Remarks at the UN General Assembly High-Level Debate on the Implementation of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC)
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
In a garden outside the FBI Academy in Virginia rests a statue of a fearless judge assassinated in 1992 for his work to dismantle a global heroin smuggling ring operated by the Mafia.
Judge Falcone – who we honor today – was a patriot of Italy and a friend of the United States. Committed to dismantling the Mafia, he worked with U.S. law enforcement to share evidence, obtain witnesses, and collaborate on groundbreaking cases in Sicily and New York. These cases convicted major criminals and introduced new standards for cooperation in criminal justice.
Judge Falcone’s 1980s partnership with the United States was visionary. This kind of cooperation is at the heart of the UNTOC, and plays a key role in the United States new initiative to combat organized crime.
President Trump identified combating transnational crime as one of his administration’s top priorities. He issued Executive Order 13773 in February to direct the U.S. government to substantially improve cooperation to aggressively dismantle these criminal groups. Secretary of State Tillerson is helping lead this process and has elevated transnational organized crime as a top diplomatic U.S. priority. We are working to ensure that U.S. efforts to carry out this executive order complement our support to UNODC assistance programs and U.S. law enforcement cooperation under the UNTOC.
The UNTOC is not just a roster of political commitments or obligations. Instead, it requires all parties to criminalize acts like conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and money laundering, and gives authorities the standards they need to find and prosecute criminals globally.
Since 2005, the United States has relied on the UNTOC over 500 times to provide or request international legal cooperation with nearly 70 countries. The UNTOC has helped us request or answer requests from more than 30 countries to extradite over 200 charged or convicted members of organized criminal groups.
We have been asked today to evaluate the implementation of the UNTOC. In our view, this treaty’s performance can and should not be evaluated by whether it helps achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – as important as they are – or whether States Parties create a new review mechanism.
Instead, we measure the impact of the UNTOC by its practical results and service to member states. We measure impact by the number of times governments have actually used the Convention as a basis for mutual legal assistance or extradition.
We are committed to debating new ideas to promote the UNTOC through its Conference of Parties (COP), the treaty’s governing body. But we are convinced this treaty’s success is linked to the empowerment of our experts who use it on a daily basis.
We are also supporting law enforcement experts at the multilateral level. That is why the United States sponsored a resolution last year at the UNTOC COP to enhance support for experts who facilitate international cooperation, known as “central authorities.”
The success of the UNTOC is tied not to the work of diplomats in Vienna and New York, but rather to that of investigators and prosecutors in cities like Palermo, who desperately need to obtain bank records, evidence, and testimony from Switzerland, and fugitives from Spain and the United States, activities that Judge Falcone undertook without the benefit of the UNTOC.
It is fitting that we honor Judge Falcone in the United Nations and at the FBI Academy, where new trainees learn from his example. However, the best way we can honor his legacy is by investing in our police and prosecutors who face assassination every time they pursue a group like the Mafia.
That is the focus we will bring to Vienna. We encourage all Parties to send their experts to Vienna to help bring this Convention to life.
As we work to achieve the potential of this treaty, we ask: if Judge Falcone had the opportunity to meet his counterparts from 187 countries – and a treaty to help them work together – what could he have accomplished? And can we do the same?