Strong, Urgent, Global Action Needed to Help Central America Fight Transnational Threats from Crime, Drug Trafficking, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly

16 May 2012

Strong, Urgent, Global Action Needed to Help Central America Fight Transnational Threats from Crime, Drug Trafficking, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly

16 May 2012
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Thematic Debate

AM Meeting

Strong, Urgent, Global Action Needed to Help Central America Fight Transnational

Threats from Crime, Drug Trafficking, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly

Region’s Ministers Highlight Impact, Including ‘Crisis’ Level Homicide Rates;

Panel Focuses on How to Promote, Implement Security Strategy Adopted in June 2011

Senior United Nations officials and Government leaders today urgently called for strong global action to tackle transnational organized crime and drug trafficking in Central America, which they said had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the region already and now was spreading to Europe and Africa.

Caught between drug-producing countries in the South and some of the major consumer countries in the North, Central America, especially in the Northern triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, had become a magnet for criminality and rising levels of violence, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, as he opened a thematic debate titled “Security in Central America as a regional and global challenge:  How to promote and implement the Central American Security Strategy.”

“In our time, Central America has travelled a long road to peace and reconciliation.  We must do our utmost to help the region secure a better future,” he said. 

Central America was now home to the highest homicide rates in the world, he said, citing a 2011 study of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  As much as two per cent of all 20-year-old males would be murdered before they reached the age of 32.  That was 400 times more than in countries with low homicide rates.  

“This is more than a spate of killings, it is a crisis — bringing with it great fear and instability to societies,” he said.  “Beyond these appalling numbers, other crimes have emerged:  kidnappings, migrant smuggling and human trafficking.”

Stopping the flow of weapons to criminals had become more urgent than ever, he said.  Last June, Central American Heads of State adopted a RegionalSecurity Strategy to make the area safe, peaceful, free, democratic and developed.  The Central American Integration System (SICA) played a leading role in its implementation, and the United Nations stood ready to support these efforts.

But, the narcotics trade was not confined to Central America, which was a “bridge” to North America, he said.  The Americas were a “staging post” for Europe through trafficking routes in West and Central Africa.  As some countries in those two African regions struggled to recover from war, transnational organized crime could derail their efforts to achieve democracy and sustainable development.

“All of this underscores the need to go beyond a regional approach.  Our world is interconnected.  Our challenges are linked.  Our solutions must be, too,” he said.

In March 2011, he had set up a Task Force on transnational and organized crime and drug trafficking in order to coordinate the United Nations system’s responses to the menace.  Rooted in the rule of law and respect for human rights, it advocated for drug prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and health, and urged Governments to embrace and implement the Drug Conventions and the Conventions on Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols.

Moreover, national laws and procedures across Central America must be harmonized and there must be a continued focus on anti-corruption and anti-money laundering regulations, and on developing ways to disrupt cash couriers, he said.  The global community’s commitment in those areas could be measured by prosecutions and the willingness of countries to identify, trace, seize and confiscate criminal assets.

General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser shared Mr. Ban’s concern over the urgency of the matter, and implored Member States to work jointly to tackle sophisticated criminal threats in the region that were eroding economic development, corrupting legal and political processes, and undermining public confidence.

“In a word, these threats risk unraveling gains made in development in the region, and leading to social and political upheaval,” Mr. Al-Nasser said.  The Assembly was gravely concerned with the issue and it recognized that increased efforts by States, relevant organizations, civil society and non-governmental organizations had not done enough to eliminate the drug trade’s threat to security.

Today’s meeting symbolized the scale of that threat and the conviction that good working solutions could be found through partnerships among nations, he said.  The Regional Security Strategy for Central America, which had received broad endorsement from the Group of Friends of the Conference, including UNODC, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and other international organizations, was a comprehensive step in the right direction.  

Our duty is to help tear down the complex web of crime in Central America, and to achieve security — one of the keystones of democracy — for the region, and for the world,” he said.

Echoing those claims, Arturo Corrales Alvarez, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Honduras and President pro tempore of SICA, said fighting the scourge was a shared global responsibility that required holistic, profound and courageous action.  “This fight is a fight to the death,” he said, calling for “an intelligent plan”. 

In 2010, Central American Governments budgeted more than $3.9 billion to foster security and justice; last year, that figure well surpassed $4 billion, he said, citing UNODC figures.  But that had not been enough.  The region’s institutions remained weak; its judiciary was overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. 

Drug consumers, producers and traffickers alike must be held to account, but Central America did not have the capacity to tackle that alone, he said.  “We come to this august body aware of their limitations.  We know about our national and regional capacities.  The responsibility lies with us and with others.”    

Paola Severino, Minister of Justice of Italy, agreed on the need to address the threat through strong global tools aimed at strengthening justice and police institutions, devising more effective laws and supporting socioeconomic development. 

“Italy speaks from experience,” she said.  Next week, on 23 May, it would commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Sicilian mafia’s assassination of Giovanni Falcone, a prosecuting magistrate in Palermo who developed a strategy to unlock the Italian mob’s code of silence and who laid the legal groundwork for the adoption of the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime.  Mr. Severino said the legal framework established in that Convention and the United Nations treaties on drug control and corruption were the world’s “best weapons” against the scourge.

Italy was doing its part to help Central America fight organized crime and money laundering through bilateral agreements, memorandums of understanding and a plan to support the Central American security strategy, he said.  It was in the process of finalizing a “training the trainers” programme for 20 police officers from SICA countries, which would focus on investigating financial crime involving organized criminal associations.

“Our experience had taught us how crucial it is to follow the money trail,” he said.  Curbing the financial power of transnational organized crime was a powerful way to stop it.  Without greater global cooperation to attack criminal assets, they would further corrupt economic systems. 

The Italian Government had also set up a highly-successful justice fund for depositing confiscated assets of organized crime, he said.  As of 15 December 2011, it had some 1.8 billion euros in assets, which were then turned over to State, regional and municipal Governments and to non-profit socioeconomic initiatives for society’s benefit.

Several Ministers from the region also shared their insights today on the impact of transnational organized crime and drug trafficking, including “crisis level” homicide rates.  They included Mario Zamora Cordero, Costa Rica’s Minister of Public Security; Carlos Raul Morales Moscoso, Guatemala’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs; Alejandro Garuz Recuero, Panama’s Vice Minister of Security; Brigido Ruiz, the Dominican Republic’s Vice Minister of Interior and Police; George Lovell, Belize’s Vice Minister of National Security; and Douglas Mauricio Moreno Recinos, El Salvador’s Vice Minister of Justice and Public Security.  Simone Monasebian, Chief of UNODC’s New York Office, read a statement on behalf of Yuri Fedotov, Under-Secretary-General and UNODC Executive Director. 

During a panel discussion that followed, speakers discussed ways to promote and implement the security strategy adopted in June 2011.  Presentations were made by Abigail Benzadon Cohen, Secretary-General of the Council of Transparency against Corruption in Panama; Aminta Granera, Nicaragua’s Chief of National Police; Pietro Grasso, Italy’s Anti-Mafia National Prosecutor; Juan Daniel Alemán Gurdián, Secretary-General of SICA; Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs; John Feeley, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Security Coordinator for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the United States Department of State; and Amado Philip de Andrés, Regional Representative for Central America and the Caribbean for UNODC.  Sebastian Rotella, a Correspondent and Investigative Reporter of ProPublica, moderated the event.

Ministerial Segment

MARIO ZAMORA CORDERO, Minister of Public Security, Costa Rica, highlighted a joint work being undertaken by countries in Central America within the framework of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and a portfolio of 22 projects aimed at addressing regional security problems.  It was recalled that the end of the Cold War had allowed the conditions to exist for peace to replace the military conflicts that affected Central America in the twentieth century.

Inequality and social problems had been the underlying causes for insecurity in the region, he said.  Social weakness and structural poverty had provided a feeding ground for transnational organized crime to implant itself in the region.  Eliminating certain visas in Central America had led to not only illegal immigration, but had also generated the phenomenon of human trafficking in the region.  Highlighting efforts that had been made, including restricting asset flow and bolstering interregional borders, he also acknowledged support from the European Union and Italy in Central America’s capacity-building in the areas of policing, legal reform and the prison system.

He also noted the role of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Central America.  For each dollar Central America received in terms of international cooperation, Governments in the region had sent 40 dollars from their national budgets to combat insecurity and criminality in the region.  The main financial burden was now being shouldered by Governments in the region and taxpayers.  Costa Rica had always accorded priority to the prevention of crime.  In December 1949, Costa Rica eliminated its armed forces.  The budget previously used for its forces had been used to develop health and education.  That explained the country’s way of dealing with crime and delinquency.  The budget for security had been dropping to make sure that the money went to health and education.  At the same time, its President had sought to deal with security problems adequately, including a spending of $318 million to tackle organized crime, as well as new approaches, such as a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.  Without prevention, it would be very difficult to respond to any crime.

CARLOS RAÚL MORALES MOSCOSO, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guatemala, said the security situation in Central America was very serious.  The thankless war against organized crime and drug trafficking had caused so many deaths.  Central America served as a bridge between the drug-consuming and drug-producing world, and that situation had gone on for some 40 years.  Weapons moved back and forth without any control.  The illegal trade was carried out through the region’s banking system.  Central American countries were not major producers of drugs, but they still had to support the burden of high death tolls affecting Central American families on a daily basis.  While Central American countries were committed to the fight, the problem was created by external factors.  The Guatemalan President recently pointed to the need for alternative mechanisms.

It was necessary to review what was being done and to overhaul the current strategy, he said.  Central American countries had been forced to earmark many resources that should be destined for nutrition, health, education and infrastructure into fighting the war.  Efforts should be pursued to do everything from creating a regional court to decriminalizing drugs.  The Secretary-General of the Organization of American States had set up mechanisms to consider the various options.  The Central American Security Strategy was composed of 22 regional projects, all of which were drafted by experts from the region.  “We need to start implementing these projects which, in one way or another, will bring some relief to Central American families,” he said.  Central America needed international support.  The problem was the shared responsibility of both consumer and producer countries.  “We need assistance to reach the streets directly,” he said.

ALEJANDRO GARUZ RECUERO, Vice-Minister of Security, Panama, said security in Central America was a regional and global challenge and strategies to tackle the issue must be looked at from different vantage points.  Panama, which had felt it was an issue of vital importance, had asserted on a number of occasions that the fight against transactional organized crime, drug trafficking and all other forms of crime required urgent attention and investment.  It was also a challenge to social, political and economic stability in his country, as well, as these scourges brought insecurity and mourning to many families in the region on a daily basis.

Panama valued the opportunity to participate in today’s event in order to acquire a commitment, responsibly evaluate the situation and discuss international agreements and treaties.  It was vital to involve stakeholders that would be key parts of the solution to the problem.  There was a general desire to help Central American nations under the principle of shared and differentiated responsibility, in order to move forward with initiatives that were holistic and benefited democracy, security and peace in the region.  Central American States had the political will to tackle the challenge, as was evident in the result of the Conference in Guatemala June 2011 and the Security Strategy adopted.  Assisting countries should be clearly aware of the region’s commitment, and bear witness that the Central American States were the common front against the threat of transitional crime.

BRIGIDO RUIZ, Vice Minister of Interior and Police, Dominican Republic, said that, as an associate State of SICA, the Dominican Republic was an observer of the Central American Security Strategy and it adhered to the security treaty, which enabled it to participate in all the Strategy’s projects.  Given the Dominican Republic’s geopolitical position, its membership would broaden the scope of plans to be implemented.  Insecurity was caused by so many things and it had such a serious international impact.  It would require large-scale action and greater commitments.  If Central America and the Caribbean, one of the most utilized zones for illicit drug trafficking and organized crime, did not implement national and regional security policies that were coordinated, it would not reach its objectives effectively.  The Dominican Republic, which was very aware of that fact, had adopted an aggressive international policy to strengthen security regionally, which had led to a reduction of organized crime.  The number of violent deaths per every 100,000 deaths had fallen from 27 in 2002-2004 to fewer than 23 at present.

As a small, developing country, the Dominican Republic had taken on enormous challenges and made enormous sacrifices, in order to eliminate bombardments by the air of drug traffickers, especially with cocaine, he said.  That was accomplished thanks to the acquisition of surveillance aircraft, and the installation of radars and sensors, in partnership with the United States, European Union, Colombia and other countries.  The Dominican Republic was also improving cooperation with the police organizations of neighbouring nations, and it was exchanging information with them.  The Dominican Republic was also taking part in all forums that promoted citizen security, as well as developing a democratic security plan aimed at reforming and modernizing the national police, securing neighbourhoods and towns, protecting the victims of violence, preventing crime, and controlling weapons.

The Dominican Republic was also implementing a new prison model, with correction and rehabilitation centres for citizens in conflict, which had been recognized by the United Nations as a Central American centre for penitentiary excellence.  The Central American Security Strategy had the proper analysis and all the necessary tools to enable the region to achieve security.  But, it needed more support, cooperation, solidarity and a greater collective international awareness, taking into account that the problem of insecurity was a shared responsibility.

GEORGE LOVELL, Vice Minister of National Security, Belize, said his country was committed to the fight against transactional organized crime in the framework of the United Nation’s policies and actions, and reaffirmed its cooperation with and support of the donor community.  The forging of long-lasting solutions based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and advanced legal and judicial tools aimed at identifying the complex structure of criminal networks could not be overemphasized.  Belize was implementing a crime repository that would operate in the framework of already established mechanisms, such as the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).

The “Northern Triangle”, consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, had high crime rates, and Belize had a similar experience.  According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Study on Homicide in 2011, killings in Central American was nearing a “crisis point” — at a rate of more than 41 per 100,000 citizens in Guatemala, 66 per 100,000 in El Salvador, and 82 per 100,000 in Honduras.  Belize had a rate similar to that of Guatemala in 2011.  For that reason, it was important that efforts be holistic and inclusive and it was suggested that the Northern Triangle strategy be expanded to include Belize.

DOUGLAS MAURICIO MORENO RECINOS, Vice Minister of Justice and Public Security of El Salvador, said the meeting of Central American Heads of State on 22 June 2011 with the Group of Friends had been a milestone for cooperation on regional security.  Long-term assistance was needed to fully implement the Regional Security Strategy for Central America.  In some cases, a modular approach was needed for implementation.  The Group of Friends had recognized the challenges.  Central American countries had recognized the need to quickly coordinate efforts to improve security regionally and follow-up mechanisms must track implementation of those efforts.  It was important to highlight the Central American vision for developing the 22 projects of the Strategy.  El Salvador was ready and available to implement them.  Central American countries had a united position.  They had formed the only regional strategy for security, and institutional strengthening was vital for its implementation.  It was also important to once again make the Security Strategy visible and understood at the international level, with a view to obtaining additional resources to fully implement projects.

He said that during a conference held 30 March in San Salvador, the Presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua stated their opposition to legalizing drugs, and said they would continue to support regional efforts to fight drug trafficking.  Together, they launched the Declaration of Managua, which recognized a zone of peace, sustainability and security in the Gulf of Fonseca in the Pacific.  The legal status of drugs must be debated at the international level.  He suggested holding meetings at the United Nations in coming months to discuss that matter.  International efforts must go hand in hand with regional strategies.

YURI FEDOTOV, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNODC, said in a message read on his behalf by Simone Monasebian, Chief of UNODC New York Office, said Central America faced major challenges from transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.  The threat was fuelling violence, eroding the rule of law, impairing economic development and undermining fundamental human rights.  Based on UNODC figures, nearly one third of the nearly 18,500 homicides in Central America were due to organized crime in 2010.

It was the duty of the international community, including the United Nations, to do everything possible to provide assistance to the countries within the region, he said.  However, increased assistance to countries in the region must be based within the framework of the drug and crime conventions.  It should be recognized that, while Central America confronted some of the very worst aspects of those transnational issues, “the solutions must be global”.  The geographical location of Central America placed the region between the drug origin countries of the South and the drug consumer countries of the North, but no region existed in isolation.  The multifaceted, interconnected nature of drugs and crime had compelled the development of interregional approaches.

Within Central America, UNODC had created a regional hub for Central America and the Caribbean in Panama to link with a re-profiled office in Mexico and other countries in the region.  UNODC was also establishing centres of excellence in Mexico on public security statistics and the Dominican Republic on prison reform and drug demand reduction.  The Panamanian Government, with the technical support of UNODC, had also established a Regional Anti-Corruption Academy.  To improve understanding of the situation in Central America and the Caribbean, UNODC would also release a threat assessment for the region soon.

Interactive Panel Discussion

Following the Ministerial Segment, the Assembly held a panel discussion.  Moderated by Sebastian Rotella, Correspondent and Investigative Reporter, ProPublica and 2006 Pulitzer Award Finalist for international reporting, it featured presentations by Abigail Benzadon Cohen, Secretary-General, Council of Transparency against Corruption, Panama; Aminta Granera, Chief, National Police, Nicaragua; Pietro Grasso, Anti-Mafia National Prosecutor, Italy; Juan Daniel Alemán Gurdián, Secretary-General, SICA; Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs; John Feeley, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Security Coordinator for Western Hemisphere Affairs, United States Department of State; and Amado Philip de Andrés, Regional Representative for Central America and the Caribbean, UNODC.

Opening the panel, Mr. ROTELLA said it aimed to highlight the individual and collective initiatives to fight organized crime and drug trafficking.

Speaking first, Ms. COHEN said organized crime was a several billion dollar operation and it could worsen.  It had become a multinational phenomenon and, according to UNODC, it had become among the 20 most profitable businesses in the world.  It undermined the rule of law and it harmed economies.  The changes it caused in the global economy were evident.  It had been supported by free trade.  Criminal groups were using the markets to make crime profitable.  Crime represented 10 per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP).  That crime included drug trafficking and trafficking in weapons, medicine and human beings.  Criminal groups also corrupted the health-care system, thus harming public health.  Fortunately, the international community had taken some measures to address that menace.  The United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime was the first one to deal with the problem, including through a legal framework.

A central measure to combat corruption was to enhance the capacity of the main crime-fighting players, namely police forces and the judicial system, she said.  She stressed the importance of modernizing criminal investigation systems, enacting programmes to aid victims of violence, bolstering the public sector’s ability to combat corruption, and tackling money laundering, notably through offshore banking.  There must be ways to combat corruption in Central American countries through prevention and steps to inform authorities of crimes that were taking place.  She also called for steps to prevent links from developing between public administration systems and criminal groups.  She cited the efforts of the regional anti-corruption academy, set up in Panama City by Panamanian authorities and UNODC, to serve as trainings ground for legal practitioners to fight corruption and exchange best legal practices towards that end.  Such joint efforts would bolster Central American countries’ ability to effectively deal with corruption.

Ms. GRANERA, speaking not as a Nicaraguan, but as a citizen of Central America, underscored four challenges faced in the region in order to ensure the success of the regional security strategy.  The first concerned the need for Central America, as a region, to come in contact with other parts of the world and with international bodies.  The total would be greater than the sum of the parts.  No country could work as well individually as they could as a group.  Governments in the region, friendly countries, were all obligated to ensure that the project that was implemented within the framework of the security strategy covered all countries in the region, without leaving any out.  Failing to do so would result in the weakening of the Central American integration process and the weakening of the security strategy itself, which was based on regional integration.

Second, the strategy should not become a theme for international dissertations and discussions, but rather must become a framework of operational and tangible activity in the region, she said.  Participating in the enriching debate was fantastic, but participants must make sure that the outcome of the debate went downward and they must work with those in charge of implementing regional strategies.  That must start now.  It should not be just top down, but horizontal.  She said she had been a police officer for 34 years, with six years spent in leading the Nicaraguan police force, and stressed that security space was built only on the basis of neighbourhoods and communities.  Third, the strategy should be inclusive and participatory, and should work on the ground.  Fourth, there was a challenge concerning friendly countries, which must assume a shared responsibility, as pledged in the summit in Guatemala in June last year.  They must assume that in two ways:  quantitatively and qualitatively.

Mr. GRASSO said over the years, his country’s Government, and the National Bureau on Organized Crime he headed, had built a legacy of operative, legislative, investigative and judicial experience in fighting the many facets of transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption, trafficking in human beings and the seizure of assets.  Such tools were hard won through the blood of martyrs, among the ordinary citizens, as well as priests, politicians, entrepreneurs, journalists, police officers, public officials and anyone else who dared oppose the mafia, including 12 prosecutors and judges in western Sicily alone.  Thanks to them, changes were made to criminal, trial, administrative and financial law, and a focus was put on socioeconomic development.

Italy identified strongly with Central America, he said, and his presence at the meeting attested to Italy’s interest in sharing its best practices in fighting that scourge.  Italy supported training for police officers and prosecutors from SICA countries through the Apoyo plan.  Italy’s Bureau on Organized Crime had created an effective set of legislative and practical tools to combat transnational organized crime:  laws on turncoats and witness protection; wiretaps; investigation into illegal assets; undercover agents and monitored deliveries; restrictions on the movements of the most dangerous detainees in maximum-security prisons; the disbanding of locally-elected bodies infiltrated by criminal elements; compensation for the relatives of the deceased and the victims of loan-sharking; and centralized and specialized police and prosecutorial services.

“Unless the SICA countries equip themselves with the appropriate uniform legislation at the regional level, no training or best practices from other countries will produce concrete results,” he warned.  Italy would gladly sign memoranda of understanding with interested countries, which would enable fruitful information and intelligence exchange, as well as parallel investigations in different geographic areas.  The Italian and Colombian Governments, together with INTERPOL, were drafting the Digest of Organized Crime Cases to help States implement the Palermo Convention.  The soon-to-be-completed final document compiled best practices from various geographic areas and legal systems, and it would serve as a practical guide for police officers and prosecutors.

But that was not enough, he said.  Most SICA countries had applied the Palermo Convention sporadically, or not at all.  While police cooperation was possible if nations used similar investigative tools, judicial cooperation required uniform domestic laws throughout the region.  SICA nations must make a firm commitment towards that end.  Some legislative innovations would require sizeable investments in such things as new maximum-security prisons, technology, economic aid to victims and improvements in the economic, social, job and educational status of citizens.  “Ordinary citizens and their rights must be the main building blocks for a global opposition to transnational organized crime, especially when the phenomenon is deeply ingrained in society,” he said.

Lastly, he cited Operation Decollo as an excellent example of international cooperation rooted in the Palermo Convention.  It involved Australia, France, Spain, Venezuela and Colombia, which had adapted legislation on personal and property investigations on the Italian model.  The investigations were conducted largely through undercover agents, monitored deliveries, and wiretaps and eavesdropping.  From 2004 to 2011, the operation dismantled a huge global drug trafficking network that shipped cocaine hidden in marble blocks from Colombia to Calabria in southern Italy.  Almost 200 people were arrested; more than 500 kilos of cocaine were seized; another 7,800 kilos imported into Italy were traced; and €24 million in proceeds and assets were confiscated, some in Colombia.

Mr. ALEMÁN GURDIÁN described the reality of the eight countries in SICA, an economic and political community aspiring towards full integration.  The Central American Security Strategy had a legal basis, as well as a number of principles to support it.  The system of integration was creating clear conditions in terms of institutions, leadership and will to neutralize scourges, such as organized crime and other forms of crime, legally and institutionally.  The Security Strategy had gone through a transformative process.  There had been localities and nations that had already been tackling security issues, and they had taken a leap to bring the issue to the regional level.

Shared responsibility was the cornerstone, he said.  Funding should come from fresh sources, not by taking away money from education and health programmes.  Added value would be achieved through synergy, which meant all countries working together, leveraging national efforts at the regional level.  Describing transnational organized crime as a “monster”, he said if the region did not leverage scarce resources, the vicious cycle could not be broken.

Mr. FERNANDEZ-TARANCO said drug trafficking and organized crime were central challenges and a considerable threat to regional security and political stability.  Geography had become a problem.  The demand for illicit drugs in consumer countries had made the situation even more difficult to address.  Poverty and inequity exacerbated organized crime, while the existence of gangs, institutional weaknesses, especially in the prison system, and impunity made it difficult to effectively combat it.  Organized criminals had a great amount of resources, including easy access to firearms and money to fund the drug trade, which made it difficult for States in the region to shut them down.  Although transit countries were not responsible on a large-scale for drug production or consumption, they in fact did suffer most from the violence caused by the illicit drug trade.  Recently, a number of voices had called for State-level policies to promote efforts to tackle the drug trade.  Efforts to combat the phenomenon must be holistic and focused on safety, security and respect for human rights, among other factors.

The United Nations supported the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, which was jointly set up by the Organization and Guatemalan Government, he said.  Its significant advances had illustrated that nobody was above the law.  Other countries in the region had shown support for fighting organized crime, and UNODC and other agencies were following up the situation.  The Secretary-General had just conducted a second mission to Honduras to create better capacity to fight organized crime and drug trafficking.  The United Nations supported the Central American Security Strategy.  He acknowledged the important role of the Central American Integration System in combating organized crime, and he called for efforts to explore possible avenues with SICA to implement the Central American Security Strategy.

Mr. FEELEY said the key to all United States efforts to fight transnational criminal organizations rested basically on one word:  “partnership”.  It was a terrible shame that in Spanish it did not quite translate.  President Obama said the basis of American foreign policy in the region was “partnership”.  The answer to the problem of organized crime in Central America would come from Central America.  The United States sought to be a partner that would be there to leverage its capacity, its technical expertise and its experiences.  That issue deserved a greater global hearing.  Unfortunately, today, 7.7 per cent of Central America’s collective GDP was lost in confronting security challenges.

There had been no transition of genuine policing in Central America, he noted.  What the United States wanted to support was to create police traditions; people entering a police force at age 20 or 21 should be able to envision a dignified career that would take them 20, 30 years until retirement.  They could do good for the society and they would not looked down upon.  That tradition was seriously lacking in Central America and many parts of Latin America.  Income disparity and poverty were also problems.  When there were no opportunities, young people turned to organized crime, which was sophisticated and knew how to market itself.

The United States supported the region’s security under the programme called Central American Regional Security Initiative, he said.  Under President Barack Obama’s administration, the budget for it had doubled, despite fiscal constraints.  That programme, among others, sought to take back the streets.  “If people don’t feel safe on the street, society cannot grow nor prosper,” he said, adding that all politics was local and all crime was ultimately local, too.  If citizens and communities were not involved, the right answers to the problem would not be found.

Mr. DE ANDRES said he had some initial ideas on how to meet speakers’ demands for further efforts to combat organized crime and drug trafficking in Central America.  That was why the Director of UNODC had described the need to set up a regional office in Panama.  UNODC had been thinking of creative solutions within the framework of the Central American Security Strategy.  It would concentrate resources in three areas.  It would conduct within three months a sophisticated analysis of trends in organized crime and how they affected Central America and the Caribbean.  It would also extend UNODC’s analysis network.  He pointed to a tangible example of effective cooperation in that regard between SICA and UNODC.  UNODC wanted to support efforts to work more closely with SICA, which was a key component of understanding trends in organized crime and how it flowed across borders.

The region had several good centres to track organized criminal cross-border activity, as well as strong laws to combat trafficking in human beings, including of illegal immigrants.  UNODC was discussing the matter with officials in Costa Rica and Panama, both destination countries for illegal immigrants from South America.  Organized crime was also used to fund terrorism.  Central American and Caribbean countries had good national legislation in place to fight drug trafficking.  He pointed to efforts in some countries to invest considerable amounts of money to fight organized crime and the illegal trafficking in immigrants.  He stressed the need to bolster border control and enhance technology to deal with the transnational crime menace in Central America.

In the ensuing dialogue, the Deputy Attorney General of Honduras noted that his country was pushing forward with laws to fight transborder organized crime, but that effort had come at the cost of many lives in the justice system, citing killings of lawyers, journalists and others.  He thanked Italy for extending help  in that area and asked for support from the European Union and the United States.

The representative of Australia said transnational organized crime was a global threat and thus required global solidarity.  The nation focused its effort on the Asia-Pacific region and more recently on Africa.  Australia was now extending cooperation to Central America, where it committed $25 million last year for that purpose.  Training workshops began this year in the region with Australian trainers in nacotics control, and those workshops would be extended to cover money laudering later in the year.  A number of Central American senior police officials were brought to participate in Australia’s executive leaderhisp program.  A particular focus was on prevention of youth violence.  It worked with Germany, among others, on that front.

The representative of Germany said the nation contributed $140 million for 2011-16 within the framework of cooperation with SICA.  Despite the budget difficulty, Germany intended to spend $50 million in 2012 to finance projects.  The country supported a container control program and customs organization project, for instance.  He recommended that Central American nations cooperate more closely with the United Nations in the areas of security force reform, and impunity, where the United Nations had considerable experience.

The representative of Peru said transnatinal organized crime was not only linked to terrorist activities and other crimes, but also had a negative impact on the environment, leading to deforestation, soil erosion, poor harvests and chemical pollution in the water.  He stressed the importance of preventive measures.  Peru was a producer of coca leaves, which provided a source of income to tens of thousands of people without viable alternatives for survival.  The country had developed alternatives, namely coffee and cocoa production.  Peru would hold a high-level meeting in Lima on 25-26 of July this year to tackle the issue of drug trafficking and enhance international cooperation mechamisms.

The representative of Mexico joined other participants in acknowledging that the fight against transnational organized cirme required long-haul efforts and said that her country was deploying significant efforts in that area.  She expressed her country’s commitment to work within the regional-based approach, based on the priciple of shared responsibility, to meet the challenges in the region.

Closing Remarks

Wrapping up the day’s debate, NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER, General Assembly President, welcomed the broad acceptance of and support for the Regional Security Strategy for Central America, which would help build political momentum and develop the initiatives needed to bring the region together to confront transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.  The Central American Integration System could lead in that over-arching Strategy.  He then highlighted the four main messages of the debate.  The first was the need for an international response, as transnational organized crime and drug trafficking in Central America had a vast impact on security not only in the region, but also in Europe and Africa.  The global response must be closely aligned with existing regional and inter-regional cooperation initiatives. 

He welcomed the work of the United Nations Task Force on Transnational Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking, chaired by UNODC and the Department of Political Affairs, which the Secretary-General set up to help the Organization deliver as one.  He lauded the proposal made during the meeting to explore with SICA possible cooperation areas in implementing the Security Strategy for Central America.  But, everyone affected by security in the region must do more.

The second main message was that responses should be integrated and carefully coordinated, he said.  Transnational organized crime in Central America undermined democratic institutions and distorted financial and economic activity.  Partners, particularly national and local leadership, must be closely consulted to ensure that aid was applicable to the specific context.  The private sector and local communities should also be involved.  Efforts must be founded on principles of sustainable development.  On 26 June, the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, this year’s World Drug Report would be launched during a high-level Assembly discussion on the nexus between drugs, crime and development.

The third message was the need for shared responsibility, he said.  Combating organized crime was very difficult where impunity was a reality.  Transit countries bore a particular burden, as they were neither part of the demand nor the supply chain, but they often suffered from drug-related violence in their territories.  Member States had called for “shared but differentiated” responsibility among all affected countries to fight impunity.

The fourth message concerned the law.  Member States had worked tirelessly in the past 20 years on crime prevention resolutions and the creation of a legal framework to prevent and fight international crime, including corruption.  He encouraged Member States that had not yet done so to become parties to relevant treaties, such as the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, its Protocols on the trafficking of persons, smuggling of migrants and trafficking of small arms, and the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  Member States should also strengthen national capacities and the rule of law, work to harmonize national laws and procedures with international law, and establish and implement anti-corruption and anti-money-laundering laws and regulations.

“It is our shared responsibility to cooperate as we fight to improve the situation for all,” he said, and added that “In doing so, let us take into account the important lessons of today’s very fruitful discussion.”  He pledged the Assembly’s continued cooperation on the matter with all Central American and regional Member States.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.