Remarks at an Arria Formula Meeting on Maritime Crime as a Threat to International Peace and Security

Ambassador Kelley Currie
U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
June 13, 2018


Thank you so much to our colleagues from Equatorial Guinea for their initiative in bringing this crucial issue to the Security Council this month. And I also look forward to hearing from our briefers and hearing their expertise and as well as that of our co-hosts. I would be of course remiss if I did not recognize the work of the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime for its incredible work in assisting member states to address illicit drugs, crime, and terrorism across the globe.

The reason why we should care about maritime security is clear – the safety and economic security of the globe depends on the secure use of the world’s oceans. Maritime commerce is the backbone of global trade. But with the increase in trade of legitimate goods on the seas comes increasing concern about maritime security and crime.

Maritime crime has been around for as long as human beings have sailed the seas. As a matter of fact, the United States Constitution mentions just three federal crimes, and piracy is one of them. Then, as now, maritime crime has undermined peace and security, violated states’ sovereignty and well-being, and contributed to instability.

But in the 231 years since the U.S. Constitution was drafted, maritime crime has not only remained a scourge of law abiding nations but the variety and consequence of these crimes has also unfortunately kept up with the times. Today’s victims are the women and children who are subjected to modern slavery on the high seas. They are the victims of abuse and criminality associated with illegal drug smuggling through maritime channels. They are the innocent victims caught up in conflicts fed by weapons trafficked on the high seas. And they are the fisherman and their families who have seen their livelihoods destroyed with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that ruins fisheries they depend on.

Ambassador Haley recently visited Guatemala, Honduras, and Afghanistan and saw first-hand how the illicit trafficking of goods and the trafficking of humans are often interlinked. In Central America, transnational criminal organizations have taken advantage of limited governance, the weak rule of law, and corruption to move drugs, illicit goods, including arms and people, through the area. The Security Council saw a similar effect at work during its trip to Afghanistan. There, corruption, terrorism, and narcotics trafficking have become intertwined to create deep-seated problems that have far-reaching implications for many other parts of the world. And they don’t just threaten our collective security; they deny the human rights of their victims.

So the United States is fighting back as we always have. Special Naval Forces in Guatemala are responsible for over 80 percent of Guatemala’s maritime drug seizures, with support from the United States. The Honduran police are also successfully countering the flow of narcotics with U.S. support. And in Afghanistan the entire Council witnessed how U.S. trained, advised and assisted Afghan police units are depriving traffickers of drug proceeds, not to mention the others who are doing great work there.

One of the common threads of Ambassador Haley’s visits to Central America and Afghanistan was the positive effect maritime interdictions were having on the ground, on multiple fronts. She saw how their success not only helps to stop the flow of drugs and illicit goods, but also to counter human trafficking. Victims of human trafficking – whether in source, transit, or destination countries, are preyed upon by international criminal networks, who often use the seas as their route of choice because of the lack of maritime regulation and enforcement.

But countering maritime crime is not easy. Making real progress against maritime trafficking will require much stronger cooperation among all Member States. It will require members of the Security Council to step up and make good on their rhetoric condemning trafficking through concrete action.

Member States should increase maritime patrols and interdiction operations, including by working with partners to share the burden of policing vast waters for our collective security. Member States should hold traffickers accountable for their actions through appropriate criminal justice actions, as well as sanctions designations. And Member States should develop more comprehensive counter maritime smuggling strategies that work with key partners at the national, regional, and international levels.

As a step in the right direction, the United States joined our Dutch, German, French and British colleagues to nominate six individuals involved in migrant smuggling and human trafficking in Libya for sanctions, designated by the Council last week. This was a good start, but we need far more regular and even stronger actions by the Council to hold perpetrators to account and achieve justice for the victims of human trafficking.

The United States also supports the EU in its efforts to operate EUNAVFOR, Operation Sophia and we are grateful to have its leader here today. We share Operation Sophia’s goals to prevent migrant smuggling and human trafficking by monitoring waters in the Central Mediterranean, and training the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy to intercept smuggling vessels and return migrants to Libya. We are happy to have Commander Credendino here with us today to discuss these efforts further.

Operation Sophia’s mandate, via the EU, also includes helping to enforce the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya, and we support the potential expansion of this mandate to interdict vessels involved in smuggling Libyan oil and petroleum products to help implement Resolution 2362. Libya’s natural resources are for the benefit of Libyans, not criminals seeking to exploit them. And there’s one more thing we need: A change in how we look at this problem.

The United States was the first country to bring human trafficking in conflict to the Security Council’s agenda in 2015, and more recently, we have advocated treating other human rights abuses as issues of peace and security, as well. Human trafficking, by land or sea, is a prime example of the kind of criminal behavior and human rights abuse that can threaten the stability of entire regions. Criminality and human rights abuses lead to conflict. And the cycle continues.

The common thread, maritime crime touches us all. It is the very definition of a collective responsibility. And our responsibility is both strategic and moral. For the sake of our collective security and our collective conscience, we cannot allow these crimes to go unpunished.

So thank you again to our colleagues from Equatorial Guinea and our other co-sponsors for bringing this important issue to the Council today in this Arria formula.