For information only - not an official document.
13 December 2000

High-level Political Signing Conference for UN Convention against
Transnational Organized Crime Opens in Palermo, Italy

Meeting Addressed by Presidents of Italy and Palermo,
UN Secretary-General, Head of UN Drug Control and Crime Prevention Office

(reissued as received from an UN Information Officer)

PALERMO, 12 December -- Following is the text of the statement by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, delivered today at a ceremony in Palermo , Italy, marking the opening for signature of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime:

It is a special pleasure for me to join you for a conference that marks a milestone in the global struggle for the rule of law. This signing conference for the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is evidence of the will of the international community to answer a global challenge with a global response. If crime crosses all borders, so must law enforcement. If the rule of law is undermined not only in one country, but in many, then those who defend it cannot limit themselves to purely national means. If the enemies of progress and human rights seek to exploit the openness and opportunities of globalization for their purposes, then we must exploit those very same factors to defend human rights, and defeat the forces of crime, corruption, and trafficking in human beings.

One of the starkest contrasts in our world today is the gulf that exists between the civil and the uncivil. By civil I mean civilization: the accumulated centuries of learning that form our foundation for progress. By civil I also mean tolerance: the pluralism and respect with which we accept and draw strength from the world= s diverse peoples. And finally I mean civil society: the citizens= groups, businesses, unions, professors, journalists, political parties and others who have an essential role to play in the running of any society.

Arrayed against these constructive forces, however, in ever greater numbers and with ever stronger weapons, are the forces of what I call A ncivil society.@ They are terrorists, criminals, drug dealers, traffickers in people, and others who undo the good works of civil society. They take advantage of the open borders, free markets and technological advances that bring so many benefits to the world= s people. They thrive in countries with weak institutions. And they show no scruple about resorting to intimidation or violence. Their ruthlessness is the very antithesis of all we regard as civil. They are powerful, representing entrenched interests and the clout of a global enterprise worth billions of dollars. But they are not invincible.

The Millennium Declaration adopted last September by the Heads of State meeting at the United Nations reaffirmed the principles underlying our efforts, and should serve to encourage all who struggle for the rule of law. It stated, and I quote, that A men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice". I believe these words resonate throughout the world, but perhaps especially here in Palermo. At great cost to their lives and livelihoods, the people of Palermo have succeeded in overcoming the organized criminality forces that tarnished the name of their beautiful city for many years. Their success is testimony to the fact that the forces of "uncivil society@ can be defeated. The fact that we are holding this Conference in Palermo is a tribute to this great achievement.

At the Millennium Summit, world leaders proclaimed freedom -- from fear and from want -- as one of the essential values in the twenty-first century. Yet the right to live in dignity, free from fear and want, is still denied to millions of people around the world. It is denied to the child who is working as an indentured labourer in a sweatshop; to the father who must pay a bribe to get medical care for his son; to the woman who is condemned to a life of forced prostitution.

I believe the trafficking of persons, particularly women and children, for forced and exploitative labor, including for sexual exploitation, is one of the most egregious violations of human rights which the United Nations now confronts. It is widespread and growing. It is rooted in social and economic conditions in the countries from which the victims come, facilitated by practices which discriminate against women, and driven by cruel indifference to human suffering on the part of those who exploit the services that the victims are forced to provide. The fate of these most vulnerable people in our world is an affront to human dignity and a challenge to every state, every people, and every community. I therefore urge the Member States not only to ratify the Convention, but also the Protocol on trafficking which can make a real difference in the struggle to eliminate this reprehensible trade in human beings.

Criminal groups have wasted no time in embracing today's globalized economy and the sophisticated technology that goes with it. But our efforts to combat them have remained up to now very fragmented and our weapons almost obsolete. The Palermo Convention gives us a new tool to address the scourge of crime as global problem. With enhanced international cooperation, we can have a real impact on the ability of international criminals to operate successfully, and help citizens everywhere in their often struggle for safety and dignity in their homes and communities.

The signing of the Palermo Convention is a watershed event in the reinforcement of our fight against organized crime. I urge all States to ratify the Convention at the earliest possible date, and to bring this Convention into force as a matter of urgency.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Government of Italy, to the Region of Sicily and its Assembly, and to the Municipality and people of Palermo for hosting this historic event.

And I would like to thank all of you who are participating in this historic meeting. By lending your voices, individually and collectively, to the global effort against organized crime, you make an important statement -- a declaration that we will not accept a world where we must raise our children in fear.

* * * * *