Drugs & trafficking: A grave malaise

The writer is a former diplomat
By Amb. Salahuddin Choudhry

The United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, also known as ‘World Drugs Day’, is celebrated every year on June 26 to raise awareness of the major problem of illicit drugs in a society. This Day is supported by individuals, communities and various organizations all over the world. The date June 26 was drawn up to commemorate Lin Zexu’s dismantling of the opium trade in Humen, Guangdong, ending in June 25 1839, just before the First Opium War in China.

The theme of World Drug Day 2020 is “Better Knowledge for Better Care“. It aims at improving the understanding of the world drug problem and at fostering greater international cooperation for countering its impact on health, governance and security.

Interestingly, the 2019 theme, ‘Health for Justice. Justice for Health’, highlighted that “justice and health are two sides of the same coin when it came to addressing drug problems.”

At one point, former UNSG Ban Ki-moon had said, “Unless we reduce demand for illicit drugs, we can never fully tackle cultivation, production or trafficking. Governments have a responsibility to counteract both drug trafficking and drug abuse, but communities can also make a major contribution. Families, schools, civil society and religious organizations can do their part to rid their communities of drugs. Businesses can help provide legitimate livelihoods. The media can raise awareness about the dangers of narcotics.”

The UN Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC) encourages individuals, non-profit organizations, the private sector and Member States to get involved in all of its campaigns, esp. social media during the Covid-19 pandemic, to mark this day with all possible novelties and ideas to make the communities fully inspired to contribute in one form or the other.

According to the latest World Drugs Report issued by UNODC, about 269 million people used drugs worldwide in 2018, which is 30 per cent more than in 2009, while over 35 million people suffer from drug use disorders. People are using illicit drugs such as cocaine, cannabis, hallucinogens, opiates and sedative hypnotics. The UN was determined to help create an international society free of drug abuse. In 1998, the UN General Assembly adopted a political declaration to address the global drug problem. The declaration expresses UN members’ commitment to fighting the problem.

The Report mentions the impact of COVID-19 as well on the drug markets. Although its effects are not yet fully known, border and other restrictions linked to the pandemic have already caused shortages of drugs on the street, leading to increased prices and reduced purity. Added to it are reduced

employment and other opportunities which are likely to disproportionately affect the poorest, making them more vulnerable to drug use and also to drug trafficking & cultivation to earn money.

UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly says, “vulnerable and marginalized groups, youth, women and the poor pay the price for the world drug problem. The COVID-19 crisis and economic downturn threaten to compound drug dangers further still, when our health and social systems have been brought to the brink and our societies are struggling to cope. All governments need to show greater solidarity and provide support to tackle illicit drug trafficking, for attainment of SDGs and promotion of justice leaving no one behind.”

As per the Report, COVID-19 travel and movement restrictions are not stopping the movement of people fleeing conflict, human rights abuses, violence and dangerous living conditions, while the economic consequences of the pandemic are likely to lead to an increase in smuggling of migrants and trafficking in person flows from the most affected countries to more affluent destinations.

UNODC has, over the years, been actively involved in launching campaigns to mobilize support for drug control. It often teams up with other organizations and encourages people in society to actively take part in these campaigns.

Governments, organizations and individuals in many countries, including Vietnam, Borneo and Thailand, have actively participated in promotional events and larger scale activities, such as public rallies and mass media involvement, to promote the awareness of dangers associated with illicit drugs.

There is a growing concern over the rise in numbers of drug abusers all over the world, which is in turn leading to loss of life and crime. It is a growing nuisance in many societies, as school and college going kids, who have become addicted, now have no regard for life and would even kill to get their fix. As countries fight to raise awareness about substance abuse and unlawful drug trade, we need to know what the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is all about.

Drug abuse does not necessarily mean using drugs such as cocaine, hallucinogens, cannabis, sedative hypnotics and opiates, but also encompasses prescription medications such as painkillers, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers. The goal of the Day is to strengthen global action and cooperation towards creating a society that is free from drug abuse and unlawful drug trade.

In Pakistan Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice agencies face unique challenges and there have been threats posed by terrorism and its financing. Under “Pakistan’s Action to Counter Terrorism” (PACT) project, UNODC still delivers with stakeholders technical assistance to the police, prosecution and judiciary in the affected Provinces to strengthen their collective response to preventing and countering terrorism, thanks to financial support of the European Union in Pakistan.

One of the key activities under the project involves customizing this toolkit in close consultation with the Sindh Judicial Academy for the anti-terrorism judges of Pakistan.  During this initial online consultative meeting attended by over 20 anti-terrorism judges from Sindh, two United States District Court judges along with a magistrate from Australia participated as subject-matter experts.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in collaboration with the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), Sindh Judicial Academy (SJA) organized a virtual meeting for anti-terrorism judges from Sindh, Pakistan, on the South Asia Regional Toolkit for Judges: Supporting the Development of National Bench Books for the Effective Adjudication of Terrorism Cases.

The regional toolkit was developed by the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) with the active support and engagement of judges from all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, including Pakistan. It elaborates and builds on relevant Security Council resolutions and international instruments on counter-terrorism.  

It also provides practice-oriented guidance to judges and judicial training academies of SAARC countries on the foundations for effective adjudication, judicial management of proceedings and international cooperation in terrorism matters in the South-Asian region.

Pakistan has come a long way in the last decade in its criminal justice system’s response to terrorism. Pakistan-UNODC cooperation is producing results through targeted training and tools. One such tool is “The South Asia Regional Toolkit”, customized for Judges in Pakistan, which will serve as a reference guide tailored towards meeting the needs of Judges in the country.

The importance of the UNODC strategy was reinforced in April 2016 when it called on member states to combat both drug demand and supply, while improving access to treatment for addicts. So, the Org. chooses a new theme every year to promote – from “Sports Against Drugs” in 2001 and “Think Health – Not Drugs” in 2010 to “Listen First!” in a later year.

People who use drugs are highly stigmatized & discriminated against, often unable or unwilling to access drug-related services for fear of arrest or harassment. UNODC advises, be kind to them, engage them into activities of sorts including sports and show that we care, and share ‘Facts For Solidarity’.

                To recap and reiterate, in pursuance of the UN Resolution passed in a Special Session on drugs of the UN General Assembly in 1987, the annual awareness day was founded to mark the centenary of China’s early efforts to combat the trade in opium – widely regarded as the start of the international war on drugs.

Every year on June 26th, the UNODC uses the commemorative day to highlight the dangers of drug use and their illegal trade and provides educational material to teachers and public officials all over the world to help spread the message about the extreme cultural and economic harm the trade in drugs is still doing across the globe one hundred years after the war on drugs was initially launched in Shanghai around the start of the 20th Century.

Shall we then vow to “Say No to illicit drugs and Shun trafficking” to make our life better and free of tensions and trauma ? Let us fully support UN-initiated projects and Govt-sponsored actions and in raising awareness against the terrible malaise of drug abuses.

The author is a former senior career diplomat having served in UN Peace-keeping Mission in former Yugoslavia. He can be reached on @SaladinCh and [email protected]