Transnational Organized Crime ‘a Vicious Threat’ to Sustainable Development, Rule of Law, Secretary-General Tells Security Council, Urging Unity Combating Menace

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council debate on “Transnational organized crime, growing challenges and new threats”, in New York today:

I commend the initiative of Ecuador to focus attention on the growing threats posed by transnational organized crime.

Often invisible but always insidious, transnational organized crime is a vicious threat to peace, security and sustainable development wherever it operates.  And it operates everywhere — in all countries, rich and poor, North and South, developed and developing.  Meanwhile, cyberspace is a virtual El Dorado for criminals.

The activities of transnational organized crime take many forms, but the ramifications are the same:  weakened governance, corruption and lawlessness, open violence, death and destruction.

Illicit financial flows are not abstract figures.  They amount to billions of missed development opportunities, lost livelihoods and worsened poverty.  On the African continent alone, more money is lost due to tax evasion, money-laundering and illicit financial flows than comes in in through official development assistance.

Human trafficking — a heinous violation of fundamental human rights that preys on the most vulnerable — continues with impunity.  If anything, it is growing worse — especially for women and girls, who form the majority of trafficked people identified globally.

Drug trafficking — the most lucrative business for transnational organized crime groups — is at record-highs, creating vectors of violence that span the globe.

The growing illicit trade in firearms is fuelling conflicts, killing and maiming millions and contributing to a dramatic increase in criminal activities in many areas of the world.  This was a central issue in my discussions at the last CARICOM [Caribbean Community] summit.  And trafficking in natural resources, wildlife and other commodities and services is destroying people and planet.

All these activities are increasingly interlinked and sponsored by true multinational corporations of global crime.  Amidst a world in crisis, illicit economies find fertile ground to grow.

The socio-economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and its uneven recovery, widening inequalities, a rising cost-of-living crisis, shrinking fiscal space, and worsening poverty and unemployment all weaken State authority, fray the social fabric, and heighten insecurities.

Transnational organized crime and conflict feed off each other.  Crime is a catalyst for conflict.  And when conflict rages, crime thrives.  It undermines the authority and effectiveness of State institutions, erodes the rule of law and destabilizes law enforcement structures.

From Afghanistan to Colombia, the production and trafficking of illicit drugs fuelled brutal and long-lasting conflicts.  And all across the world, criminal groups spread violence, fear and insecurity in their effort to control trafficking routes.

Haiti is caught in a vicious cycle of State collapse, escalating gang violence and a growing illicit trade of firearms smuggled into the country.  The illicit trade incentivizes gangs to gain control of ports, highways and other critical infrastructure.

In Myanmar, human trafficking and online scams, often run from outside the country, are flourishing in an environment of violence, repression and the erosion of the rule of law following the military takeover in 2021.

In many conflicts, the activities of transnational criminal groups and armed groups overlap and intersect, making conflict resolution even harder.  The links between organized crime and terrorism are a matter of particular concern.

Organized crime groups develop opportunistic alliances with armed actors designated as terrorist groups by this Council, often to profit from various forms of trafficking.

At the same time, terrorist groups seek out connections with organized crime to fund their activities.  In the Sahel, the illicit trade in fuel, drugs, arms and natural resources is providing operational resources to armed groups across the region, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions.

Criminal networks use the vast sums of money generated by their activities to hire armed groups to protect them, adding new layers of complexities to ongoing conflicts — as it is the case in Libya.

And in Somalia, Al-Shabaab’s control of the illicit trade in charcoal radiates insecurity across the region and is devastating forests with dramatic ramifications.

The Security Council has long recognized the danger posed by transnational organized crime to international peace and security, including in resolution 2482 (2018).  But, we must do more to strengthen our defences.

I see three priorities for action.  First, we must strengthen cooperation.  Criminal groups work across borders and geographies.  We must meet this global challenge with a global response.  Multilateral cooperation is the only credible path to target the criminal dynamics that fuel violence and prolong cycles of conflict.

We have the blueprint:  the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its three additional protocols.  I call on all Member States to fully implement the Convention and work together and assist each other in investigating and prosecuting organized crime groups.

We are also supporting Member States to address the links between transnational organized crime and terrorism through the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact.  And I am hopeful that Member States will reach consensus on a new treaty on cybercrime to deepen cooperation while protecting human rights online — in line with my report on Our Common Agenda. 

Stronger international and regional cooperation is critical to facilitate the collection, sharing and exchange of data — because we cannot target what we cannot see.  Organized crime has been quick to exploit cryptocurrencies and digital tools.  Our response must be even faster, more organized and more data driven.

Second, we must strengthen the rule of law.  The rule of law is foundational to our efforts to find peaceful solutions to conflicts, and tackle the multifaceted threats posed by transnational organized crime.

When the rule of law is effective, it has unmatched potential to build trust between institutions and the people they serve.  It creates a level playing field and contributes to reducing corruption.  It underpins human rights and enables sustainable social, political and economic development, leaving no one behind.

All stakeholders — Member States, regional organizations, civil society and the private sector — have a responsibility to uphold the rule of law.  But the reality today is that many countries are at grave risk of the “rule of lawlessness”. From unconstitutional seizures of power to the trampling of human rights, Governments themselves are contributing to disorder and a lack of accountability.

When the rule of law is weak, the consequences reach across all spheres of public and private life:  impunity prevails, crime flourishes and the risk of violent conflict grows exponentially.  My New Vision for the Rule of Law is aimed at reinforcing its centrality in all activities of our Organization.  We stand ready to support Member States in their efforts to strengthen the rule of law through our Country Teams around the world.

Third, we must strengthen prevention and foster inclusion. This means redoubling our efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — our best instrument to create the economic and social conditions in which organized crime cannot succeed.

It means ensuring respect for all human rights — civil, political, economic, social and cultural.    It means tackling cybercrime and more effectively thwarting criminal groups that use technology in every step of their malicious activities.

It means tailoring crime-prevention strategies to reflect the lived experiences of all communities and constituencies — especially minorities, women and young people.  And it means advancing gender equality, because women’s effective participation is essential to successful conflict prevention, peacemaking and sustaining peace.

Time and again, purely military and law enforcement responses have not only proven their limits — they have also proven self-defeating.  We must strive towards a better balance between preventive and security responses.  Combating crime must never be used as an excuse for trampling on people’s human rights.

In all of this, we must remain alert to the constantly changing nature of organized crime and [continuously] rethink our approaches — both how we work and how we work with others.  Our efforts must be coherent, coordinated, context-specific and centred on prevention.

The Security Council has a critical role in our collective fight against organized crime.  But, to succeed, we must act together and stand united.  Together, let us commit to create a more peaceful and stable world in which organized crime has no place.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.