I want to express my deep appreciation to the General Assembly President and to the Governments of Italy and Honduras, as well as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for organizing this important thematic debate.
The United Nations has long worked with the countries of Central America to promote peace, freedom and development.
The armed conflicts that once burned through the region are no more.
Political violence has been greatly reduced. Democratic processes are being consolidated.
But profound challenges still remain.
Countries in the region -- especially in the Northern triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- face rising levels of violence fuelled by transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.
Caught between drug producing countries in the South and some of the major consumer countries in the North, proximity has encouraged criminality.
The region is now home to the highest homicide rates in the world: 39 murders per 100,000 citizens in Guatemala, 72 per 100,000 in El Salvador, and 86 per 100,000 in Honduras, which is more than 10 times the global average.
In countries of the region, as many as one out of every fifty 20 year-old males will be murdered before they reach the age of 32. That is 400 times higher 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.
Beyond these appalling numbers, other crimes have emerged: kidnappings, migrant smuggling and human trafficking.
Firearms trafficking is also spreading.
Stopping the flow of weapons to criminals has become more urgent than ever.
The regional Security Strategy for Central America – adopted by leaders in June 2011 -- marks a new beginning.
The Central American Integration System plays a leading role.
The United Nations stands ready to support these efforts in any appropriate way.
But drugs and crime are not simply an issue of North and South, we must also look East and West.
Central America is a bridge to North America, but the Americas are also a staging post for Europe.
Today cocaine consumption in Europe is almost equal to that in North America.
One of the trafficking routes to Europe is through West and Central Africa.
Countries in these two African regions are vulnerable. Some are recovering from war; they need sustainable development to help them along the democratic path.
Transnational organized crime can push these countries in the opposite direction.
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.
That is why, last year, I established the Task Force on transnational and organized crime and drug trafficking.
Our approach is rooted in the rule of law and respect for human rights.
It also emphasizes the importance of drug prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and health.
And it urges Governments to embrace and implement the Drug Conventions and the Conventions on Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols.
National laws and procedures across Central America need to be harmonized.
And there must be a continued focus on anti-corruption and anti-money laundering regulations, and on developing the means to disrupt cash couriers.
Our commitment in these areas can be measured by prosecutions and the willingness of countries to identify, trace, seize and confiscate criminal assets.
The international community is committed to helping Central America confront its challenges.
During my visit to Guatemala in March 2011, I listened carefully to calls for more concerted action to address transnational crime and drug trafficking.
I want to ensure that we continue to intensify our efforts to provide support and assistance, so that countries of the region can meet transnational threats.
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.
As the recent headlines of drug-related violence further north show, criminals continue to be capable of unspeakable brutality.
These are not isolated acts, but challenges to the world we are trying to build.
Let us work together to combat the transnational threats of drugs and crime. Let us join forces for a safer world founded on democracy and human rights for all.
Thank you very much.