"Our response to the pandemic is a testament to our values"
Antonia Marie De Meo, a senior official with more than 25 years of experience with the United Nations (UN) and other organizations in the fields of rule of law and human rights, including criminal justice and crime prevention, gender equality, and child and migrant rights, assumed office this month at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) in Turin, Italy.
At the time of her appointment Ms. De Meo was Chief of the Human Rights, Transitional Justice and Rule of Law Service at the UN Support Mission in Libya and Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Libya. Prior to this position, she served as Chief of Staff of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees; held senior management positions with the UN Children's Fund in Sri Lanka and Sudan and the UN Office for Project Services in Palestine, Iraq, and Jordan. She also served as Anti-Trafficking and Gender Adviser for the Mission to Moldova of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and Deputy Registrar of the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. A trial lawyer by training and former prosecutor, she commenced her career in the international arena with the American Bar Association's Central and East European Law Initiative in Moldova.
Commenting on her appointment to UNICRI, Ms. De Meo said: “This comes during the unprecedented COVID-19 global crisis. My words go first to the Italian people, who have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. I express my profound sympathy to all who have lost loved ones or are struggling to recover from this catastrophic virus and to those who are fighting for their jobs and their basic needs. I am also concerned about people at risk of exploitation by organized crime, which is using the pandemic as a way to further their criminal enterprises.”
Ms. De Meo traveled to Italy from Tunisia. “The pandemic is striking everywhere as it spreads across communities in waves, highlighting strengths and weaknesses at different levels and in different sectors. We have the opportunity to demonstrate the best of who we are as a global community and to help each other in pursuit of shared principles and values. I am passionate about justice, rule of law, and human rights. I firmly believe that these are the essential elements for peace and stability at all levels, from communities to states, and this is even more important now as the world changes and adapts due to the COVID-19 global crisis.”
“Today the world is adjusting and showing its resilience. We, at UNICRI, are doing the same: exploring new ways to accomplish our mission with determination, agility, and innovation.” Ms. De Meo explained that, despite many challenges, the Institute continues to assist countries in preventing and countering violent extremism and organized crime while empowering vulnerable groups; fighting illicit financial flows; enhancing security through research, technology and innovation; and responding to threats and mitigating risks. UNICRI is also training current and future leaders and experts through its Master’s program and specialized courses in criminal law and emerging criminal justice topics.
During this extremely complex time, the new Director of UNICRI said: “We are doubling our efforts to build capacity to reduce the negative impacts of the pandemic. UNICRI is closely monitoring the role of extremist and criminal groups and has prioritized support to Member States through research and training in areas such as first responders’ protection in the management of the COVID-19 crisis by engaging a network of more than 60 partner countries to ensure knowledge sharing and dissemination of good practices in the field of biosecurity. We are building the capacity of law enforcement to use new technologies, including Artificial Intelligence, in an accountable and ethical way; and we are addressing the malicious use of social media and cyber-attacks by non-state actors that are thwarting governments’ responses to COVID-19. In recent weeks, we have trained more than 1000 people across our areas of work: policy makers, law enforcement, judicial personnel and academics have attended our expert workshops to share knowledge and expertise on security and COVID-19. This includes working closely with the tourism sector to manage the crisis and enhance security, so that we can return to activities that bring us joy and contribute to a healthy economy.”
A key element of UNICRI’s strategy, and the wider strategy of the United Nations, is to support vulnerable populations who are paying the highest price in terms of violations of human rights, violence, inequalities, and poverty, with the UN Charter and the UN 2030 Agenda as guiding principles.
“Our response as individuals, organizations, and institutions to the global pandemic is a testament to our values,” Ms. De Meo emphasized. “We can recover from the pandemic and emerge more resilient, provided that we adapt to the challenges and build upon the opportunities. Solidarity in caring for one another and humanity at large is key.” “At UNICRI, we are combining our 50+ years of experience, our expertise in criminal justice and crime prevention, and the founding principles of the United Nations to contribute to greater justice and stability as Italy and the rest of the world emerge from one of the greatest challenges of our times.”