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Members of Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone Configurations of Peacebuilding Commission receive high-level briefing by UNODC

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Peacebuilding Commission
Third Session
High-Level Briefing (PM)

With an increase in drug trafficking threatening to turn West Africa into a "cocaine highway", Antonio Maria Costa, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna and Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), stressed that Africa was under attack from illicit drugs and needed an integrated, regional approach to combat the multidimensional problem.

Briefing the Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone Configurations of the Peacebuilding Commission this afternoon in New York, Mr. Costa highlighted the draft document that resulted from the high-level conference on "drug trafficking as a security threat in West Africa", held by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Cape Verde, on 28 and 29 October. The draft -- entitled "Political Declaration on the Prevention of Drug Abuse, Illicit Drug Trafficking and Organized Crimes in West Africa" -- was expected to be adopted by ECOWAS Heads of State in December.

"It shows the commitment of the [ECOWAS] member States to do something about the matter through an integrated approach, working together and with the United Nations and other intergovernmental groups," Mr. Costa said.

Outlining the nature of the problem facing West Africa, Mr. Costa said it was not so much the scope of the trafficking that was most alarming, but its rapid escalation. Four years ago, cocaine seizures in Africa had been near zero. Last year, they had skyrocketed to over 6 tonnes,and actual flows were obviously higher. In fact, in other regions, it was estimated that seizures were roughly 10 per cent of total flows. Moreover, given West Africa's lax border controls, what was seized might comprise only 1 or 2 per cent of the total amount of illicit substances moving through the region.

While the target market for those drugs was not Africa itself -- the drugs were usually bound for Europe, and moved by land and sea via human "mules" and other transit networks -- the collateral damage of that trafficking was impacting the individual security of the region's countries and the region as a whole, he said. Political processes, even democracy, were also being undermined, as some candidates and political parties were "bought" by the traffickers.

He also underlined the reality facing young countries beset by enormous unemployment rates, where the main choice for youth was illegal immigration or becoming foot soldiers for drug traffickers. That stark dichotomy indicated how economic activities in Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, and throughout West Africa, were further aggravated by drug networks.

Meanwhile, some of the drugs were left behind as payment, increasing the incidents of drug abuse in countries where those drugs had not typically been seen before, he said. The resulting health dimensions of the trafficking problem were a growing concern to many of the ministers attending the meeting in Cape Verde.

He said the strength of a second, more technical ECOWASplan of action, which was derived from the Political Declaration, was its emphasis on the need to mobilize the region's political leadership and to allocate adequate budgetary support as the first stop to combating the illicit drug trafficking. It also underscored the need for more effective law enforcement, particularly in terms of enhancing border control in sea, land and air spaces.

He said that, on the question of health, the plan called for the emerging threats to be identified. It also called on the UNODC to develop reliable and valid reporting mechanisms that would measure how the threat was changing and, thereby, provide actionable information.

Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, who chaired today's meeting, stressed that the reason why West Africa was so vulnerable to trafficking was because of the fragility of many of the States there. In Guinea-Bissau, particularly, the Commission was seeking to strengthen State institutions, including the police and the judiciary.

But repression alone would not suffice, she said. The economy also had to be reactivated in such a way that it gave the population alternatives. That would, in turn, give the State the revenue it needed to provide basic services. Another major priority area was the rehabilitation of Guinea-Bissau's prisons, so criminals could be properly arrested and detained.

During the ensuing interactive dialogue, several delegations asked how they could help. Mr. Costa said the Peacebuilding Commission could help provide expertise and raise public awareness. Noting that his office was providing experts and training programmes, he welcomed the contributions of funding countries as a point of entry to helping West African countries now under attack. Supplying funds to law enforcement and the medical infrastructure to combat drug abuse would establish the foundationfor the future.

Nevertheless, the price tag would be high for building the capacities of a navy without boats and an air force without planes, he added. In that context, he underlined the role of development, which should be the first and foremost instrument for fighting drug trafficking on a comprehensive basis.

Asking how strategies being implemented in the countries of origin could be bridged with those being undertaken in African countries, the representative of Angola stressed that the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone might be effective.

Mr. Costa agreed, but cautioned that, while the production of some of the supplying countries had diminished, he did not see many chances of a significant reduction. Even though almost half of the cocaine produced by the Andean countries was successfully being seized, chemical innovations were raising the production capacity. Instead, he believed the seizure abilities of West Africa had to catch up with their South American counterparts. Overall, there was a shared responsibility of the producer countries, the European consumers, and the transit countries in West Africa.

The representative of Nigeria said a piecemeal approach should be avoided. Wherever weak links existed, criminal organizations could take advantage of them. To be effective, an integrated approach had to take the entire region into account. Moreover, the Commission should assist in building the capacity of ECOWAS as a whole; none of the countries in the subregion should be ignored, even if there was no present evidence of drug trafficking.

Also participating in the interactive discussion were the representatives of Italy, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Portugal and Luxembourg.

Ejeviome Eloho Otobo, Director of Strategic Planning and Deputy Head of the Peacebuilding Support Office, also spoke.

For information media - not an official record