|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Regional Anti-Crime Programme for West Africa 2010-2014
Amid increased drug use and savvier efforts by narco-traffickers who continued to evade detection in West Africa, a multi-agency regional programme, launched today, aimed to stemming new drug and crime trends in a comprehensive, integrated manner, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told journalists today at a Headquarters press conference.
Covering 16 countries, the Regional Programme for West Africa 2010-2014 responded to States’ needs on the basis of shared responsibility, he said, especially in the areas of peacebuilding, security sector reform and institution-building at national and regional levels. It also offered a flexible framework for cooperation among the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), UNODC, the Department of Political Affairs, the United Nations Office for West Africa, the Peacebuilding Commission, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the World Customs Organization, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and others.
The Office had been sounding the alarm for years about the menace of narco-trafficking and organized crime in West Africa. That region’s strategic location halfway between Latin America and Europe, long coast line, porous borders, widespread poverty, weak governance, and rampant corruption made it vulnerable to such activities. He said that while drug seizures had decreased in recent years, evidence suggested it was simply a sign of “technical repositioning” — changes in the modus operendi of criminal structures — rather than of concerted international action.
Today, West Africa was a major transiting point for hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars worth of cocaine smuggled from Latin America into Europe, he explained. It also was the destination for counterfeit medicine, black market cigarettes, toxic waste and stolen natural resources, especially oil. Further, the Sahel Belt was emerging as a safe haven for terrorists, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, whose activities might be fuelled by drug trafficking revenue.
“The new Regional Programme, as we see it, has the potential to make life better for people living in West Africa,” he said. “With the support of the international community, we can turn this potential into reality.”
Joining Mr. Fedotov was Said Djinnit, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, who stressed the importance of forging a strong alliance to bring West Africa, a transit region, together with countries of origin and destination to fight the scourge. Aside from global support, “there is a need to continue mobilizing the leadership at all levels in West Africa”, he added.
Taking questions, first on whether a connection had been seen between drug smugglers and terrorist organizations, especially in Mali, Mr. Fedotov said drug trafficking was a multi-billion dollar business that had shown clear signs that some of its revenue was being used to fuel terrorist groups. It occurred not only in West Africa, but in other areas, such as Afghanistan, which was why it was so important to have a global, comprehensive strategy addressing trafficking prevention, corruption, money laundering and governance, among other issues.
All those topics had been included in the Regional Programme for West Africa, which was based on an integrated, programmatic approach, he said. Chapters of the Regional Programme were dedicated to every African country, including Mali, and outlined integrated programmes that tackled drug trafficking and other organized crime. That allowed for better coordination, especially through ECOWAS.
Asked which West African countries had the worst drug trafficking problem, Mr. Fedotov responded that UNODC was not in a position to evaluate, but rather tried to help all countries. He was encouraged that many of the countries in the region had improved their governance and democratic institutions, as well as their mechanisms to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. There were serious problems, however, with the rule of law. He cited Guinea-Bissau in that context to underline the need for more insistence that UNODC programmes be implemented, including in other West African countries.
As for other crimes that the Regional Programme might address, such as sex trafficking and child labour, Mr. Fedotov responded that analysis of those issues was precisely the purpose of the initiative. Drug trafficking could not be examined without addressing corruption, money laundering and illegal trafficking in human beings, the last of which was a growing problem.
Adding to that, Mr. Djinnit recalled that at the launch ceremony earlier today, a representative of one of the Member States said all West African countries were equally threatened by drug trafficking and organized crime. Countries in crisis were most likely to be affected, as there was a bigger entry point for the networks.
Taking a final question, Mr. Djinnit said Guinea-Bissau was among the most affected by drug trafficking, as it had been in crisis. The Government had requested international support to combat drug trafficking and help reform the security sector because some army members had been involved with the problem.
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