Interview with Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. UN Photo/Mark Garten

6 April 2015 – Former Russian diplomat Yury Fedotov was appointed Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in July 2010. As head of the Vienna-based agency, Mr. Fedotov has encouraged countering drug trafficking based on building regional initiatives and providing technical assistance, while also promoting a balanced approach to solving drug demand.

He has called on Member States to ratify and implement all UN conventions on drugs, crime and corruption, and is closely involved in promoting the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, which is managed by UNODC, as well as the Blue Heart Campaign against human trafficking.

During a recent visit to New York to participate in a General Assembly event on integrating crime prevention and criminal justice in the post-2015 development agenda, MThe rule of law, better criminal justice systems, access to justice, well-functioning law enforcement and prosecution authorities - they could be enablers for developmentr. Fedotov spoke with the UN News Centre about the 13th UN Crime Congress, which will be held in Qatar from 12-19 April. The interview has been edited for content and clarity.

UN News Centre: The 13th UN Crime Congress, taking place in April in Doha, Qatar, will mark the 60th anniversary of the Crime Congress. Could you tell us what has been achieved in 60 years in terms of crime prevention and criminal justice at the international level?

Yury Fedotov: It is an excellent question. Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer for you. Indeed, as always, there is good news and bad news. The good news is since then, the international community developed a whole set of legal instruments to fight transnational organized crime, such the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (the Palermo Convention) with three protocols – on human trafficking, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in firearms, the UN Convention against Corruption, as well as three drug control conventions and of course 19 legal instruments against terrorism. Since then, international cooperation has expanded. Quite recently, there have been discussions on how to bridge the gap between different formats and platforms of international cooperation.

Executive Director Yury Fedotov visits an opium poppy field in Badakhshan province, north-eastern Afghanistan, and sees first-hand the eradication by the Counter-Narcotics Police of Afghanistan and the hardships faced by opium poppy growers (May 2012). Photo: UNAMA/Eric Kanalstein

All of this is good news. But unfortunately, during these 60 years, transnational organized crime has also evolved. It has become more sophisticated… for instance, using the porosity of the borders, better communications and transportation, as well as sophisticated tools like the Internet to coordinate their criminal activities. National borders do not stop criminals. That’s why international cooperation has to grow. That’s why the 13th Crime Congress is very important. We are going to discuss at this Congress what else could be done to strengthen this response, this consolidated response of the international community under the guidance of the United Nations to this challenge of transnational organized crime.

UN News Centre: The Crime Congress will discuss the nexus between crime and development. Could you give us examples of how transnational organized crime, illicit trafficking and corruption undermine development?

Yury Fedotov: There are many examples. But it works both ways. Not only does transnational organized crime, corruption, illicit drugs undermine development, but poverty and underdevelopment also provide a fertile ground for transnational organized crime and criminality. For example, up to $40 billion are being lost every year just in developing countries as a result of corruption. This money could have been used to support developing countries, the least developing countries, but it vanished. If you count all illicit revenues of transnational organized crime, it’s $870 billion every year. It’s a lot; it’s much more than the GDP of many developing countries. Unfortunately, the law enforcement agencies of these countries, and even of bigger countries, cannot afford a similar budget to counter criminal activities. That’s why international cooperation is of essence.

Other examples are depleting of the environment, illegal logging and wildlife crime, which are not only crimes against future generations but also undermine development in these countries. On the other side, you take the example of piracy off the coast of Somalia. And the origin of the piracy of course was – not on the sea but on the land in Somalia – the lack of prospects for development for many young men and boys in this country torn by conflict for decades. So they have chosen the criminal activities not only to find occupation but also to commit crimes.

Illegal trade in wildlife and timber products finances criminal and militia groups, threatening security and sustainable development. Photo: World Bank/Curt Carnemark

Or take the example of Afghanistan, where many impoverished farmers are compelled to grow illicit crops just to survive. The same goes in some countries of South-east Asia. So development and organized crime are closely linked to each other. That’s why the Crime Congress is important, especially this year, just a few months before the UN summit on the post-2015 development agenda. The main theme of the Congress is precisely the link between the rule of law and sustainable development.

UN News Centre: What do you think is the most vital point to address at this year’s Congress? Are there specific crimes or areas that need particular attention above others?

Yury Fedotov: Of course, as I said, the main theme of the Congress is the nexus between rule of law, crime prevention, criminal justice and sustainable development. The rule of law, better criminal justice systems, access to justice, well-functioning law enforcement and prosecution authorities – they could be enablers for development. There will be important discussions not only in the plenary meeting but also in side events with the participation of high-level government officials, UN principals and NGOs. But there are some other important themes which will be highlighted, some of them re-emerging crimes, such as human trafficking, for which we are planning to organize an important side event with high-level participants. There’s also the smuggling of migrants, which is a new, fast-developing concern of the international community, especially after these tragic events in the Mediterranean. Wildlife and forest crime, cybercrime… you name it. There are many areas which need to be discussed. The Crime Congress is important in order to find a common platform to face these global challenges.

UN News Centre: It is extremely difficult to measure the extent of some crimes because of a lack of data. What is being done to improve data collection? Will the topic of data collection be discussed at the Congress?

Yury Fedotov: It will be discussed and rightfully so, because it is one of the three major pillars of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The research and analysis is very important, not for the sake of research and analysis but in order to provide clear guidance to Member States on how to tackle global challenges. And some of our flagship publications like the annual World Drug Reports, or our global report on human trafficking, are well received by Member States. They appreciate the quality of this research and analysis but we need to do more. We are planning another important research initiative on wildlife crime, on smuggling of migrants, on many others. And of course the data is a very important factor.

A young woman from a fishing community in West Bengal in eastern India. She comes from a village that is known for high levels of trafficking of women and girls to other major cities. Photo: UN Women/Anindit Roy-Chowdhury

We are not dealing with official statistics. We need to find ways and means to evaluate the size and the scope of transnational organized crime, and the information is very often hidden. That’s why we need more support – more support from Member States, more support from our peers, other international organizations sharing data and information with us – so that we can come up with a consolidated knowledge and evaluation of the size and dimensions of transnational organized crime, illicit drugs and corruption.

UN News Centre: What do you see as the role of the public in strengthening crime prevention and criminal justice?

Yury Fedotov: We cannot do anything without the public. We cannot do anything without civil society. All our efforts, what UNODC is doing, can succeed only if supported by the public because what we are doing is based on a few principles. One of them is local ownership of all of our projects and programmes. Secondly, a very strong commitment to standards of human rights and thirdly, the need to deliver and to make a real difference in the lives of common people – in their neighbourhoods, in their villages and small towns. If we succeed, that is the best reward for us. Also it is important to raise awareness. Civil society, NGOs can help us a lot and they are doing that, raising awareness about the dangers of transnational organized crime. Take the example of human trafficking, the slavery of the 21st century. This crime is committed not in outer space, but in our own neighbourhoods. And people should be encouraged, should know that it is against the law and if they see something suspicious they have to report it to the police. So it is very important to raise awareness. That is why we are promoting several campaigns, including the Blue Heart campaign, to support victims of human trafficking.

UN News Centre: Could you give us a successful example of international cooperation against the global threat of transnational organized crime?

Yury Fedotov: One of the success stories of course is this spirit of cooperation. By the way, both commissions which provide guidance to UNODC – the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice – are adopting core decisions and resolutions by consensus, which demonstrates the consolidation of positions by Member States. And just as I mentioned human trafficking, I think it will be good to give you one example. Before the Palermo Convention, this crime was not defined in national legislations around the globe. It did not exist. It has not been defined as a most serious crime at all. Now, after the Palermo Convention and the Protocol against human trafficking, only five per cent of all Member States have not yet adopted their national laws to criminalize human trafficking.

UN News Centre: What kind of approaches need to be taken to prevent and adequately respond to new and emerging forms of transnational crime?

Yury Fedotov: We need a comprehensive response. We need very close partnership and cooperation within the UN family. We can deliver only if we act as one UN, no doubt about that, because quite often one agency such as UNODC for instance is not able to solve these problems because they are linked to sustainable development, improvement of the quality of life, building infrastructure, creating jobs, establishing a better social climate in societies, ensuring public services such as health, education and so on. So we can succeed only if we combine our efforts.

Heroin seizure in Turkmenistan. Photo: UNODC

UN News Centre: Given the transnational character of many crimes, international cooperation in preventing and fighting crime is important. How well does international cooperation in the field of crime prevention really work? What can be done to further enhance international cooperation?

Yury Fedotov: We need to do more to encourage Member States to strengthen this cooperation. In some cases, it works; in some cases, it does not and still there are a lot of mutual suspicions and bureaucratic procedures, which need to be overcome. If we need to act as an international community, we have to be guided by the same principles. Those principles are enshrined in these international instruments that I mentioned. We need to strengthen this cooperation and UNODC is working with Member States. We have 60+ offices around the globe. One of the purposes of our regional, country and thematic programmes is to strengthen this spirit of international cooperation and make success stories.

One example is the global container control programme that helps to protect people from illicit trafficking using trade containers. Annually, there are 500 million containers in circulation across the globe and only 3 per cent of them are inspected. So we need to develop skills and we are doing that. We are acting jointly with the World Customs Organization. Another success could be this counter-piracy programme off the coast of Somalia, where we are helping criminal justice systems in Somalia but also in neighbouring countries in Africa, building capacity, including building prisons and courtrooms. We have succeeded in helping to put more than a thousand pirates in jail.

UN News Centre: What do you expect to come out of the Crime Congress?

Yury Fedotov: This Crime Congress will adopt a declaration – a political document that puts an emphasis on important aspects of fighting transnational organized crime and strengthening criminal justice systems and crime prevention. This declaration will then be translated into resolutions, decisions, and other action by other UN bodies, such as the Crime Commission that will meet in May in Vienna. And of course, the message will be sent as a contribution to the preparation of the summit on the sustainable development goals in New York in September.

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