By Yury Fedotov
The author is the Executive Director of the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Following are extensive excerpts from his remarks – made available by the UN Information Service – at the UN General Assembly side event on transnational organized crime challenges and responses in Southeast Asia on June 19, 2017. – The Editor
NEW YORK (IDN-INPS) – Transnational organized crime is a growing challenge to security and development in Southeast Asia. It threatens the very foundations of the rule of law, the integrity of public institutions, and the basic security and health of people and communities.
This special event follows on the General Assembly High Level Thematic Debate on transnational organized crime, and provides a timely opportunity to review challenges and responses to organized crime in one of the world’s most dynamic regions.
We see clear evidence that organized criminal groups in the region are exploiting legal trade patterns and gaps in law enforcement and criminal justice systems to conduct their illicit activities, generating immense profits and fuelling corruption.
They employ all means available to them as they establish trafficking routes and mechanisms which allow them to illicitly transfer all kinds of contraband – from drugs to natural resources, and even people.
These structures also serve as a conduit for the financing of terrorist activities.
UNODC conducted a study of transnational organized crime patterns in East Asia, which conservatively estimated that criminal groups made nearly 100 billion dollars every year from different forms of transnational organized crime.
This amount, which represents several times the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a number of countries in the region, bypasses the licit economy and directly feeds further illegal activities. And it has very likely grown since this research was undertaken.
In terms of the income generated, the trafficking of drugs, counterfeit goods and illegal wood products are the largest flows, followed by illegal wildlife, migrant smuggling and human trafficking.
The production and trafficking of illicit drugs is of particular concern in Southeast Asia.
With one of the global centres of opium poppy cultivation in the region – the Golden Triangle – heroin and other opiates continue to feed into markets within and well beyond the region itself.
Southeast Asia and neighbouring countries now represent some of the largest and fastest expanding methamphetamine markets in the world, with substantial amounts of precursor chemicals being diverted and trafficked.
The social and health harms caused by illicit drugs are immense.
Illegal logging is a key factor in the destruction of some the last wild rainforest.
Alongside the immediate economic impact and loss of income caused by these crimes, we cannot ignore the threats they pose to security and the environment.
UNODC is fully engaged in supporting the region to address these challenges.
Under the Regional Programme for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, we are promoting and facilitating regional cooperation through support for frameworks and agreements that reflect Member States’ needs and priorities.
Our partnership with ASEAN remains a firm foundation for UNODC’s work across the region.
The Mekong Memorandum of Understanding on Drug Control provides an important framework for cooperation among six Member States to counter drug production, trafficking and use, and it has been aligned recently with the outcome of the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs.
In addition, the Bali Process is bringing Member States together to address migrant smuggling.
2015 marked the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community, which binds the region together into one of the largest economic and political blocs in the world.
Economic integration and the development of trade infrastructure in remote border areas present difficulties for border security.
UNODC supports a variety of mechanisms to address these evolving challenges.
A network of border liaison offices across mainland Southeast Asia provides a basis for initiating and facilitating practical steps in cross-border communication and operational cooperation.
Formal and informal networks among prosecutors and criminal justice practitioners serve to strengthen mutual legal assistance.
Databases and networks for sharing information and intelligence are helping us to understand and address emerging trends and challenges.
. . . I would like thank and commend Member States in the region for their close cooperation with UNODC.
We look forward to strengthening all of these initiatives with our partners to ensure that Southeast Asia can meet the threats posed by transnational organized crime, and that UNODC’s support for your efforts is as effective and efficient as possible. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 June 2017]
Photo: UNODC Chief Yury Fedotov. | Credit: UNODC
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