Wednesday, April 13, 2011

20th Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

John Bargeron
Deputy Director, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
U.S. Opening Statement
Vienna, Austria
April 11, 2011

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the floor. We are pleased to see you leading our work today and during the coming week, and pledge our assistance as you work to help make this Crime Commission a productive one. We would also like to in with the Chair in offering our condolences to the government and people of Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that took place recently.

It has been 20 years now since Member States agreed to create the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. In 1991, Member States knew that more needed to be done to reduce the disastrous effects of transnational crime on our citizens, economies and security. The UN General Assembly at that time recognized that crime poses “a threat to stability and to a safe environment.” Among other things, the General Assembly anticipated twenty years ago that this Commission would provide a forum for “inter-State cooperation and coordination to respond to the serious new forms and transnational aspects and dimensions of crime.”

As prescient as we were back in 1991, we could never have imagined how transnational crime – particularly transnational organized crime – would evolve. Twenty years ago, the United States was enjoying a string of success against American mafia families, finding new ways to penetrate and dismantle these hierarchical organizations.

However, what we could not appreciate during that time was the impressive adaptability of criminal organizations. Despite our past successes, criminals have an impressive ability to react and reconstitute in ways that allow them to continue their profitable activities and avoid detection. Today, most criminal organizations bear no resemblance to the hierarchical organized crime family groups of the 1980’s. Today’s criminal groups consist of loose and informal networks that often converge only when it is convenient. These networks are not always permanent, and individuals involved in these networks often have no idea about the larger structure and cooperation of various links in the chain. These networks benefit tremendously from instant global communication, and interact in an environment that knows no borders. The subject of the thematic debate for this Commission is a good, but not the only, example of criminal networks that have exploded over the past 20 years.

We discussed at last year’s Crime Congress the growing convergence of these criminal networks and how we are finding that the tentacles of such networks are stretching out to embrace multiple types of criminal activity. Gone are the days when one crime family focused its attention on one or two types of criminal activities. Criminal groups now go where they can make a profit. Groups that specialize in trafficking human persons, for example, are also using all or parts of their networks to help move drugs, counterfeit goods and even proceeds of crime.

Mr. Chairman, as anticipated by Member States when they created this Commission two decades ago, we must use this forum not only to develop strategies for how to address individual types of crime, but also to keep informed of the larger picture. The global priorities for criminals should be the global priorities for this Commission - and for Member State cooperation.

Mr. Chairman, as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Commission, our hope is that Member States, with the assistance of UNODC, spend more time on the bigger picture of transnational crime. Member States have discussed this in the context of our efforts to improve UNODC’s crime data collection and analysis capabilities. Last year’s UNODC report entitled “Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment,” while not without its controversy, represented a useful step in this direction. By gathering, exchanging and reporting information on problems and best practices, we can paint an evidence-based picture that will help us identify shared global priorities and potential tools for countering transnational crime.

The work of UNODC can help us in gaining a more complete perspective on the evolving threats of transnational organized crime. The United States will be introducing a resolution that calls greater attention to the way that transnational crime has evolved as an international threat in recent years, and promote information exchanges to give us a more complete view of the bigger picture. By doing this, we may find new paths for this Commission that we could never have imagined twenty years – or even a decade -- ago.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak, and we look forward to a productive week.