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National statements

Combating Drug Trafficking in the Sahel and West Africa

Thematic issues

  • Drug Trafficking
  • Justice
  • Liberia
  • Peace and Security
  • Regional Organisations
  • Sahel
  • Sanctions
  • Sierra Leone
  • Terrorism
  • West Africa


Statement by HE Ms Philippa King, Deputy Permanent Representative Australian Mission to the United Nations

Thank you Mr President. And thanks to the Secretary-General, Mr Fedotov and Mr Djinnit for their briefings and their commitment to tackling this challenge.

Mr President

Traditional trading routes across the Sahel and West Africa have been vital to livelihoods in the region for centuries. However, these same routes – exploited by drug traffickers – are also now a serious source of instability.

The stakes are high. We have heard the statistics this morning from the Secretary-General. Special Representative Djinnit told us clearly yesterday that transnational crime posed the gravest threat to the region. Kofi Annan said at the launch of the West Africa Commission on Drugs, "left unchecked, illegal drug trafficking could compromise the encouraging progress West African nations have made in strengthening democracy and promoting human and economic development."

Such activity prospers in environments of weak governance, lack of economic opportunity and conflict, and its consequences further exacerbate its causes. Drug trafficking corrodes state institutions, breeds corruption, distorts economies, and hinders development.

It is also often associated with other forms of organized crime, including arms trafficking, as well as terrorism.

This is a trans-national problem that impacts source, transit and destination countries. It is therefore a shared responsibility to address; and only regional solutions will work; solving the problem in one country may simply push it next door.

Mr President

I would like to focus briefly on each of the four areas identified in your concept note.

First, border management. Australia's experience in the Asia-Pacific has demonstrated to us the importance of regional cooperation and managing threats before they reach the border. This has been achieved through reciprocal officer placements and regional capacity building programs. Australia established the Southeast Asia Border Security Program which improved drug detection capability through shared technology, closer communication and specialised training programs.

The Rabat conference on border cooperation in the Sahel and Maghreb has identified the need in many states for customs training, technology to track goods and people, and stronger networks to enable better coordination nationally and across borders. The international community should support this framework. We welcome the recent decision to create a joint border security training centre.

Second, strengthening law enforcement and judicial systems. The problem will not be contained until the costs and risks outweigh the potential gains. Actual prosecutions – and convictions – are one of the most important tools in this fight. The West Africa Coast Initiative is playing an important role in building regional and national capacity. The establishment of Transnational Crime Units (TCUs) – for example in Sierra Leone and Liberia – has strengthened the ability of law enforcement agencies to share critical criminal intelligence, enabling coordinated and effective law enforcement operations.

We know first-hand that this model actually works: over the past decade through the Pacific Transnational Crime Network, 18 TCUs have operated successfully.

To be effective in West Africa and the Sahel, we must learn from the lessons: TCUs can only succeed with the necessary investigative skills, supported by appropriate technology and complemented by effective legislation and robust judicial processes. And they must have the necessary political support.

Australia has also worked with African partners and regional organisations to strengthen legal and justice frameworks on transnational crime. This has included the training of legal and law enforcement officers from 23 African countries. We have cooperation with the AU to develop six guides on transnational crime – including on criminalizing money laundering and combatting terrorism financing – to assist African policy makers in developing effective laws. These guides have been a practical tool to support the development of harmonised laws to address transnational crime.

Third, anti-money laundering and financial issues. Drug trafficking can help fund armed groups and destabilise governments, and has increasingly been linked to the financing of terrorists in the Sahel and West Africa. We know terrorist groups and drug traffickers are operating in the same areas and routes. But we don't know enough about the linkages. This needs closer analysis.

The fact is, however, that a State that has developed a strong anti-money laundering framework is better placed to tackle financing both of terrorism and drug trafficking. The Financial Action Task Force's guidance on combating money laundering must be leveraged by the region – including through a revitalised West African Inter-Governmental Action Group.

Finally, improved UN synergies. A recent International Peace Institute report claimed that transnational organised crime is the elephant in the room for UN missions – impossible to overlook, but too big to deal with. It has become a serious threat for almost every UN peace operation – in many cases hindering the development, security and justice the UN is seeking to build.

It is vital to consider opportunities for improved UN synergies. The Sahel Strategy is an important step, providing an overarching framework for the UN, region, and international partners.

As a Council, we need to consider whether UN missions have the necessary mandates, means, and expertise to combat transnational crime.

In response to an increasingly complex criminal environment, the UN Police Division has developed Serious Crime Support Units, where UN police collect and analyse criminal intelligence, and mentor and advise host nations to develop investigative capabilities. This model is being used by MINUSTAH with some success. We should consider whether these units can be effective elsewhere.

Many of the necessary tools to tackle drug trafficking – border control, criminal justice cooperation, anti-money laundering, and exchange of information – are the same capacities needed to manage arms trafficking and enforce sanctions. The UN, member states and regional organisations can be better joined up in all these fields. Given the stakes involved, this is in all our interests.

Finally, Mr President, given this is the last formal meeting of the year, I would like to place on the record that Australia considers it to have been a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with the five outgoing members of the Council: Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo. We would like to formally acknowledge the contribution of each to international peace and security.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 5 June 2015
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