28 October 2008
UNODC Warns of Narco-Trafficking Threat to Security in West Africa
VIENNA, 28 October (UN Information Service) - At a high-level conference on drug trafficking as a security threat to West Africa in Praia, Cape Verde, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, warned that "West Africa is at risk of becoming an epicentre for drug trafficking and the crime and corruption associated with it".
A report by UNODC, launched at the meeting, shows that at least 50 tons of cocaine from the Andean countries are transiting West Africa every year, heading north where they are worth almost $2 billion on the streets of European cities. Most cocaine entering Africa from South America makes landfall around Guinea-Bissau in the north and Ghana in the south. Much of the drugs are shipped to Europe by drug mules on commercial flights. According to seizure data, the majority of air couriers seem to be coming from Guinea (Conakry), Mali, Nigeria and Senegal destined for France, Spain and the United Kingdom. Upon arrival, the cocaine is predominantly distributed by West African criminal networks throughout Europe.
The problem is getting worse. Cocaine seizures have doubled every year for the past three years: from 1,323 kilograms in 2005, to 3,161 in 2006, to 6,458 in 2007. Major seizures have been made in 2008, including 600 kilos of cocaine found in a plane (with fake Red Cross markings) at the airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone this summer. Most seizures occur by accident - "this is probably just the tip of the cocaine iceberg", said Mr. Costa. Local police are ill-equipped to deal with the threat, and "prosecutors and judges lack the evidence or the will to bring to justice powerful criminals with powerful friends", observed the UN's top crime-fighting official.
"Time is running out", warned Mr. Costa. "The threat is spreading throughout the region, turning the Gold Coast into the Coke Coast". Narco-trafficking, through a vulnerable region that has never previously faced a drugs problem, is perverting weak economies - evident by the unusual appreciation of currencies and inflows of foreign direct investment. It is also corrupting senior officials, and poisoning the youth by spreading addiction and criminality. "This is more than a drugs problem - it is a threat to public health and security in West Africa", said the head of UNODC.
Mr. Costa underlined the importance of promoting development and strengthening the rule of law in order to reduce vulnerability to drugs and crime. He called on governments of the region to strengthen integrity and criminal justice to "stop the corruption that is enabling criminals to infiltrate your countries". He urged the international community to provide the assistance needed to help the countries under attack to regain control of their coasts and airspace, and train special police forces to investigate organized crime and drug trafficking.
Because organized crime is a trans-national problem, regional cooperation is crucial. The head of UNODC proposed the creation of a West Africa intelligence-sharing centre. But he warned that "there will be no success in combating this regional problem if individual countries fail to stamp out the problem in their midst - criminals will exploit the weakest links and the whole chain will break".
At the Praia meeting, Ministers of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) agreed to a Political Declaration on Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in West Africa and an ECOWAS Regional Response Plan. Mr. Costa urged the Ministers to follow up these words with robust deeds "to drive the traffickers from the shores of West Africa."
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Spokesman and Speechwriter
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
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