What's In Blue

Drug Trafficking in West Africa and the Sahel: Briefing and Presidential Statement

Tomorrow (18 December), the Security Council plans to hold a briefing on drug trafficking in West Africa and the Sahel. The Secretary-General will address the Council, which will also hear briefings from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) Said Djinnit and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yury Fedotov. Representatives of regional organizations are also expected to deliver statements. The Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement at the meeting.

France, the President of the Council this month, has organised the meeting and proposed the presidential statement as an outcome. France, as well as other Council members, recognise the impact of corruption from drug-trafficking as a factor that contributed to state weakness in countries in the region, notably Mali and Guinea-Bissau. Another spillover effect of drug trafficking, also demonstrated in Mali, has been its role in financing other illicit activities, including terrorism, an increasingly worrying link for Council members.

In preparation for the meeting, France circulated a concept note that outlines objectives of the meeting. These include: reiterating the Council’s commitment to addressing drug trafficking’s harmful effects on West Africa and the Sahel; encouraging and commending regional and sub-regional initiatives to address this challenge; and encouraging the establishment of operational measures to strengthen regional cooperation to fight drug trafficking.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first time that the Council considers the Secretary General’s 17 June report on transnational organised crime and illicit drug trafficking in West Africa and the Sahel (S/2013/359). The report documented that in addition to being a major transit hub for drugs going from Latin America to Europe, drug use in West Africa has increased and the region is emerging as a producer of synthetic drugs. In their interventions tomorrow, members are likely to reflect on the different initiatives that have been developed to combat drug trafficking and organised crime in West Africa and the Sahel, and consider how support for and coordination of these initiatives can be enhanced.

Negotiations on the draft presidential statement expected to be adopted tomorrow took place on 11 December and 13 December. The draft was put under silence procedure on 13 December until 2 pm on 16 December (Monday). Silence was not broken.

The draft presidential statement draws quite extensively from previously agreed language in past Council resolutions and presidential statements related to drug trafficking. In that sense, many features of the presidential statement bring together elements from these previous Council decisions, most notably its presidential statements of 8 December 2009 (S/PRST/2009/32), 24 February 2010 (S/PRST/2010/4) and 21 January and 25 April 2012 (S/PRST/2012/2 and S/PRST/2012/16). The draft expresses the Council’s concern on the impact of drug trafficking and transnational crime in undermining states’ authority and governance, while also expressing its concern for the increasing links between drug trafficking and terrorism, in addition to other forms of transnational crime.

A new request is made by the Council in the draft for UNODC and the UN Department of Political Affairs to include in their future briefings information on the work of the UN task force on Transnational Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking. This is an attempt to fulfill a need perceived by some Council members for the Council to have more information on a problem that has only become more apparent in recent years.

Other new elements include paragraphs on the importance of combating corruption and money laundering and strengthening West African countries’ criminal justice systems to prosecute drug traffickers and corruption. The Council also encourages states to support the Airport Communication Programme, a fairly recent initiative developed to detect and disrupt drug trafficking routes in light of the growing use of air transportation.

Some members requested amendments that were incorporated into the draft without controversy. For example, at China’s request, language was inserted highlighting the importance of state sovereignty in addressing the challenge of drug trafficking, while Latin American countries made proposals that were accepted requesting greater specificity to West Africa and the Sahel, in order for the statement to not be interpreted as applying more broadly to other regions.

One contentious point that emerged during what were otherwise smooth negotiations was Russia’s objection to linking drug trafficking in West Africa and the Sahel to international peace and security. A compromise was found by replacing “security” with “stability”. Interestingly, some presidential statements adopted under the agenda item “Threats to International Peace and Security” have referenced drug trafficking, while other Council decisions have used language that describes drug trafficking in some cases as a threat to international security.

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