I welcome this initiative to focus on drug trafficking in West Africa and the Sahel.
Around the world, drug trafficking and transnational organized crime threaten security, undermine respect for the rule of law, and jeopardize peace and stability.
In a growing number of countries, organized criminal networks also fuel the activities of terrorist and extremist groups. Corruption, porous borders and the lack of resources and cooperation only compound the problem.
Given the reach of drug trafficking networks and their rapidly evolving methods, we must constantly refine our understanding to formulate the most effective response.
We face a particular challenge in West Africa and the Sahel. Our latest estimates have found $1.25 billion of cocaine transiting through West Africa each year. A rising portion of drugs entering West African coasts use the Sahel route on the way to the Mediterranean.
And in a particularly disturbing development, West Africa is no longer just a transit route for drug traffickers but a growing destination, with more than a million users of illicit drugs. Rising consumption aggravates an already challenging public health environment and threatens socio-economic development.
Our work is guided by the Conventions against organized crime, drug trafficking and corruption, as well as the international instruments on terrorism, which must be implemented in full compliance with human rights standards and norms. I urge all Member States to ratify and fully implement these Conventions and instruments without delay.
We also need to generate partnerships to support victims. Engagement with civil society and community groups is critical.
There is also a need for a strong transatlantic approach that combines efforts from Latin America, West Africa and Europe.
In too many places, however, weak intergovernmental cooperation stands in marked contrast to the closely networked structure of transnational criminal groups.
We must help countries of the region strengthen their capacities to ensure public safety and security.
At the same time, we must act against money laundering and the use of illicit wealth to commit additional crimes such as human trafficking and arms smuggling.
The United Nations is taking action in all these areas and supporting projects that offer technical advice and build national capacities. These include initiatives to analyse containers in ports, as well as the movement of goods at airports.
We are working with Member States to stop the movement of precursor chemicals used to make illegal drugs, while also boosting efforts to dismantle criminal networks. We are also helping with drug treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation programmes.
Above all, we need a coordinated approach – and action in this area is an important part of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.
In the same vein, our law enforcement and health efforts should fully support the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan to address the growing problem of Illicit Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Drug Abuse in West Africa.
Drug trafficking presents an enormous challenge to peace, stability, economic and social development in West Africa and the Sahel.
We must promote a coherent, integrated and pragmatic international response, rooted in sustainable development and the full respect for human rights.
I encourage Member States to actively engage in a broad and open discussion leading up to the September 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem.
As we work to advance the post-2015 development agenda, the challenges of organized crime must be a fundamental part of the discussion.
Our aim must be to relieve citizens of the burden of crime, but also to lift them out of the conditions that enable crime to grow.
That means addressing corruption, poverty and the lack of essential services. It means providing better education, promoting the rule of law and expanding opportunities for women, young people and marginalized groups.
Solutions are not easy and will take time. Let us commit to work together for dignity and a better sustainable future for all of the people of West Africa and the Sahel.