Press Releases

    L/PMO/2
    12 December 2000

    HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL SIGNING CONFERENCE FOR UN CONVENTION AGAINST
    TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME OPENS IN PALERMO, ITALY

    Meeting Addressed by Presidents of Italy and Poland,
    UN Secretary-General, Head of UN Drug Control and Crime Prevention Office

     

    The High-level Political Signing Conference for the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its two protocols began this morning in Palermo, Italy.

    In an address to the opening of the four-day Conference, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Campi declared that the Convention and its protocols created for the first time an international framework to combat organized crime.

    "We cannot waste time", he stated. Organized crime believed it had gained unlimited scope through the advancements in information technology, which had opened new paths for the spread of criminal activities. "It is up to us to close off those paths with the appropriate measures." Policies for prevention and law enforcement would be more effective if they were backed by shared ethical values.

    The President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, whose country submitted the initial draft of the Convention to the United Nations in 1996, said the Convention sent a signal to the world that the United Nations was determined to wage war against crime. The universal nature of the Convention was its greatest strength. The text defined transnational organized crime and established instruments covering a range of related areas. It would help ensure that the international community entered the new millennium with an effective counter-measure against such crime.

    The fact that the Convention was ready for signing after so short a period of time was a testimony to the good will and mobilization of the international community.

    United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the Conference was evidence of the will of the international community to answer a global challenge with a global response. If crime crossed all borders, so must law enforcement.

    The Convention provided a new tool to address the scourge of crime as global problem, he said. With enhanced international cooperation, the international community could have a real impact on the ability of international criminals to operate successfully. He urged all States to ratify the Convention at the earliest possible date, as well as its Protocol on trafficking, which could make a real difference in the struggle to eliminate the reprehensible trade in human beings.

    The Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Pino Arlacchi, said that the Convention and the two accompanying protocols would help eliminate the inconsistencies among States that criminal networks were currently exploiting. The Treaty brought together the best practices developed in several parts of the globe to combat criminal powers. It also contained the most advanced "toolkit" ever to be made available to policy makers, investigators and civil society to prevent large-scale crimes. It was therefore a powerful global weapon to fight the mafias of the world.

    Also addressing the meeting this morning was the Minister of Justice of Italy, Piero Fassino, who told participants that yesterday his Government had taken a proposal whereby 25 per cent of the confiscated proceeds of organized crime would be paid annually to the United Nations to help it fight transnational criminality.

    Statements were also made this morning by the President of Sicily and both the President and Mayor of Palermo.

    The meeting observed a minute of silence in honour of those who had lost their lives in the fight against organized crime.

    Conference Work Programme

    The High-Level Political Signing Conference on the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime met this morning to hold its inaugural session.

    The Convention -- the first international treaty of the twenty-first century and the first legally binding United Nations treaty to fight organized crime -- was adopted by the General Assembly on 15 November and will enter into force after 40 countries have ratified it. Also open for signature will be two protocols, one to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and the other against the smuggling of migrants by land, sea and air.

    The new treaty will officially open for signature immediately following the opening ceremony, which will be addressed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, as well as several heads of State and government, government officials and dignitaries.

    (For further background on the Convention and the Conference, see United Nations Press Release L/PMO/1 issued on 11 December.)

    Statements

    CARLO AZEGLIO CIAMPI, President of Italy: The High-Level Political Signing Conference on the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime opens the signing of the world’s first legal instrument, adopted by the General Assembly, to combat crimes of the most heinous nature. The Convention, together with the Protocols on Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants, for the first time creates an international framework to combat organized crime. Italy is at the forefront of this endeavor by, among other things, reducing insecurity in Sicily. My presence here today in Palermo, together with the text of the Treaty, generates confidence.

    We cannot waste time. We must acknowledge that organized crime is the gravest problem of our time. Combating crime must become stronger and more effective. Policies for prevention and law enforcement will be more effective if they are backed by ethical values which are shared by all. Organized crime believes it has gained unlimited scope through the advancements in information technology, which has opened new paths for the spread of criminal activities. It is up to us to close off those paths with the appropriate measures.

    I pay tribute to all those here in Sicily who had the courage to stand up to organized crime. We should continue with confidence and encouragement on the path that has begun. I hope the Convention and its protocols will go into effect as soon as possible and I wish the Conference every success.

    KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations: This signing Conference for the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is evidence of the will of the international community to answer a global challenge with a global response. If crime crosses all borders, so must law enforcement.

    One of the starkest contrasts in our world today is the gulf that exists between the civil and the uncivil. By civil I mean civilization -- the accumulated centuries of learning that form our foundation for progress. By civil I also mean tolerance -- the pluralism and respect with which we accept and draw strength from the world’s diverse peoples. And finally I mean civil society -- the citizens’ groups, businesses, unions, professors, journalists, political parties and others who have an essential role to play in the running of any society.

    Arrayed against these constructive forces, in ever greater numbers and with ever stronger weapons, are the forces of what I call "uncivil society". They are terrorists, criminals, drug dealers, traffickers in people, and others who undo the good works of civil society. They take advantage of the open borders, free markets and technological advances. They thrive in countries with weak institutions. And they show no scruple about resorting to intimidation or violence. They are powerful, representing entrenched interests and the clout of a global enterprise worth billions of dollars. But they are not invincible.

    The Millennium Declaration adopted last September by the Heads of State meeting at the United Nations reaffirmed the principles underlying our efforts, and should serve to encourage all who struggle for the rule of law. At great cost to their lives and livelihoods, the people of Palermo have succeeded in overcoming the organized criminality that tarnished the name of their beautiful city for many years. Their success is testimony to the fact that the forces of "uncivil society" can be defeated.

    At the recent United Nations General Assembly Millennium Summit, world leaders proclaimed freedom -- from fear and from want -- as one of the essential values in the twenty-first century. Yet the right to live in dignity, free from fear and want, is still denied to millions of people around the world.

    I believe the trafficking of persons, particularly women and children, for forced and exploitative labour, including for sexual exploitation, is one of the most egregious violations of human rights which the United Nations now confronts. The fate of these most vulnerable people in our world is an affront to human dignity and a challenge to every State, every people and every community. I therefore urge the Member States not only to ratify the Convention, but also the Protocol on trafficking, which can make a real difference in the struggle to eliminate this reprehensible trade in human beings.

    Criminal groups have wasted no time in embracing today's globalized economy and the sophisticated technology that goes with it. But our efforts to combat them have remained up to now very fragmented and our weapons almost obsolete.

    The Palermo Convention gives us a new tool to address the scourge of crime as global problem. With enhanced international cooperation, we can have a real impact on the ability of international criminals to operate successfully. I urge all States to ratify the Convention at the earliest possible date, and to bring this Convention into force as a matter of urgency.

    PIERO FASSINO, Minister of Justice of Italy: Judges Giovanni Falconi and Paolo Borsellino are symbols of the blood shed by citizens in the fight against organized crime. Combating such crime is therefore one of the major commitments of the twenty-first century. In the past, the main concerns of individual governments were to guarantee order and legality in each of their societies. Today, this is no longer sufficient. Globalization has opened borders. We are no longer citizens of individual countries, but of the world. Crime is more organized at a transnational level while technology has increased mobility for all. Both licit and illicit interests have become transnational and new figures of illegality have arisen, as have new forms of crime.

    There is therefore a need to strengthen international law and cooperation in law enforcement. This, fortunately, seems to be a global trend that is being asserted more and more. The International Criminal Tribunals of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the establishment of the International Criminal Court in Rome and various other conventions, treaties and charters are testaments to this. Collectively they all stress why the new United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is so important to our planet. The new instrument contains legislative possibilities that will become the core of the fight against organized crime. It will also be the fundamental mechanism to fight a criminal market that is both expanding and becoming stronger. The Convention’s importance is further enforced by its two accompanying protocols as well. My Government therefore hopes that all Member States will sign the instruments.

    Yesterday, my Government took up a proposal whereby annually, 25 per cent of the confiscated proceeds of organized crime will be paid to the United Nations to help it fight transnational criminality.

    Vincenzo LEANZA, President of the Region of Sicily: The Conference is a historic event in the fight against organized crime and the struggle for democracy. The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime will facilitate cooperation between States. While crime has taken on international dimensions, law enforcement has been limited by national boundaries. The Conference will be the starting point for a new season in the fight against organized crime.

    In an age of globalization, a strong, determined and incisive policy is needed. This policy must spread to the international level. The national State is too small to take on transnational problems.

    The President of the Province of Palermo, FRANCESCO MUSOTTO: The province of Sicily is honoured that the High-Level Political Signing Conference on the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime is taking place in our region. The great attention with which the province is following the proceedings of the conference is not a due to a mere formality but of a deeper nature. Our programme in Sicily is based on the three pillars of development, employment and security. All our efforts are being used so that the effects of organized crime on the daily lives of our citizens can be reduced. Our aim is to have the region be appropriate for entrepreneurial activities so it can be totally inappropriate for organized crime. For this, we would like financial support and decisive help from Europe.

    Governments want to guarantee security for their people. That is what the Sicilian community strives for. There should be no discouragement for its activities. Young people should not be pessimistic. The deliberations of the Conference will not fall on shallow ground. I wish you all success.

    LEOLUCA ORLANDO, Mayor of the City of Palermo: In the past, Palermo was a symbol of fear, pain and the violent supremacy of the mafia. Today, it has been culturally reborn and can now stand up in the fight against organized crime. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who are not here today because they were killed in the struggle against the mafia. The commitment of civil society, particularly citizens, has been fundamental in the fight against organized crime. Palermo could not have changed without such a commitment.

    Law enforcement, cultural and socio-economic progress are the two wheels of the cart that need to revolve together to fight organized crime. This is the model that Palermo now offers to the planet. This city once exported the disease of evil to the world -- now it offers a cure. In Palermo, the mafia has lost its cultural hegemony and no longer controls the people.

    Aleksander Kwasniewski, President of Poland: Organized crime is one of the toughest challenges facing the international community. The Convention sends a signal to the world that the United Nations is determined to wage a war against crime.

    A new chapter in international cooperation is being opened. The world is becoming smaller and increasingly interdependent. Globalization provides great opportunities, but is also fraught with risks. Organized crime crosses State and continental borders and is a threat to the very fabric of societies. Only immediate and radical joint action can give us a chance to effectively fight against it.

    Poland presented the first draft of the Convention in 1996, which led to concrete and substantive negotiations. That after only three years the Convention is ready for signing is a testimony to the good will and mobilization of the international community.

    The universal nature of the Convention is its greatest strength. The text defines transnational organized crime and establishes instruments covering a range of areas. It will help ensure that the international community enters the new millennium with an effective counter-measure against organized crime. We are united around this cause. The new century must be a time of peaceful order and justice.

    PINO ARLACCHI, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention: The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and its two accompanying protocols is the first legally binding United Nations instrument to fight organized crime. The Treaty will help eliminate the inconsistencies among States that criminal networks are currently exploiting. It brings together the best practices in combating criminal powers developed in several parts of the globe. The instrument also contains "the most advanced toolkit ever to be made available to policy makers, investigators and civil society to prevent large-scale crimes. It is therefore a powerful global weapon to fight the mafias of the world in the future.

    The two protocols are a response to the changing nature of transnational organized crime. They are remedies for the increase in economic and sexual slavery -- much of which involves the trafficking of women and children. They will also expedite international cooperation, giving strength and confidence to all men and women committed to combating these gross violations of basic human rights. In addition, they will bring about a change in the way we see and treat those working as child labourers or prostitutes. They will no longer be viewed as accomplices. Now they will be known for what they are -- victims of a new form of slavery.

    Until recently, Palermo was the centre of one of the world’s most notorious mafias. Our presence here this week and the adoption of the Convention is a potent symbol of hope. It is a lesson for those who believe that cross-border crime is invincible -- too big or too complex to be faced down by the rule of law. That defeatist attitude used to be shared by many on this island and bred a specific culture that viewed the mafia as a natural phenomenon, if not inevitable. At the beginning of the 1980s, some enlightened Sicilians challenged this cycle of despair. They started to fight the mafia and political corruption by beginning with a simple principle -- that real change could and should occur. Today, Sicilians know the mafia for what it really was -- a ferocious, unsophisticated expression of criminal violence.

    Of course no one should pretend that facing down the mafia was easy. We cannot adopt these international instruments today without thinking of those who led the fight against organized crime in Sicily. Each was pivotal in winning over the majority through education and careful persuasion and helped to turn fear into courage. It is a tragedy that those like Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino are not here today to celebrate with us. Their deaths remind us that the struggle against organized crime is never cost-free. This is the reason why this Convention is a milestone measure and a living tribute to the thousands of men and women who have lost their lives in pursuit of a world free of mafias and criminal violence. I hope that today will be the beginning of a process -- one that will result in the reclaiming of many cities around the world for peace, justice and the rule of law.

     

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