14 November 2005

UNODC Head Urges World's Top Law Officers to Take Lead in Securing Rule of Law

VIENNA, 14 November (UN Information Service) -- The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, today called on the world's top law officers to take the lead in reforming their countries' judicial systems. Opening the Second World Summit of Attorneys-General, Prosecutors General and Chief Prosecutors in Doha, Qatar, he said a strong judiciary and effective law enforcement were prerequisites for the construction and maintenance of a civil society.

"I therefore ask you to take the lead -- whatever the culture, whatever your country's income, whatever the legal system - and to respond proactively to the challenge that places the rule of law at the centre of democracy," Mr. Costa said. "I invite you to consider your pivotal role in delivering change."

Mr. Costa said prosecutors and attorneys-general should be at the forefront of implementation of the United Nations Conventions against Corruption and Transnational Organized Crime, of which UNODC is the custodian.

Urging the senior law officers to intensify international cooperation in the face of new challenges such as terrorism, money-laundering and cybercrime, he added: "The willingness to extradite major criminals, drug traffickers, corrupt officials, terrorists and other thugs is key, as is the sharing of information and mutual legal assistance. This task will be easier the more compatible domestic legislation is, and the greater the trust among yourselves."

Many United Nations Member States face long-standing challenges, including a continuing lack of resources in the judicial system, government corruption, complacency about the absence or the erosion of the rule of law and court inefficiency. In some regions, violence makes a strong judicial infrastructure and the rule of law impossible.

UNODC is actively assisting Member States to create the legislative, regulatory and administrative processes necessary to implement the Conventions against Corruption and Transnational Organized Crime.

Mr. Costa called for the modernization of penal procedures to address complex issues including the role of modern investigative techniques such as electronic surveillance and undercover operations. States needed to find an appropriate balance between individual human rights and security.

"There should not be political gamesmanship or ideological dithering in a world where terrorist attacks claim a growing number of lives, and where drug traffickers, corrupt officials and mafiosi ruthlessly siphon off the health, wealth and security of nations," Mr. Costa said.

Open markets, modern communications and the mobility of people, capital and services has created unprecedented wealth, but has also given criminals an unprecedented opportunity to develop new forms of crime, violence and fraud.

Criminals often have much greater resources than Governments, so more priority should be given to development assistance to help countries build a proper judicial infrastructure.

"There are places in the world where trials are postponed because there is no paper on which to record the proceedings, or where police cars do not run for lack of fuel," Mr. Costa said.

But globalization could also work to the advantage of law enforcement authorities. "As each country's security continues to become even more dependent on the level of security in neighbouring States, the collective pressure for reform and cooperation grows. And, of course, so do your opportunities," Mr. Costa added.

The UNODC Executive Director indicated that the combination of powerful criminal organizations, corrupt leaders and greedy officials in regions ravaged by conflict, crime and violence was troubling, but stressed that there was also good news. "Today, across the world, ordinary citizens are demanding democratic reform, calling corrupt leaders to task, and demonstrating the kind of leadership countries need, to regain investors' confidence. This reform process needs people like you -- honest, committed custodians of the rule of law," the UNODC Executive Director said.


For further information, contact:

Richard Murphy
Chief, Advocacy Section, UNODC
Tel: (+43 1) 26060 5761
Mobile: +43 699 1459 5761
Email: richard.murphy@unodc.org