Press Releases

    L/PMO/05
    13 December 2000

     

    PALERMO CONVENTION’S HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL SIGNING CONFERENCE CONTINUES
    HEARING STATEMENTS ON COMBATTING TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME

     

    The High-Level Political Signing Conference for the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime met this morning to begin its second day of statements by governmental representatives.

    During the four-day Conference, which began yesterday in Palermo, Italy, countries have the opportunity to sign the Convention as well as its protocols dealing with trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. The treaty, adopted by the General Assembly on 15 November, will enter into force once 40 countries have ratified it.

    While many speakers saw the Palermo Convention as a very important step forward in the fight against organized crime, a number of them warned against viewing the Treaty and its protocols as a final measure. Many stressed that it was just a starting point to move forward. Others praised the instrument’s flexibility, noting that it was conceived in such way that its scope could be widened by the addition of certain legal instruments.

    In his statement this morning, Italian Senator Michele Figurelli announced that a proposal referred to yesterday whereby 25 per cent of the assets seized from organized crime would be earmarked annually for the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention was now a part of Italian budget legislation. To those who would question whether the 25 per cent figure was not too large a cost, he declared that 25 per cent was not a decrease or loss of Italy’s own resources, but an investment. "We must give strength to the objectives and goals enshrined in the texts [of the newly adopted instruments]", he stated.

    Sweden’s Minister of Justice said that the Convention, with its wide scope of application, would make it possible to render effective mutual legal assistance and would represent a key milestone for future international cooperation. The successful conclusion of the Convention was only the first step and the next stage would be their entry into force.

    The Convention, noted Turkey’s representative, did not address all aspects of combating organized crime, for it failed to explicitly refer to the evident link between terrorist groups and other organized criminal groups. It must be ensured that anyone committing a criminal act covered by the Convention and its protocols would not be immune from justice by claiming political motives. The perpetrators of crimes, which fell within the treaty’s scope, should not remain unprosecuted and unpunished by escaping from the jurisdiction of one country and taking refuge in another.

    The Minister of the Interior of Spain said that while there was a very broad definition to ensure effectiveness in fighting transnational organized crime, loopholes for escaping the law were amazing, including the recourse to political explanation and protection. The lack of mutual confidence among States and national egotism would undoubtedly create some frustration in the pursuit of international cooperation. Borders were the primary allies of organized crime and guaranteed that law enforcement agencies did not function effectively. "We must ensure that organized crime has no safe haven."

    The Justice Minister of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, said that corrupt institutions were the main breeding ground for organized crime. The level of corruption in some countries was so high that it was becoming senseless to be an honest politician. "What chance does one stand in countries in which judges are paid the equivalent of $50 a month?", he asked.

    A number of other speakers equated the rapid growth of transnational organized crime with the equally rapid spread of globalization, and called for a pooling of international efforts to stem the criminality that benefited from that process.

    Senegal’s Minister of Justice said that in an era of globalization, criminal organizations are taking advantage of more open borders and technological progress to increase their reach. Crime was becoming increasingly transnational and criminals were becoming better informed with better tools at their disposal. Transnational organized crime had reached such large proportions that governments by themselves were not able to effectively combat it.

    Statements were also made by ministers or representatives of Portugal, China, Algeria, Ukraine, United States, Argentina, Japan, Republic of Korea, Denmark, Thailand and Brazil. A representative of the European Community also addressed the meeting.

    The Conference will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue hearing statements by government representatives.

    Conference Work Programme

    The High-Level Signing Conference for the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime met this morning to begin the second day of statements by Heads of State or Government and other government representatives. The Convention, adopted by the General Assembly on 15 November, will enter into force after 40 countries have ratified it.

    During the four-day Conference, countries will also have the opportunity to sign 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.

    Statements

    The Minister of Justice of Senegal, MAMADOU LAMINE BA: In this era of globalization, criminal organizations are taking advantage of more open borders and technological progress to increase their reach. We are now witnessing an increase in transnational organized crime all over the world. The advances made by science and technology have led to changes, whose effects are visible in our society. Crime is becoming increasingly transnational and criminals are becoming better informed with improved tools at their disposal. We are trying to combat illegal drug trafficking and trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and firearms, as well as eliminate money-laundering, all of which undermine democracy.

    Transnational organized crime has reached such large proportions that governments by themselves are not able to effectively combat the phenomenon. That is why the United Nations has invited countries to pool their efforts through the Convention and its related protocols. The challenge is great but if we pool our efforts we can meet that challenge. We are talking about the most important legal instrument at the beginning of the twenty-first century. For us in Senegal, the Convention and its protocols provide a way for public authorities to fight crime and cooperate to combat all criminal activities.

    The Minister of Justice of Portugal, ANTONIO COSTA: New forms of organized crime are in step with the latest technology. They constitute the greatest threats to modern democracy and peace. Transnational organized crime undoubtedly represents a serious threat to the normal development of international relations. Success in the struggle against transnational organized crime depends on the harmonization of national legislation and improving measures for international cooperation in both developed and developing countries. The General Assembly’s approval of the Convention and its protocols, as well as the holding of this Conference, is a clear sign of the determination of the international community to fight organized crime.

    United Nations Member States must not miss this opportunity to fight organized crime based on solidarity and cooperation. Our immediate goal is clear. It is a political imperative, which can only be implemented through a sufficient number of ratifications of the Convention. At the same time, we need to balance the need to punish offences and the protection of national sovereignty. Portugal has already signed the Convention and will continue to support all initiatives in order to conclude the protocol on firearms. Portugal has always supported the initiatives of the United Nations, especially the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP) in Vienna.

    AYDIN SAHINBAS (Turkey): Establishing only a penal and law enforcement regime cannot totally prevent organized criminal activities. For final success, appropriate social-economic measures that will eliminate the root causes of this problem should be introduced. Turkey has taken a number of steps in this respect, including the Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering (1996); the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (1997); the Regulation on Controlled Delivery (1997); and the new Law on Banks (1999). In addition, the main legal instrument against organized crime is the Law on Combating Profit-Oriented Criminal Organizations (1999), which is similar to the Convention now being signed.

    The completion of the Convention and its protocols is only the first step. As a next step, we should exert every effort to put these legal instruments into force as soon as possible. The last phase will be implementation, which is crucial. Unfortunately, the Convention does not address all aspects of combating organized crime. It fails to explicitly refer to the evident link between terrorist groups and other organized criminal groups. Despite this fact, we still believe that the Treaty and its protocols will improve the fight against transnational crime, should all the provisions be applied with determination. We should also make sure that anyone who commits a criminal act covered by the Conventions and its protocols should not be immune from justice by claiming political motives.

    Expeditious implementation of articles 16 and 18 of the Treaty regarding the extradition and mutual legal assistance by States parties will constitute the crucial aspect of the fight against transnational crime. The perpetrators of any crime within the scope of the Convention and its protocols should not remain unprosecuted and unpunished by escaping from the jurisdiction of one country and taking refuge in another.

    The Vice Foreign Minister of China, WANG GUANGYA: The Convention represents a new milestone in international cooperation against transnational organized crime. The nature of this crime dictates that such cooperation be further strengthened. Only then can we combat and control it effectively. We must not fail to see that the key to the expected effective role of the Convention in fighting organized crime lies in the faithful implementation of all its provisions.

    We hope that the High-level Political Signing Conference will serve as a catalyst for an early entry into force of the Convention and thus its effective implementation. The fact that representatives from so many countries are gathering here in Palermo for the Conference is another testimony to the determination of all the participants, and the countries and the organizations they represent. We have the confidence and the ability to jointly meet the challenge of transnational organized crime, which is the most destructive force in the twenty-first century.

    Minister of Finance of Algeria, ABDELATIF BENACHENHOU: Having signed the Convention yesterday, we became aware of two major obligations. The first is to achieve results and the second is to analyse and assess. Achieving results involves three aspects. First, to ensure that the international legal obligations are translated into our domestic legislation. The first step was signing, then ratifying and translating the texts into national legislation. The second aspect is related to the development of national efforts. Signing the Convention does not create the necessary domestic expertise in our countries. We need to train more legal personnel, particularly judges, and create greater competence regarding the implementation of the Convention. The third aspect is related to transmitting more information to civil society, especially the media.

    The second responsibility is to analyse and assess. The common base of analysis may not be enough. From Algeria’s point of view, there are three areas that need further assessment. The first is a better understanding of the relationship between crime and the pace of economic liberalization. Many of our countries are moving rapidly in the area of economic liberalization, particularly regarding trade. They are not able to master that link and further assessment of that relationship is necessary. The second area is the link between organized crime and the transition towards greater democracy. In that period of transition there are certain elements which lead to greater organized crime.

    The third area is the link between organized crime and the security of States, particularly financially unstable small States. This is an area which the United Nations can look at more carefully. There is also the link between organized crime and terrorism. Algeria has paid a high price in this respect, but thanks to the efforts of our people we have been able to overcome this problem.

    Vice-Minister for Internal Affairs of Ukraine, KORNIYENKO MIKHAYLO: Transnational organized crime is one of the major obstacles to my country’s current drive to establish democracy. Organized crime is highly mobile and can hide the profits of its activities behind a legal trail. An individual government will thus find it difficult to fight this entity on its own without any recourse to international cooperation. This fact compels us all to collaborate. International cooperation, however, has to be built on a legal basis. And the simplest form of this is the bilateral kind. The training of personnel, technical assistance and information exchange are also very critical.

    All States will also find it useful to ensure that courts and law enforcement agencies react quickly to requests for assistance. Governments have to support the useful initiatives of countries and international entities when its comes to fighting organized crime. The implementation of model laws is also important. Databases on the activities of law enforcement agencies also have to be broadened. High priority must be given to requests for mutual legal assistance as well. The public at large must be involved and kept informed of the fight against transnational crime. We hope the Convention will be a useful tool for us in our battle against organized crime and help ensure that future generations will live in peace and social security.

    The Under-Secretary of State for Global Affairs of the United States, FRANK LOY: It is unprecedented to achieve with consensus, in such a short time, agreement on three international texts on three issues of critical importance to the international community. While globalization has brought progress and expanded economic opportunities to the world, an unfortunate consequence of globalization is transnational organized crime. As the Secretary-General said yesterday, the openness of globalization works both ways. We must match the sophisticated means organized crime has found to exploit globalization.

    The Convention and its protocols include three common themes which characterize successful multilateral agreements. Most importantly, they establish common standards, which all States must meet while allowing for flexibility in how States meet those standards. They allow individual countries to tailor implementation to the specific needs of their countries. The international norms established by the Convention lead to the second common theme. They facilitate increased cooperation among governments, and in this case, among law enforcement agencies. It includes numerous mechanisms for this cooperation.

    Third, the Convention recognizes the humanitarian aspects in fighting organized crime, particularly in dealing with trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. Punishing the criminal is only the beginning. The cornerstone of our work must be the protection of victims and the prevention of these crimes to begin with. Of the three agreements, the Protocol on Trafficking in Persons contains the most far-reaching services for the protection of victims. While the completion of these negotiations is certainly a cause for celebration, we must recognize that the fight against organized crime is far from over. The United States is at the forefront of that fight and we intend to stay there. This year alone, our Government has allocated more than $36 million for training and technical assistance.

    Minister of Interior of Spain, JAIME MAYOR OREJA: The Convention and its protocols will give the international community a new tool to fight organized crime. The instrument will apply to those crimes which are transnational in nature, such as participation in organized criminal groups, money-laundering, obstruction of justice, and other serious crimes which lead to imprisonment of more than four years. So there is a very broad definition to ensure effectiveness in the fight against transnational organized crime. Yet loopholes for escaping the law are amazing and include recourse to political explanation and protection. The task ahead of us is therefore difficult. Also, the lack of mutual confidence among States and national egotism are all factors which will undoubtedly create some frustration as we pursue international cooperation.

    The basic rule of survival for all transnational criminal organizations is based on the principle that they usually receive proceeds or profits in a different locale and not where the crime has taken place. Borders are therefore the primary allies of organized crime. The use of borders guarantees that law enforcement agencies do not function effectively and thus have the desired effect. We must ensure that organized crime has no safe haven. A great deal will thus depend on the implementation of the relevant instruments in the future.

    More and more, there are a growing number of countries facing the same threats and experiencing the same effects. This should lead to the development of a new culture of safety based on shared values and similar perceptions of common enemies. What is extremely important is the development of provisions that will ensure legal cooperation between countries.

    Speaking on behalf of the European Community, ANTONIO VITTORINO: Holding the Conference in Palermo is a way of tribute to a community which has not given up the fight against organized crime and has often paid for it with the loss of life. Today, on behalf of the European Community, I had the honour to sign the Convention and its protocols. We are talking about a serious commitment that has been undertaken by the 15-member Community. This commitment can be justified by what is at stake, namely the international cooperation vital for fighting criminal activities. To counter the threats and dangers, we have to make sure we work together and that perpetrators of crimes can find no safe haven.

    The results achieved in Vienna are significant. The Convention is the first international legal instrument to fight and prevent organized crime, which provides for common legal standards. Fighting money-laundering, which the Community views as an essential pillar in fighting organized crime, and preventing trafficking have to be strengthened through these instruments. The Community is heartened by the progress attained by its member States with regard to police cooperation, particularly through Interpol. It is well aware that technical cooperation will be crucial at the international level. The Community will continue to help the international community through already existing instruments as well as future ones, such as the convention on corruption. We must ensure a culture of prevention, which is necessary for peace and stability at the global level.

    ELSA KELLY (Argentina): Organized crime leads to distortion of economies and sometimes to the corruption of public authorities. The reality of such criminal activities also engenders fear and confusion in societies. Yet the task of combating criminal organizations is not as clear as it may seem. Therefore, it is not only important but necessary to establish a definition of transnational organized crime, which is often unclear. The message of the Convention is that common action is indispensable if we are to combat and destroy the phenomenon. The Convention is trying to fight organized crime, describe prohibited conduct and apply sanctions to criminality. Organized crime and illicit associations are moving at the same pace as the development of international markets. Their privileged financial operations can exploit all advantages and take on board all the recent developments in communication and technology.

    In light of what is being done by organized crime, the international community cannot sit back and watch the situation develop. Efforts, however, have been made at both international and regional levels. Argentina was involved in the development of the Convention and was even the venue for a preparatory meeting for the instrument. The Treaty shows that international cooperation will ensure success in the task ahead of us. The best tool against transnational organized crime is preventative action. We need to undertake positive commitments that will ensure transparency and good government. We must also try to ensure that we develop the necessary policies that can preempt criminal activities.

    The Minister of Justice of Sweden, THOMAS BODSTROM: Crime and criminal justice issues cannot be addressed solely at the national level. To successfully meet the challenges from organized crime, we must be prepared to fully cooperate on all fronts and at all levels, bilaterally as well as regionally and globally. It is a shared responsibility and we must all contribute. We are convinced that the Convention, with its wide scope of application, will make it possible to render effective mutual legal assistance and will thus prove to represent a key milestone for international cooperation in the future. The two related protocols are essential complementary tools to the Convention. While it is certainly important to fight all forms of organized crime, we are particularly concerned with those offences where unscrupulous criminals exploit the suffering of others and derive great profits from it.

    Now that we have successfully completed the negotiations on the Convention and its protocols, we must not forget that this is only a first step. The next stage will be their entry into force. In order for the Convention to really become the vital global instrument we all wish it be in our fight against organized crime, it is of vital importance that participating States take the necessary steps to ratify it as soon as possible. Having done that, we must also see to it that the Convention and its protocols are effectively implemented.

    Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Japan, KIYOHIRO ARAKI: Transnational organized crime, through its recourse to corruption and other illicit measures, disturbs socio-economic progress. Countries must cooperate closely with one another to wipe out this menace and develop an effective legal framework in this respect. The fight against organized crime is a key issue in protecting human security. The adoption of the current Convention is merely a first step. Implementation must follow. Japan has provided a $500, 000 donation to a crime prevention and criminal justice plan to strengthen efforts to address organized crime in developing countries. Youth must be protected from crime.

    ISANUI VEDA (Japan): The Convention and its protocols are an effective set of legal tools to combat organized crimes. More than any other, the Asia Pacific region has experienced rapid globalization. While this process has brought benefits, it has also increased the problem of transnational organized crime. Illicit trafficking in drugs and firearms, money-laundering, murder and robbery are now becoming increasingly serious. Criminal groups in Japan now cooperate closely with groups in other countries. This makes it essential for States to cooperate. It is therefore necessary to develop legal tools and use them effectively. It is incumbent on us in Palermo to make known our firm political resolve to combat transnational organized crime and strengthen the rule of law and justice.

    The Minister of Justice of the Republic of Korea, JUNG-KIL KIM: With their abundant resources and elaborate organizations, criminal groups have been constantly expanding the sphere of their activities. Moreover, in the age of globalization, criminal organizations are also crossing borders to smuggle migrants and to traffic in drugs, human beings and illicit firearms, thus posing a serious threat to the global community. Korea is not free from these problems. With Korea’s rapid economic development, its criminal organizations have expanded the scope of their activities from extortion and the commission of violence-for-hire, to usury, pyramid sales fraud and the liquidation of bankrupt enterprises. Such organizations are also establishing links with foreign criminal groups to bring foreign prostitutes into Korea, as well as drugs, pornographic compact discs, illegal firearms and illegal migrants.

    We view the expansion of organized crime and the increased coordination of international criminal groups as a serious challenge, and have made continuous efforts to address these problems. Along with law enforcement activities, the Government has made efforts to strengthen the legal tools and systems to address organized crime. Special laws on organized crime have been enacted to mete out severe punishment on perpetrators. These laws also protect the witnesses in organized crime cases by keeping their identities secret and by firmly punishing those who retaliate against them. We are also working to enact an anti-money laundering law, which will help prevent our country from becoming a financial haven for criminals who launder money.

    The Minister of Justice of Denmark, FRANK JENSEN: The cruellest form of transnational organized crime is the exploitation of human beings. The international community must pay special attention to trafficking in human beings and the smuggling of migrants in order to protect vulnerable victims globally. The investigation and prosecution of trafficking and smuggling of human beings is complicated and required close cross-border cooperation between law enforcement authorities. Increased cooperation against trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants must be based on three principles.

    First, we have to strengthen cooperation and information exchange between the countries of destination, transit countries and the countries of origin. Second, we must base our efforts on a close analysis of the crime situation and make sure we share our analytical experience with relevant partners. Third, we have to provide special investigative techniques, such as wiretapping and joint investigating teams, which enable police and prosecutors to unravel the criminal networks behind the organized trafficking in human beings and smuggling of illegal migrants.

    Senator MICHELE FIGURELLI (Italy): The proposal referred to yesterday to earmark annually for the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, 25 per cent of assets seized from organized crime has been approved and is now part of Italian budget legislation. In light of the difficult task of implementing the Convention and its protocols, we must ensure timely ratification. At the Conference, friends and journalists have asked why 25 per cent. Is it not too much? We need to look at the common good, which is the same policy by which Italy has undertaken other initiatives, such as cancelling the debt of the poorest countries. Twenty-five per cent is not a decrease or loss of our own resources because we are sure that the United Nations will be a source of wealth for us all.

    There is also another reason for suggesting this amount. The Palermo Convention and its protocols must not remain a dead letter. We must give strength to the objectives and goals enshrined in the texts. The United Nations and the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention must not be simply a moral authority but become a strong institution and given the tools to ensure their effectiveness. Therefore, 25 per cent was not a cost but an investment. This meeting was a great opportunity to open up a new international phase and give new possibilities to the fight against the accumulation of criminal proceedings. Our struggle will still be a long and hard one. We must not let down our guard. We are here because we realize that there are still serious threats posed to our economy and institutions by the mafia. The dangers of money-laundering could not be fought in one country alone and we need a common policy of preventing and combating crime.

    Attorney-General of Thailand, SUCHART TRAIPRASIT : Organized criminal groups are now far better financed and more disciplined than previously suspected. They are no longer limited to clandestine loyalties, nor do they adhere to a conventional form. They are established more and more like companies, where each member of the group has a part in committing a particular offence, coordinating or operating a network. To quote the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, "Bringing the international community together in the fight against crime has become more important than ever; the reason for this can be summed up in one word -- globalization".

    While globalization is a double-edged sword, we must make it work for us and not criminals. The growing nature of transnational organized crime calls for increasingly innovative techniques to solve them. The challenge is to be one step ahead of the criminals. International cooperation is key in meeting this challenge. There is therefore a need to transform the concept of cooperation, commitment, participation and enforcement into practice. The Convention truly embodies that need. To ensure the success of the Treaty, it is therefore necessary to ensure that as many States as possible have adopted basic minimum measures against organized crime so that there are no safe havens where organizational criminal activities or the concealment of evidence or profits can take place.

    The Minister of Justice of Georgia, MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI: Georgia is particularly sensitive to the issues covered by the Convention and its protocols. The criminal underworld is equipped by all the necessary means to work together throughout the world. For example, there are some prisons in which law enforcement officials cannot even make a phone call because there are no phones, but in which prisoners are making long-distance and international calls by means of their cell phones. The only adequate response is the creation of unified standards. Corrupt institutions are the main breeding ground for organized crime. The level of corruption in some countries is so high that it is becoming senseless to be an honest politician. What chance does one stand in countries in which judges are paid the equivalent of $50 a month?

    We must reform the judiciary as well as the offices of public prosecutors. The Georgian Parliament has set up an anti-corruption office which has initiated charges against several politicians. The main aim of the country’s internal policies is to create an environment of intolerance for criminal activity. That must be accompanied by efforts at the international level as well. We all know that the most corrupt regimes are also the most repressive ones. The signing of the Convention should also mean that corrupt regimes should be treated as human rights violators. We all have to learn from the past and learn how to transfer that knowledge to future generations.

    The Minister of Justice of Brazil, JOSÉ GREGORI: The power of organized criminal syndicates has reached such proportions that they now endanger public order and institutions themselves. Transnational organized crime is recognized as a threat to humankind and its elimination requires strong efforts on all our parts. The Treaty has eliminated the difference in cultural viewpoints and established a structure for cooperative action. We must now commit ourselves to mutual legal assistance and cooperate in the implementation of legislation when dealing with serious crimes. There is a clear message to criminals -- they will find no safe haven from justice in our countries.

    The Convention is conceived in such way that when the time comes, its scope can be widened by the addition of certain legal instruments. The protocols before us are filling a very important gap that had existed in the past and which are now promoting concerted action by governments against those who benefit by illicit actions taken against certain vulnerable social groups.

    The Palermo Convention will surely be a very important step forward in efforts to fight organized crime. We must, however, not see the Treaty and its protocols as a final conclusion but as a starting point to move forward.

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