Monday, April 12, 2010

Organized Crime: Billions for banks but not for fighting trafficking in illicit drugs, weapons and people

Panamanian motor vessel Gatun during the largest drug bust in U.S. Coast Guard history (20 tons of cocaine) off the Coast of Panama

By Bob Narmer
Republished courtesy of IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

GEVENA (IDN) - The message is loud and clear: while governments spend billions of dollars in funding banks that caused the current, far-reaching global financial crisis, the UN agency spearheading the global war against trans-national criminal networks as part of an integrated strategy to combat drugs, crime and terrorism is “woefully short of the resources needed”.

In a new 71-page report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states this dramatic fact while dealing with every aspect of its activities, from security, justice and integrity to health, research and forensic services.

Currently, “resources available are minute compared to the gigantic menace that we face,” affirms the agency's executive director Antonio Maria Costa in his introduction to the report.

Cutting criminal networks disrupts a range of illicit activities that carve out paths of death and destruction through some of the world’s most fragile regions, he adds.

UNODC appealed for “much greater funding”, while stressing how advances in globalization had helped to strengthen trans-national organized crime.

“Taking advantage of innovations in technology, communication and transportation, loose networks of criminals or insurgents can easily link with each other, and also with organized criminal groups that operate internationally.”


These criminal networks smuggle illicit drugs, weapons, natural resources, counterfeit goods and human beings across borders and between continents for the enrichment of criminals, insurgents and crooked officials.

“In some cases, they generate economic profits that support terrorist groups as well,” according to UNODC, which adds that the common thread connecting these malignant webs is trans-national organized crime, which is largely driven by drug trafficking.

“No country can deal with terrorism alone,” the report warns and calls for a comprehensive global response that brings perpetrators to trial in their home countries or through extradition, with no country offering a safe haven to terrorists.

This year the Vienna-based UN specialized agency intends to enhance its focus on knowledge-building in what it calls “specialized areas”.

Such areas are all extremely frightening: “nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism, the financing of terrorism, maritime issues and the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes.”

Noting that “organized crime, drug trafficking, corruption and terrorism are tightly intertwined” the report highlights the potentially “catastrophic” effects of trans-national crime on security.


“Traffickers have far more resources than States in poor and vulnerable transit areas like the Andes, Central America, the Caribbean, West Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia.”

They use their dirty money to buy political and economic influence, often resorting to bloodshed to assert control, it said, citing West Africa as a case in point, with the region becoming a key transit hub for smuggling 1 billion-dollars-worth of cocaine from Latin America to a booming market in Europe.

“West Africa is a paradise for organized crime, offering ideal conditions for trafficking contraband: a strategic location, porous borders, weak governance, widespread poverty and extensive corruption,” the report explains.

The region is also a destination for counterfeit medicines and toxic waste and a source of stolen natural resources, particularly oil, and for human trafficking, whether for forced labour or sexual exploitation.

Operating largely with impunity, drug traffickers are breeding widespread corruption and threatening security in the region.

As maritime interdictions of illegal cargo increase thanks in part to the global UNODC Container Control Programme, “traffickers active in West Africa are increasingly taking to the skies. A clandestine fleet of jet aircraft regularly transports cocaine and possibly weapons to West Africa from Latin America.”


The crime and drugs agency reports: “The drugs are transported onward for distribution in Europe, but it is likely that the weapons stay in the region. The planes return to Latin America carrying unexamined cargo and unidentified passengers who may be involved in illicit activities.”

UNODC warns that of the more than 420 million maritime containers that move around the globe each year, accounting for 90 per cent of international trade, only 2 percent are inspected, creating opportunities for crime syndicates and terrorists to use them.

Stressing the need for strong domestic law enforcement, the reported cites Somalia, where the absence of an effective central government since 1991 has provoked a surge of maritime hijackings off the Horn of Africa.

“While a few years ago Somali pirates attacked fishing trawlers, today, armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, they take on oil tankers, cruise liners and cargo ships. On average, they make 1 million dollars per heist,” it noted.


On human trafficking, with women comprising 80 to 84 percent of the victims, UNODC says that sexual exploitation accounted for 79 percent, followed by forced labour with 18 percent.

But many types of trafficking may be underreported. “Through coercion, deceit or force, they are exploited for their labour, sex or even their organs,” it adds. “Almost every country in the world is affected by this crime against humanity, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination.”

Currently the agency relies on voluntary contributions, mainly from Governments, which cover more than 90 per cent of its budget – 504.7 million dollars for the biennium 2008-2009 – but much more is needed.

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