Subregions Must Address Smuggling-Terrorism Links, Says Côte d’Ivoire’s Delegate, Stressing Need for Education, Outreach Efforts
Once limited to transiting cocaine, heroin and other illicit drugs to destinations abroad, West and Central African countries have now become both users and producers of those substances, the United Nations anti-crime chief told the Security Council today, noting that the region accounted for 87 per cent of all pharmaceutical opioids seizures identified in his office’s latest report.
Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), briefed the 15-member Council via video-conference from Vienna, outlining “new, alarming trends in drug trafficking” identified in West and Central Africa. Explaining that the new movement of opioids is largely due to the rising use of the painkiller tramadol, he said Africa has also seen a rise in the seizures of cocaine, heroin and precursor substances such as Ephedrine and Phenacetine.
“The linkages between terrorism, illicit drugs and other forms of crime have been widely acknowledged, including by this Council,” he said, underlining the destabilizing impacts of the drug trade on governance, security, economic growth and public health. The latter is also being threatened by rising drug use in West and Central African countries, with millions of users there lacking access to treatment that is widely available elsewhere. Welcoming regional efforts to combat the threat posed by drugs — including by the “Group of Five” (G-5) Sahel joint force — he outlined UNODC’s own efforts to disrupt trafficking, intercept illegal financial flows, support intelligence and build State capacity.
As Council members took the floor, several delegates from nations in West and Central Africa confirmed that the illicit trafficking in drugs and drug precursors pose a serious threat to their countries’ public health, social fabrics and political stability. The representative of Côte d’Ivoire, Council President for December and the convener of today’s meeting, said in his national capacity that the region must address the alliance forged between drug trafficking networks and terrorist groups. An estimated 12 per cent of people between 15 and 64 in his country consume drugs, he said, reporting that some 286 tons were seized between 2017 and the first half of 2018. Describing Côte d’Ivoire’s national strategy to combat the phenomenon, he spotlighted the central role of outreach, education and efforts to combat money laundering.
China’s representative, voicing concern about the “onslaught of international drug trafficking” undermining development and fuelling terrorism, said States in West and Central Africa are often held back in their ability to respond to those challenges by a lack of capacity and resources. Calling for more robust international assistance to West and Central African States in developing national action plans, he stressed that such efforts must fully respect sovereignty. In addition, he said, countries around the globe should clamp down on their own drug consumption markets in order to reduce demand.
Poland’s delegate declared: “Supporting Africa’s development is potentially the most effective tool for combatting drug trafficking and drug use disorder.” Echoing several other speakers, he warned that drug trafficking will remain a major challenge until the region’s broader socio-economic problems are resolved and citizens are able to find legal, beneficial sources of income. Calling on States to uphold their obligation to provide capacity building and technical assistance to those nations requesting it, he spotlighted the work of CRIMJUST — a joint initiative of the European Union, UNODC, INTERPOL and the civil society group Transparency International — as a positive example.
Peru’s delegate provided examples of best practices from his own country’s fight against drugs, including bolstered rural development and alternate crop production options. Echoing concern over the impact of the illicit substances trade in West and Central Africa, he said ending armed conflict and building sustainable peace are critical to countering that scourge. The Council must remain seized of the relationship between drug trafficking and terrorism, he stressed, also calling for a multi-dimensional strategy to strengthen human rights protections and promote development in affected areas.
Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Equatorial Guinea, France, Ethiopia, Sweden, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and Netherlands.
The meeting began at 3:07 p.m. and ended at 4:30 p.m.
YURY FEDOTOV, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), briefed the Council via video-conference from Vienna, outlining “new, alarming trends in drug trafficking” identified by his Office in West and Central Africa. Underlining their destabilizing effects on governance, security, economic growth and public health, he emphasized: “Criminal networks are no longer limiting activities to transiting cocaine and heroin through Africa for destination markets in Europe and elsewhere.” Indeed, West and Central Africa as well as North African nations accounted for 87 per cent of the pharmaceutical opioids seized globally, according to UNODC’s 2018 “World Drug Report”.
Explaining that the trend is due largely to rising use of tramadol – an opioid painkiller widely trafficked for non-medical use in the region – he said Africa and Asia also saw large increases in cocaine seizures. Meanwhile, UNODC and its partners at several African airports also tracked heroin seizures, which are on the rise, he continued. Highest on that list are Lagos, Accra and Cotonou, followed by Bamako, Lomé and Ouagadougou. Seizures of methamphetamines have reached nearly the same levels as of cocaine seizures, he said, adding that Lagos and Cotonou are the main airports concerned. Recently, increasing seizures of such precursor substances as Ephedrine and Phenacetine have been recorded at both airports, which might indicate the existence of new laboratories producing psychoactive substances, he said.
At the same time, drug use in West and Central Africa is rising, representing a serious threat to public health, he said, adding that UNODC estimates that the region had some 34 million cannabis users and 1.8 million cocaine users in 2016. Globally, one in six people suffering from drug use disorders receive treatment, but in Africa that number is much lower, with only one in 18 problem drug users having access to treatment. “The linkages between terrorism, illicit drugs and other forms of crime have been widely acknowledged, including by this Council,” he said, recalling that its members expressed serious concern about links with Boko Haram activities in August. Meanwhile, he added, the upcoming phase of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS), which aims to support the police component of the “Group of Five” (G‑5) Sahel joint force, is focusing on strengthening the latter’s capacity to tackle terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking.
Outlining some of UNODC’S efforts to support those goals, he said it continues to reinforce regional and interregional responses to drug trafficking; to undertake efforts to disrupt illicit trafficking of drugs and their precursors; to intercept financial flows; to build law-enforcement capacity; to support national intelligence services; and to help scale up prevention and treatment services. Among other things, the Office has also partnered with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to support the implementation of the regional action plan on Illicit drug trafficking, organized crime and drug abuse. Referring Council members to the UNODC website for more information on its extensive work, he warned that post-conflict States and those in transition provide unique challenges and require greater attention from international partners.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States), acknowledging the harm caused by illicit drug trafficking and noting the opioid crisis in his own country, emphasized that it is a global problem requiring a collective response. The United States recently released a strategy to reduce demand for drugs, cut off supply and strengthen cooperation in anti-drug efforts, he said. Applauding the efforts of UNODC and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), he noted that his country is investing resources in West and Central Africa, including by training criminal justice officials, launching specialized police units, supporting maritime law enforcement and holding workshops on reducing drug demand. He said that he looks forward to working with the entire international community to protect families and bring about a drug-free future for all.
SUSANA RADEGUNDA EDJANG MANGUE (Equatorial Guinea) agreed that the trafficking, production and use of drugs in West and Central Africa feed crime, instability and terrorism in fragile countries. However, progress in implementing the African Union’s drug-control strategy has been hampered by a lack of resources and capacity in many African countries. Citing a variety of partnerships that are building capacity and coordinating efforts across regions, she emphasized that such initiatives must be amplified by the initiatives of United Nations organizations. She called for involving the African Union at the inception of all such initiatives to facilitate integration with regional strategies, and reaffirmed her country’s determination to combat the scourge of drugs through national plans and partnerships.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) also acknowledged the scope and depth of the drug problem in West Africa and its connection to terrorism, corruption and instability. Combating drugs by balancing law enforcement against treatment must become a priority for States in the region, with the support of international donors, she said. Reiterating the need to strengthen criminal-justice capacities as well as treatment capabilities, she said France supports projects that help to provide alternate forms of income and otherwise support development. Sanctions must also be leveraged in fighting drugs, she said, stressing the importance of balance and cooperation in that effort.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia), noting the challenge that international organized crime and drug trafficking pose to peace and stability in some States of West and Central Africa, said this is more prevalent in countries with weak institutions. She emphasized the need to support capacity-building in such countries, as well as the importance of exchanging information and intelligence, enhancing border security and establishing cooperation mechanisms. Urging the Council to reflect on existing strategies and available tools, she recalled that the African members of the Council organized an Arria-formula meeting on maritime crime in June. She also cited the Gulf of Guinea as a major hub for maritime crime and drug trafficking, and expressed support for Equatorial Guinea’s efforts to take the lead this important issue.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden), noting that drug trafficking is closely linked with political instability, particularly in the Sahel region, where smuggling networks are used by terrorist groups as a source of financing, said that when designing the United Nations’ work in conflict-affected regions, the Council must ensure that it reflects the role played by organized crime. Policing must be a strategic consideration in all peacekeeping and peacebuilding, he stressed, calling for more cooperation between Member States, INTERPOL, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), and regional entities.
WU HAITAO (China) described West and Central Africa as key targets of the “onslaught of international drug trafficking”, which seriously undermines their development and fuels terrorism. Noting that the lack of capacity often hinders the ability of the region’s States to respond to those challenges, he called upon Council members to provide them with more robust support. Among other things, the international community can help them develop national action plans to combat drug trafficking - while fully respecting their sovereignty - and clamp down on their own drug-consumption markets in order to reduce global demand. Spotlighting the importance of regional and subregional cooperation, he said the United Nations should focus on marshalling resources and scaling up development assistance to help States address their own drug-related challenges. Outlining China’s assistance in that regard, he said it currently funds more than 50 anti-trafficking programmes intended also to help improve border controls, fight piracy and transnational organized crime, and build the capacity of African States.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) said that conflicts have put serious strain on the institutions of West and Central African countries and weak borders have encouraged the spread of illicit substances. “The region is facing a transnational challenge that calls for a cross-cutting and robust response” from the international community, she added, calling for rigorous and time-bound measures to address challenges related to the production, origin and destination of drugs as well as demand for them. Citing the resilience and adaptability of transnational criminal networks, she said the economic, security and social consequences of drugs are all too well known. The region’s most vulnerable people are at greatest risk, she emphasized, adding that women and children remain major targets for criminal groups. Commending the strong cooperation between ECOWAS and UNODC, she said the Departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations are also providing critical support alongside INTERPOL.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said drug trafficking and transnational organized crime in West Africa is a matter of great concern. Profits from those activities are used to destabilize States and threaten both development and stability. Besides the damaging effects on people, they give rise to corruption and a shadow economy, which are reinforced by money laundering and increased funding to terrorist groups. According to the World Drug Report, Africa and Asia are emerging as cocaine trafficking and consumption hubs. To combat the drug problem in West Africa political will and regional collaboration are needed, as is engagement to implement international programmes and projects that aim to bolster the security, judicial and law enforcement sectors. Measures should be focused on stricter law enforcement and justice systems, as well as early warning signals, intelligence sharing and rigorous border control with the help of UNODC and INTERPOL.
TAREQ M. A. M. ALBANAI (Kuwait), affirming the complex connections linking instability, corruption, weak governance and drug trafficking, welcomed the ECOWAS action plan to address drug trafficking, encouraging countries of the region to continue their efforts to implement it, with the support of UNODC. Combating cross-border crime in the Sahel is an important part of that effort, he said, expressing his delegation’s full support for UNODC’s efforts.
GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said that fighting the serious effects of drug trafficking must be a collective global effort, emphasizing the particular importance of compliance with targeted sanctions imposed on terrorist organizations, given the relationship between trafficking and terrorism. Expressing particular concern over the trafficking of opioids from Latin America through West Africa, he said it should be adequately addressed in relevant international forums. He went on to call for engaging the private sector in providing alternative sources of income for those depending on drugs for their livelihood, he called for such entities as the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) to provide more support to educational initiatives in that regard. Expressing support for the work of UNODC and its cooperation with regional organizations, he stressed the importance of a wide range of partnerships under the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, pointing out that the Russian Federation has been working with States in West Africa and elsewhere to confront the drug problem through health, law-enforcement and cooperation initiatives.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) noted with concern the impact of drug trafficking on West Africa, emphasizing the importance of ending armed conflict and building sustainable peace in fighting the scourge. In that context, the Council must continue to be seized of the relationship between drug trafficking and terrorism, he added. A multi-dimensional strategy is needed to strengthen human rights protections and promote development in areas affected by the drug economy, he said, citing his own country’s rural development efforts as a model. He welcomed the elaboration of West Africa’s anti-drug-trafficking action plan as well as initiatives of the African Union.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said addressing the increasing challenges posed by illicit drug trafficking and consumption in West Africa requires an integrated approach, tackling both supply and demand. Cooperation with regional organizations and States in the region is crucial, he said, welcoming greater cooperation between nations on border control. Strengthening the capacity of ECOWAS to take sustainable action is of utmost importance, not least because drug trafficking is among the main income sources for terrorist groups. Urging countries to focus more attention on border control, he warned that drug trafficking will remain a major challenge until the region’s broader socio-economic problems are resolved and citizens are able to find legal, beneficial sources of income. “Supporting Africa’s development is potentially the most effective tool for combatting drug trafficking and drug use disorder,” he said. Calling on States to uphold their obligation to provide capacity building and technical assistance to those nations requesting it, he spotlighted the work of CRIMJUST — a joint initiative of the European Union, UNODC, INTERPOL and the civil society group Transparency International — as a positive example.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN MAN (United Kingdom), recalling that the Council last took up the issue under discussion in 2013, said corruption and ungoverned spaces allow criminality – including the trafficking of drugs, people and weapons – to take root, adding that those crimes can in turn fuel terrorist groups. Emphasizing that marginalized groups suffer the most, he said States – not just individuals – also feel their impacts, such as the erosion of institutions. Meanwhile, such cross-border threats also put regions and the wider international community at risk, he said, cautioning that criminal gangs can weaken a State just at the moment when a stronger State would be able to defeat the challenge. He said that is why his delegation agrees with others that the issue of illicit drug trafficking falls under the Council’s peacebuilding and sustaining peace agenda, adding that redoubled efforts are needed to address such related issues as climate change, border security and sustainable development.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) said an integrated approach is needed to counter drug trafficking in West and Central Africa. Regional problems require regional solutions, supported by the United Nations when required. The Netherlands is a staunch supporter of closer cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations like the African Union. UNODC plays a key role with regard to regional initiatives, including within the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. It also facilitates cooperation through projects like the West Africa Coast Initiative and Aircop. On criminal justice, impunity for drug trafficking undermines trust in public institutions and hampers peace and security, she said, underscoring that a criminal justice response is crucial to uphold the rule of law. This is one of the reasons why the Netherlands and Côte d'Ivoire drafted resolution 2447 (2018) on peace, justice and corrections, which the Council recently adopted.
GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, confirming that drug traffic in West Africa is indeed a menace to public health, social fabric and political stability at the national and regional levels. In their response to the plague of drug trafficking, States of the region, he said, noting that they already suffer the consequences of porous borders, must address the evolution of security threats resulting from the alliance between terrorist groups and drug-trafficking networks, as well as the emergence of a criminal economy and new kinds of corruption. It is estimated that some 12 per cent of those aged 15 to 64 in Côte d’Ivoire consume drugs, he said, noting that some 286 tons were seized between 2017 and the first half of 2018. Some drug elites are now becoming powerful players in communities and countries, he added. Through a national strategy, Côte d’Ivoire is increasing its prevention efforts through outreach, education and efforts to combat money laundering and other forms of crime. However, such initiatives can only be effective when coordinated with regional efforts, he stated, outlining West African initiatives and describing them as key to peace and stability in the subregion.