It is my pleasure to join the Government of France, UNODC, and representatives of WACAP today for a discussion of how regional networks like this one help shrink the space in which transnational organized crime can operate. Criminal organizations are not restrained by ethics, rules, or borders the way we are. Success means becoming just as agile and coordinated as criminal networks while at the same time upholding our integrity, laws, and respect for sovereignty. This is why the United States promotes regional programs like WACAP and our own West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative (WACSI). Both support successful prosecutions of criminals and facilitate the sharing of information between states across borders.
Effective national central authorities are critical to ensuring that transnational criminal organizations have nowhere to hide. The United States and France funded UNODC to establish WACAP in November 2012. We have already seen it flourish over the course of several plenary meetings and trainings, and we now look forward to a third meeting in Burkina Faso at the end of the month.
WACAP is an important element of our broader strategy for combating transnational crime in West Africa. We launched the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative in 2011 tocoordinate our efforts in the region and to create an environment in West Africa that is inhospitable to transnational crime, including but not limited to drug trafficking, financial crimes, and human rights violation. WACSI supports programs that address five pillars: 1) promote accountable institutions; 2) establish strong legal and policy frameworks; 3) strengthen the security sector; 4) reinforce the justice sector; and 5) address the root causes and consequences of transnational crime and drug trafficking. We have recently included wildlife trafficking as a new addition to WACSI.
Ghana Regional Training Center: Within this framework, we opened a new Regional Training Center in Accra, Ghana in January 2013 to bring together law enforcement and justice sector officials, strengthen relationships across the region, and augment knowledge and skills on topics ranging from investigative analysis to anti-corruption. The U.S. government has trained more than 900 officials from 17 countries in West Africa since launching the center.
Timber Trafficking: One issue of particular importance to the United States and our partners is environmental crime, specifically timber trafficking.
The forests of Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, and other countries across the region have been decimated by illegal logging and timber trafficking perpetrated by organized criminal groups. This year, the United States and Norway have introduced a resolution to encourage additional cooperation against illicit trafficking in timber and forest products and related corruption. I hope many of you were able to participate in the U.S.-sponsored side event yesterdayon this important issue.
In the U.S. “ National Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime,” President Barack Obama tasked the U.S. government to “fight criminal networks with an alliance of legitimate networks.” WACAP and regional networks like it are a key element of this strategy. I wish the network and its participants a fruitful meeting in Burkina Faso and a productive year to come. Be assured that the United States supports your worthwhile efforts.