Transnational Organized Crime

UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime

Opening Statement to the United States of America Fifth Conference of the Parties

Elizabeth Verville
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Vienna, Austria

Madame Chair, thank you for the opportunity to provide a brief statement. I warmly congratulate you on your assumption of the chair. We are so pleased to see you at the podium. As chair for the past two years, I know well the responsibilities that come with the position. However, I have learned that leading the Conference also presents many opportunities to move our collective work forward against transnational organized crime. I look forward to serving on your Bureau, and I and the entire U.S. delegation look forward to working closely with you during this week and the coming intersessional period to promote implementation of the Convention and its Protocols.

Madame Chair, as we mark the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Convention, it is clear that the threat we sought to counter a decade ago still exists and has evolved in ways that require us more than ever to work more closely together. As President Obama has said: “In recent years, the world has seen a convergence of transnational threats and networks, which are more dangerous and destabilizing than ever.” Transnational criminal networks continue to expand dramatically in size, scope, and influence—posing significant national security challenges for the United States and other countries. These threats cross borders and continents and undermine the stability of nations, subverting government institutions through corruption and harming citizens worldwide. Transnational criminal organizations have accumulated unprecedented wealth and power through trafficking and other illicit activities, penetrating legitimate financial systems and destabilizing commercial markets.

Keeping in mind the continuing and evolving threats of organized crime, this milestone of our meeting in Palermo ten years ago, which I remember with pride, inspires us to look at the past and consider how we have progressed, and also to look to the future, and think of where we want to be when we reach the next notable anniversary in the life of UNTOC and its Protocols.

First, a look at the past. As some speakers have already touched upon, and as was evident in the discussions during the high level segment in New York in June, this Convention and its Protocols have unquestionably made their mark on our international efforts to address transnational organized crime. With 157 parties to date, we have created a near global framework for legal and policy cooperation that is actually being used. The United States alone has utilized the Convention 32 times as the basis for many types of legal assistance requests, and, under the Convention, has made 27 extradition requests to 14 different countries, resulting in the successful return of 17 fugitives, in situations where otherwise no legal basis would have existed. The Convention has also created a general framework for criminalizing and prosecuting a wide range of activities of organized crime groups, and has led many countries to ensure that their criminal legislation is sufficient and flexible enough to cover a wide range of such criminal activities. The Protocols alone identified some of the most troubling crimes committed by organized groups – trafficking in persons, migrant smuggling and trafficking in firearms – and have been a catalyst for action. The example of trafficking in persons is the most notable. Prior to Palermo, trafficking in persons was a crime in very few countries. Today, over 116 countries have enacted legislation prohibiting all forms of trafficking in persons.

Now, a look to the future. While there is indeed a sense of accomplishment in the past ten years, we recognize the full potential for this Convention is still ahead. For example, we can definitely do better in utilizing the criminalization and international cooperation frameworks found in UNTOC.

The criminalization framework offered by the Convention was designed to apply to a wide range of organized crime activities. The U.S. has several laws that make up our criminalization framework pursuant to the Convention, and we have used these laws to prosecute everything from extortion to migrant smuggling to environmental crimes to trafficking in stolen art. When we hear proposals to spend time and effort to create new protocols to cover additional criminal activities, we feel that the original idea behind the UNTOC is being a bit misunderstood. Under the Convention, all of us should have the laws and rules in place to pursue a broad range of organized crimes, including many of the crimes discussed in UNODC’s paper on emerging crimes. The Convention contemplates different avenues for reaching all types of organized crime, whether it be through the lens of conspiracy; through laws targeted generally to organized crime groups; through the lens of aiding and abetting; or by following the trail of laundered proceeds. In addition, many countries, like the United States, no doubt have additional laws that target specific emerging crimes. The international cooperation provisions are meant to facilitate cooperation relating to all these types of crime and more. Instead of exerting resources to develop new provisions or protocols, our first priority should be to ensure that we utilize the full potential of the Convention and the framework that it offers.

With regard to international cooperation, we can do better in taking advantage of the Convention as a legal basis for mutual legal assistance and, where appropriate, extradition. The challenge is to identify what, if any, impediments might exist that prevent the Convention from being utilized in this way. The answer may be as simple as educating our law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors on the potential of the Convention. We should work this week with the goal that many more countries are in a position to use these international cooperation provisions.

One thing that is clear about the future. We believe that a more organized effort to assess our implementation of the Convention and its Protocols will help produce a greater and better use of the Convention and its Protocols. A formal review mechanism will help us identify common and individual challenges and to offer solutions. It will be an opportunity to identify needs for assistance, and to promote a better response to such needs. We, of course, need to be sensitive to the burdens of our experts in designing such a review mechanism, particularly given the demands of other multilateral review processes. We also need to ensure that the benefits from our review efforts will be worth the undoubtedly considerable expert and resource investment that will go into it. But, hopefully, we will be gathering at our next milestone anniversary and expounding on the accomplishments of such a mechanism in helping promote implementation and use of the Convention and its Protocols. We believe that it is urgent after ten years that we move quickly to establish such a review mechanism and hope that this Conference of Parties will achieve agreement to do this.

Madame Chair, the United States has played an active role in the history of this Convention, and we are proud of what we and our colleagues in this room have accomplished. At the same time, we are committed to the future, and to making the Convention an even more useful international tool for fighting organized crime. I am honored to remain a member of the Bureau, even after my tenure as Chair. A heartfelt thanks to all my colleagues for supporting a continuing role for me and the United States on the Bureau. You have our deep and continuing commitment not only to your work as Chair – but also to the UNTOC, a critical multilateral framework for action against organized crime.