials, and the cooperation of legitimate businesses.

Mobilize civil society to strengthen social antibodies against crime. Where the mafia is not supported or feared by the public, it has nowhere to hide. They are not afraid of guns: like roaches they fear the light cast by media and whistleblowers.

Strengthen regional cooperation . By definition, trans-national crime transcends borders. UNODC has developed action plans to reduce vulnerability to crime in the Caribbean, Central America, the Balkans and Africa. We have brokered regional platforms in Central Asia, in the Gulf countries, and between Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, to share intelligence and conduct joint operations.

Promote legislation , domestically and internationally, to fight cyber-crime - a crime that is penetrating almost every home, threatening security installations, and even being used to attack states.

Finally, help cut the money flows. More robust legislation is needed to stop money laundering and seize the proceeds of crime. I urge you to make this a priority of G8 and G20 initiatives designed to strengthen international financial markets.

Ladies and Gentlemen, our strongest weapon is justice based on the rule of law. You are the law makers. We all must make sure that it rules.

Thank you for your attention.


Last Updated on Thursday, 20 January 2011 11:16