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14 December 2000
Aspects of UN Convention against Transnational Organized
Crime Discussed by 19 Government Representatives
Palermo Signing Conference Begins Third Day
PALERMO, 14 December -- Nineteen speakers addressed the High-Level Signing Conference for the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime this morning, as it began its third day of statements from government representatives.
Malawi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said that poverty eradication was a key element in resolving the susceptibility to crime of vulnerable groups. Efforts to do so were often frustrated by the heavy burden of servicing external debts. Many countries were, therefore, unable to make adequate investments in crucial social areas, and respond to extreme poverty demands. While poverty eradication was the duty of each State, progress in such an undertaking was impossible without adequate assistance. Efforts should be made to address the social aspects of transnational organized crime alongside initiatives to conclude international legal arrangements.
Norway’s State Secretary noted the gap between developed and developing countries regarding the capacity to prevent and combat transnational organized crime. The lack of resources clearly affected the ability of developing countries to fight organized crime. It was in the mutual interest of all States to increase the ability of developing countries to protect themselves, their citizens and the international community from the scourge of transnational organized crime. To that end, attention must be paid to the issue of resources, which was addressed in the Palermo Convention.
Never before, stated the representative of Pakistan, had a multilaterally negotiated global instrument included a stringent provision against money-laundering -- the “locomotive and conveyor-belt” of crime. The self-serving principle pursued by parts of the international banking system, namely, “see no evil, hear no evil”, was simply not acceptable. Crime would continue to flourish as long as its proceeds could be conveniently parked in a safe haven. Claims of secrecy and protection of individual privacy would now be spurious and untenable.
The earnestness with which the Convention’s provisions against money-laundering were implemented, particularly by those whose economies benefited from the malpractice, would determine the seriousness of their commitment to eliminate a major weapon in the arsenal of crime, he added.
Hungary’s Minister of the Interior stressed that an important task for the future was to publicize the Convention and to implement its provisions in practice.
It was regrettable, remarked the Minister of Justice of Azerbaijan, that international criminal groups cooperated faster than States. It was also unfortunate that international crime was becoming more and more sophisticated as far as methods and techniques were concerned. Taking advantage of the gaps in developing economies, international criminal groups, for the sake of their own benefit, harmed the population.
The Government Ministers and representatives of Kuwait, Australia, Peru, Switzerland, Tunisia, Israel, Madagascar, United Kingdom, Egypt, Slovakia, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Jordan and Kazakhstan also made statements this morning.
In addition, the representative of Armenia spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Conference will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue hearing statements from government representatives.
Conference Work Programme
The High-level Signing Conference for the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime met this morning to hear further statements by governmental representatives.
The Convention, adopted by the General Assembly on 15 November, will enter into force after 40 countries have ratified it.
The Minister of the Interior of Hungary, SANDOR PINTER: Combating transnational organized crime is in the fundamental interest of everyone. Hungary is specially threatened, since its democracy is young and its geo-political position special. The Government has been making serious efforts in the past two-and-a- half years to improve public safety and security. By way of new legislation and by increasing the severity of punishment for existing acts, it has created the necessary legal framework for combating organized crime. Hungary has also developed law enforcement agencies and organizations. These entities have been restructured, their staff increased and their equipment improved. A new life career system was also elaborated for those working for these organizations, thus ensuring them better moral and material esteem.
Hungary has also intensified its international cooperation and has concluded bilateral agreements with some 30 countries to combat organized crime. It has also ratified numerous related international conventions. In Hungary’s view, the Budapest Group, with about 40 member countries and 10 international member organizations, plays a very important role in combating illegal migration. The positive experiences of the past confirm that international training programmes -- joint projects -- are very important pre-conditions for effective anti-crime operations. Learning about one another’s legal practices is of great importance since we all want to harmonize our legal systems.
The documents to be signed will create a new legal foundation for combating international organized crime and for promoting cooperation among the law enforcement agencies and judicial bodies of countries. An important task for the future is to publicize the documents and to implement their contents in practice. The law enforcement agencies of Hungary will spare no effort -- in cooperation with other countries -- to put a stop to transborder crime.
The Prosecutor-General of Kuwait, HAMED AL-OTHMAN: Combating crime in all its aspects is an international imperative. We all want to make sure we live in peace. This objective will be impossible to attain unless there is true international cooperation. The United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, as it is submitted, is the product of such international cooperation. Kuwait has participated since the very beginning in the process of elaborating the Convention. Islam is a religion of peace and security, which bans crime and punishes criminals. For us, it is a violation of human rights when a crime is committed.
We do not have organized crime in Kuwait, but we still supported all efforts to ensure the adoption of the Convention. That shows our solidarity with other States, which want to prevent and combat crime. We have signed the Convention and appeal to all delegations to do so as well and to implement its provisions.
RORY STEELE (Australia): While strong domestic initiatives are still critical to success in the fight against crime, international cooperation is becoming more critical. The international community must therefore be prepared to cooperate on all fronts -- bilaterally, regionally and globally. Australia will be signing the Convention at this Conference and will be striving for practical implementation of the instruments as soon as possible. Our focus here today must be on the next steps. It is important to remember that, although we have already achieved so much with the negotiation of these instruments, our work has not finished. An important tool for combating transnational organized crime is still incomplete.
Australia looks forward to continuing negotiations in 2001 on the protocol against the illicit manufacturing and trafficking in firearms, with a view to concluding this instrument as soon as possible. Without it, our toolkit for international cooperation is left wanting. We must also aim for effective implementation of all the instruments, which no doubt will pose significant challenges to States and the United Nations. Like any other country, Australia will therefore need to scrutinize its domestic applications to be able to comply with its obligations under the Convention and its protocols.
Under-Secretary for Multilateral and Special Affairs of Peru, HERNAN COUTURIER MARIATEGUI: Peru is a country with constitutional institutions which have been destroyed by a corrupt group that has subverted the Government. We need to strengthen the State’s obligation to rid society of the scourges that weaken it, such as organized crime. Organized crime poses new challenges for our society. We are firmly convinced that today, more than ever, States must renew their political will to apply international legal instruments. The Convention and its protocols are the response of the international community in fighting organized crime. Peru has experienced, during the 1980s and 1990s, violence associated with terrorism, which led to negative consequences such as illicit trafficking in drugs, corruption and money-laundering. Therefore, our priorities are to re-establish democratic institutions and ensure the human rights of all the people of Peru. A corollary of that is to fight corruption.
The Convention is an indispensable tool to encourage mutual legal support and technical assistance. With its entry into force, it will become an international obligation and not just a principle of reciprocity. The analysis of organized crime has led the Government to identify the fight against organized crime as a high priority. The Government has submitted draft laws to establish a system to support those who will contribute to our fight against organized crime and allow judges and prosecutors to take emergency measures. The assistance of other countries is necessary in identifying the assets of those involved in organized crime. We have established mechanisms to protect witnesses and promote training programmes of judges and prosecutors. Technical assistance for developing countries is essential for the successful implementation of the Convention. It would be useful to set up a fund in that context.
As one of the most prominent financial markets, Switzerland is a magnet for organized crime. Criminals thus try to manage the country’s capital and attempt to receive the same type of service offered to legitimate corporations. Switzerland has thus widened its legal provisions so as to defend itself against organized crime. The law on money-laundering requires banks and other financial intermediaries to notify Swiss authorities whenever they have to deal with suspicious capital. Also, anyone participating in criminal organizations or supporting illicit activities runs the risk of stiff punishments.
Banking secrecy will always be lifted for the purpose of criminal investigations. It is also the enforcement of laws and not the laws themselves which are important. Accordingly, the Swiss police and the prosecution service will be strengthened in the future. Fighting organized crime also requires global cooperation when it comes to the practical aspects. This is the weakest link in the chain. What we need is to exchange information on syndicates, criminals and their activities. The Convention will thus have to be translated into practical cooperation among States.
The Minister of Justice of Tunisia, BECHIR TEKARI: The goal of the Convention is to free our societies of organized crime. We have signed the Convention and its two protocols to show how strongly we are committed to fighting organized crime. Organized crime is not a widely prevalent phenomenon in Tunisia due to the social peace and tranquility that reigns there. However, to avoid any potential risks, we have undertaken various measures and promulgated certain laws, such as a ban on trafficking in organs and legislation to punish all types of exploitation of children. We have, therefore, tried to keep pace with regard to our accession to various United Nations instruments on crime.
Globalization has brought peoples together, but it has also led to new forms of organized crime. It is true that poverty and marginalization may facilitate or promote new forms of transnational organized crime. The victims, especially women and children, are particularly affected. Marginalization also leads to corruption and traffic in firearms. The principles of solidarity and mutual assistance are important and would help us implement international instruments, such as the Convention. In Tunisia, we have tried to ensure that economic development goes hand in hand with social development, in order to avoid any type of marginalization, which is often a breeding ground for crime. We hope that technical assistance will be provided so that developing countries can ensure domestic peace.
YEHUDA MILLO (Israel): Organized crime threatens to corrupt the governments and legitimate authorities of States and to undermine the legitimate social order. It is thus important to make an international effort to prevent all forms of such criminality. My country absorbs Jews from all over the world. According to Israeli law, every Jew in the world has the right to immigrate to Israel and to become a citizen. This situation, however, may serve as a convenient operating ground for criminal elements from abroad, whose interest is to exploit Israel as a locale for their activities.
Criminals may acquire citizenship through Israel’s Law of Return and other loopholes in this law. Many of these criminals can therefore use Israel as a sanctuary when they feel threatened by the law enforcing authorities of their own countries. Criminals can also exploit Israel’s growing economy as a suitable operating ground for criminal economic activities
In August, the Israeli Parliament enacted a law prohibiting money-laundering with sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment. The Israeli police also have a national unit which deals with offences relating to organized crime and money-laundering. Procedures are already under way to prepare legislation designed to fight criminal organizations. The aim is to outlaw organized crime. Israel, as one of the first to sign the Convention, thus emphasizes the importance it attaches to the instrument.
The State Secretary of Norway, OYSTEIN MAELAND: As the Convention and its two protocols have been negotiated and are now open for signature, it is our belief that the ground is laid for a more effective fight against transnational organized crime. The wide range of measures on cooperation contained in the Convention and its protocols will provide national authorities with a more effective framework and a variety of tools. Extradition, mutual legal assistance, police cooperation and technical assistance are among the well-known tools of international cooperation in the struggle against crime.
We are aware of the gap between developed and developing countries as far as the capacity to prevent and combat transnational organized crime is concerned. The lack of resources clearly affects the ability of developing countries to fight organized crime. It is in the mutual interest of all States to increase the ability of developing countries to protect themselves, their citizens and the international community from the scourge of transnational organized crime. To this end, attention must be paid to the issue of resources and Norway is pleased to see this aspect addressed in the Convention. However far we have come, we must remain conscious of the fact that the work does not end today. There remains an immense job ahead of us in implementing the Convention and its protocols and in utilizing the tools they provide.
The Minister of Justice of Madagascar, ANACLET IMBIKI: Madagascar is dangerously exposed to transnational crime. Powerful crime syndicates are always looking for vulnerable States where they can organize themselves. This can have disastrous social consequences. Developing countries are usually the victims of criminal practices such as money-laundering and the transfer of non-traceable funds. Madagascar has always associated itself with the efforts to battle transnational organized crime and has cooperated actively with regional endeavours in the Indian Ocean.
Many illicit drugs, particularly hallucinogenic in nature, circulate in the Indian Ocean region. We are therefore concerned that we may become the crossroads for drug trafficking. As a result, many measures have been put in place in Madagascar to address the drug menace. Special investigation procedures, surveillance, telephone control, the lifting of bank secrecy and other special services are just some of these measures.
Prevention, repression, control, rehabilitation and social resettlement are other methods used in Madagascar to address the spread of illicit drugs. A national action plan is being developed, as well as a law on money-laundering. Madagascar joins in the signing of the Convention and the move from words to action.
The Minister of Justice of Azerbaijan, FIKRAT MAMMADOV: It is regrettable that international criminal groups cooperate faster than States. It is also unfortunate that international crime becomes more and more sophisticated as far as methods and techniques are concerned. Despite the fact that the Azerbaijani economy is experiencing rapid development and external economic relations are rapidly expanding, there are factors that slow down this process. Taking advantage of the gaps in the developing economy, international criminal groups, for the sake of their own benefit, cause harm to the life and health of the population, especially children. Recently, the Azerbaijani authorities exposed a criminal group which was importing food with expired dates of validity. The most terrible aspect was that the food was being provided to children.
Today, our urgent task is to adopt common measures to stop and neutralize the universal threat of organized crime and then launch an active offensive against it. Taking into consideration the experiences of the international community, we are positive that international cooperation, under the auspices of the United Nations, is crucial. Today, Azerbaijan has a strong national legal background to actively participate in international anti-crime activity and is ready to join the Convention. We are particularly interested in those provisions of the Convention that deal with international cooperation in the area of arresting, confiscating and appropriating the benefits drawn from criminal activity. Implementation of those provisions could help us return stolen money to the country.
SHAUKAT UMER (Pakistan): The Convention carries a powerful political message: it signals the resolve of the international community to take the battle to the innermost sanctums of the transnational criminal. A concerted international effort involving governments, non-governmental organizations, international institutions, important segments of civil society and the mass media needs to be put in place to confront the criminal underworld. The Palermo Convention provides just the framework for such efforts. Another exceptional feature of the Convention is the advances it makes over existing bodies of international law.
More than this, however, never before has a multilaterally negotiated global instrument included a stringent provision against money-laundering -- “the locomotive and conveyor belt of crime”. The self-serving principle pursued by parts of the international banking system, namely, “see no evil, hear no evil”, is simply not acceptable. Crime will continue to flourish as long as its proceeds can be conveniently parked in a safe haven. It is thus gratifying that money-laundering has been criminalized specifically under the Convention.
Any money transfer occasioned by or originating from criminal behaviour must now be ruthlessly pursued and investigated. Claims of secrecy and protection of individual privacy will now be spurious and untenable. The earnestness with which the article against money-laundering is implemented, particularly by those whose economies benefit from the malpractice, will determine the seriousness of their commitment to eliminate a major weapon in the arsenal of crime.
The Minister of State of the United Kingdom, BARBARA ROCHE: The Convention is an impressive achievement in itself. It is made still more impressive by the simultaneous completion of the protocols on trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants. Human smuggling and trafficking is now a multi-billion pound trade. Its dramatic rise poses a significant challenge to global stability. A European Union report on migration has found that almost all illegal entrants now make use of criminal gangs to facilitate their travel. We must respond as an international community, which is why these protocols which target the gangs behind human smuggling and trafficking, are urgently required. But they are not a solution in themselves. Like the Convention, their success depends on how widely and how quickly they are adopted and implemented, and on the resources, determination and collective effort which are brought to bear.
It is important to recognize that these protocols deal separately with migrant smuggling and human trafficking. While we must recognize and understand the distinctions, the gangs operating in this field do not. To traffic persons to unfamiliar countries and cultures against their will is the most sinister part of this trade. The victims are often too afraid to cooperate with authorities that seek to prosecute the traffickers. It is important that we provide the right environment to encourage them to speak out and to reassure them that, once they are returned home, they will continue to receive support. The Protocol on Trafficking provides the necessary infrastructure, but it will be up to States parties to ensure that it is properly utilized. The gangs must not be able to place themselves beyond the rule of law through intimidation.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Malawi, LILIAN E. PATEL: In our region we have experienced a high incidence of cross-border crime. These often involve complex operations. In my own country, we are grappling with a number of transnational crimes such as increases in armed robberies due to the traffic in illegal firearms; drug trafficking; and trafficking in women and young girls. Investigation, arrest and prosecution of culprits have not proved easy, as the costs involved are enormous. These treaties, therefore, come at an opportune moment and offer a ray of hope. They provide a chance for a common framework within which transnational organized crime could be addressed. They circumvent technical hurdles by attempting to ensure that the domestic laws of all participating States are consistent and effective.
Whilst trying to curb transnational organized crime, we should not lose sight of the cause of crime. In particular: why is crime on the increase and why are certain groups in our societies prone to crime? There are such factors as poverty, unemployment and lack of education. Also, heavy national external debt has unfortunately paralysed development efforts and social welfare programmes in most countries. Unless our efforts are redirected towards achieving a lasting solution to the problem through legal as well as social aspects of crime, our efforts will remain pipe dreams.
We need to focus on addressing factors that increase the vulnerability of the poor. Poverty eradication is a key element in resolving the susceptibility to crime of vulnerable groups. Efforts to do this are often frustrated by the heavy burden of servicing external debts. Many of our countries are therefore unable to make adequate investments in such crucial areas as education, health and sanitation, as well as to respond to extreme poverty demands. While poverty eradication is the duty of each State, progress in this enormous undertaking is impossible without adequate assistance. Efforts should be made towards addressing the social aspects of transnational organized crime alongside ongoing initiatives to conclude international legal arrangements.
NEHAD IBRAHIM ABDEL LATIF (Egypt): The Convention represents a growing concern of the international community. It is, without a doubt, an effective instrument for combating the phenomenon of transnational organized crime. In Palermo, we are witnessing the crowning achievement of a process that started with the 1994 Ministerial Conference in Naples. In 1995, Egypt hosted the Ninth Congress on Crime Prevention, which was then followed by the deliberations of the ad hoc committee on the elaboration of the Convention. Egypt participated with a great deal of interest in all stages of the negotiations because it was convinced that we would achieve the laudable goals set by the international community.
However, we would have wished to see a reference in the Convention to the clear link between organized crime and terrorism. As we sign the Convention, we hope that a reference will be made in the future when the text is revised. We have a historic opportunity here. We have made a major step forward for a better world. We would like to underscore that this requires true cooperation, so that those countries which lack the necessary resources would also be able to participate actively in the fight against organized crime.
ALOJZ NEMETHY (Slovakia): Organized crime has long ago ceased to be a domain reserved for organized mafia-type groups operating under strict rules. Today’s organized crime groups use their proceeds and corruption to infiltrate many sectors, including trade and politics, infecting them with cancerous criminal activities. The threat of organized crime is felt especially in the countries whose level of economic development does not enable them to allocate sufficient funds and efforts into an effective fight against organized crime, including its prevention through social, educational and other programmes. It is also a problem for countries in transition, including my own. Even economically developed and politically stable countries are not immune to the negative consequences of organized crime.
In spite of achievements, organized crime, mainly in the economic arena, continues to present a problem that could undermine the economic, social and legal system of the State, if the State fails to take appropriate measures. This problem is due, to a considerable extent, to a non-transparent method of privatization of State property, cronyism, corruption and violations of the law by State authorities. Slovakia’s broadly conceived National Programme for the Fight against Corruption and its comprehensive programme to fight crime are aimed at combating these problems. In the process of its accession to the European Union, Slovakia is actively fulfilling its obligations resulting from the pre-accession pact on organized crime. The progress made by Slovakia in countering organized crime would be inconceivable without close international cooperation, the exchange of experiences and assistance from global partners.
The Minister of the Interior of Kyrgyzstan, OMURBEK KUTUEV: This meeting is of great symbolic importance. Signing the Convention constitutes a major step forward to ensure that we leave the undesirable baggage of the past century behind us. Transnational organized crime has become a real threat to peace and security. We have had incursions of terrorists into our country. While we have managed to throw them back, we cannot be assured that they will not return. Transnational organized crime is a challenge to us all and we need to coordinate international cooperation in order to meet that challenge. Criminals have no borders, which means we need targeted and practical measures. We are determined to fight this scourge. We hope that one of the results of the Conference will be increased cooperation among all States.
National and religious extremism is also something that exists today and we need to actively fight terrorism. The most dangerous manifestations of transnational organized crime are drug trafficking and corruption. Transnational organized crime is closely linked to public corruption. Fighting corruption is a top priority for my Government. Corruption-related offences are punished by administrative and criminal sanctions. A decree was issued recently on additional measures to fight economic crimes, smuggling and corruption. Last year, the Government enacted a law on Government employment and recently a new law on fighting corruption was concluded. After the presidential decree was issued, we had more than 100 deputies from various levels against whom criminal proceedings were started. . We are witnessing an increasing amount of drug trafficking in and around the country. Therefore, fighting drug trafficking is also a top priority, since it is important for our internal security. This year, we confiscated 10 times as much heroin as we did last year. Every 10 crimes in the country is drug-related.
ABOUD AL-SARRAJ, a law school Dean from Syria: My country does not suffer from transnational organized crime, but it recognizes the gravity of the situation. Based on this, it therefore shares all the concerns of the international community. All its members must participate in the endeavours of the United Nations family.
Syria, however, always felt that transnational organized crime represented a serious problem for most of the countries of the world. It is therefore committed to all efforts to fight such criminality. A number of items in the Convention are already covered by domestic legislation -- drugs, corruption, trafficking in humans and the illegal traffic of funds and firearms. We will collaborate willingly with the international community when such crimes are committed. The Convention and its protocols should not be used to interfere in the domestic affairs of other States.
MOHAMED AMIN HAWAMDEH (Jordan): The United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime focuses on the problems of money-laundering and corruption. In 1993, Jordan created a unit to fight corruption which, along with other bodies, is working to control corruption within the country, fight fraud, the abuse of power and the exploitation of public goods, and control the activities of private companies present within the Jordanian economy. We also try to control pollution and emissions in factories , as well as the traffic of drugs. This body has been able to defeat those who try to exploit public goods and strengthen the integrity of public officials. We are also trying to safeguard our banking system. Our legislation on banking and financial affairs bans any type of suspicious transactions. Jordanian legislation establishes the identification of all clients in the banking system.
Jordan is a State in which the rule of law exists. The executive powers are in the hands of the King, who exercises them through the various ministries. We try to assure the independence of all judges. We have also signed various international conventions, including those on civil and political rights, against torture and on discrimination against women. We were also one of the first States to sign the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court. Jordan had been involved, since the outset, in the negotiations on the Palermo Convention, which is one of the most important initiatives to fight organized crime.
The Minister of Justice of Kazakhstan, IGOR ROGOV: International crime in my country draws its members from former terrorists. These people deal predominantly in drugs and arms trafficking. Also, the increase in the number of smuggled weapons has increased the danger of terrorism in Kazakhstan. The illegal traffic in drugs involves manufacture, smuggling and transit. There are plant-based drugs going from Kazakhstan to the Russian Federation and psychotropic substances that pass through my country en route to Europe. Trans-shipments of opium-based products and cocaine and its derivatives are also taking place. Arms are also traded in exchange for drugs. Our law enforcement agencies are carrying out active work in trying to combat these phenomena. An agency was established to fight the illegal drug trade, which a few days ago became part of the Ministry of Justice.
Members of transnational organized crime groups also leave my country to carry out murder in other States. As such, extradition is therefore very topical. A law on corruption is also being implemented. Cooperation in combating crime is being carried out regionally, with INTERPOL, and through many multilateral and bilateral endeavours. The Convention, which we signed yesterday, will provide a legal foundation for such cooperation and help overcome transnational organized crime.
Statement in Exercise of Right of Reply
ASHKOT KOCHARIAN (Armenia): We are very surprised that Azerbaijan made unfounded allegations this morning. Negotiations on final settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh dispute are continuing between the Presidents of both of our States. We are willing to look beyond confrontation and seek cooperation and peace, rather than animosity and distrust. The allegations made today do not bode well for peaceful negotiations.
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