Several decades of aggressive law-enforcement against narcotic drugs, military operations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Peru and elsewhere have failed to stem the flow.
Where the UN drug authorities have claimed a ‘success story’, ie
Big reductions in opium cultivation in Burma and Laos upon closer inspection it turns out to be a misleading claim. In Laos opium has been replaced in many places by a far worse drug known as ‘ya ba’
In the junta-ruled Burma [Myanmar] much is made of the drastic opium reduction in the northern Wa state but again there has been no cutbacks in ‘ya ba’ pills that are manufactured in batches of a million at a time flooding SE Asia and beyond.
The failure of orthodox drug enforcement strategies in so many countries has not worked. In the US zero tolerance has filled the jails but the drug mafias continue to prosper. In Thailand under former PM Thaksin Shinawatra his declaration of police quotas led to a shoot the suspects policy with corpses piling up and few questions asked.
The long history of failure of all-out narcotics repression has sadly not led to any substantial debate over policy and strategy.
TNI-[The Transnational Institute ] that closely monitors narcotics agencies commented on the UNODC 2006 report:
“The report suffers from the tension between UNODC policy makers who want a strict control regime maintained – and who are under huge US funding pressure – and the experts willing to open an honest debate about the effectiveness of outdated aspects of the current policy framework.” .
Other UN agencies have regular evaluations of their operations but
the UNODC-[formerly the UNDCP it is now called the UN Office for Drugs and Crime] never seems to feel the need for any debate over its effectiveness and seldom responds to any criticism. The same applies to its sister agency the INCB –International Narcotics Control Board-both based in Vienna.
TNI and other critics argue that these two UN agencies are too much obsessed with a US agenda ‘ the war on drugs’ too the detriments of other issues. The eradication of narcotic crops also affects economic livelihood, the use of coca plant and opium as proven medicinal treatments and other development issues.
It is fairly obvious that the global drugs problem is a complex subject
Involving health problems, need for treatment of drug addicts, impact on communities and society, and the need for a sustainable solutions.
The knee-jerk response of politicians to round up a few suspected traffickers and shoot them as with Thaksin’s ‘ war on drugs’ in Thailand, only leads to a lot of corpses and highly-publicised body-counts. When the police are encouraged to shoot on sight, this is a breakdown in the rule of law and the promotion of a police state, where the citizens live in daily fear of trigger-happy cops.
That the UNODC never criticised former PM Thaksin’s bloody war on drugs, prompted another UN agency UN Human Rights in Geneva to prod their sister agency –UNODC in Bangkok, to distance themselves from the killings on the street.
UNODC, predominantly staffed by law-enforcement experts and those committed to drug repression, often fails to frame its policies in harmony with respect for human rights of poor farmers, and environmental issues that have arisen with the chemical spraying of narcotic crops.
People with a more rounded background in public health, sociology, anthropology, community development are seldom found within their ranks.
CONTROVERSIAL COLLABORATION WITH BURMA’S
Myanmar is the main source of opium and amphetamine tablets in South East Asia and second only to Afghanistan in opium/heroin production.
Most of it is grown in the mountainous Shan state –northern Burma
which enjoys borders with China, Laos and Thailand providing a multiplicity of trafficking routes.
The drug trade has been nurtured and flourished thanks to the long-festering internal conflicts between ethnic minorities, and myriad rebel armies that have rejected military rule from Rangoon.
Traditionally Shan nationalist armies, Kachin, Karenni, and the Wa have all participated in the opium trade either growing, taxing or trafficking ,in order to finance their rebellion against Burmanisation and the heavy hand of Rangoon.
However the Burmese generals have not only run a ruthless dictatorship since they seized power back in 1962, but they have also become deeply involved in the drug trade.
In a critical review the UN Opium Survey for 2006,some journalists with excellent sources in the troubled Shan states claim that UNODC’s analysis is deeply flawed and distorted in favour of the Junta’s line on drugs.
The UNODC Opium survey observes that ‘ in most areas under full government control, no evidence of (opium poppy) cultivation exists.’
In a rebuttal the Chiangmai-based Shan Herald Agency for News has produced their own counter report showing that the marjority of poppy cultivation is on the contrary, in junta-controlled areas.
During the 1990s the major source of domestic investment flowed from narco-profits that can be traced back to the trade in opium, heroin and amphetamines. In this way the black economy subsidised the nearly bankrupt official economy by setting up shady banks, launching new airlines and funding road contruction. A key man in this nexus of running narcotics operations behind various legitimate business facades is Chinese boss -Wei Hsueh Kang,a commander of the UWSA-the Wa armed group, and at the same a director of the flourishing Hong Pang corporation.
Hong Pang deals in building roads, electronics, DVD records, fruit orchards. .It is clear that it enjoys carte blanche approval from the generals. And it is also equally clear that their capital assets are derived from narco-profits in the Shan state. The UNODC report never mentions these nefarious links between the black economy and official government-backed business.
HARD-LINE DRUG POLICY RISKS PROMOTION OF HIV EPIDEMICS
One of the few successes in dealing with the drug problem in recent years, has been the adoption of harm reduction policies by health authorities as part of the global campaign to prevent the spread of Hiv/Aids.
Ensuring the easy access to clean needles for heroin addicts- known as needle-exchange programmes has been shown to be effective. At a recent UN drug conference ,delegates from around the globe stood up to defend the overwhelming evidence that harm reduction measures are effective against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Tom Smits, chief coordinator of AHRN-the Asian Harm Reduction Network told Resurgence that ‘for all the progress that has been made the UNODC is still ambiguous on the issue with their policy makers stressing law-enforcement rather than treatment of drug addicts and health prevention.’
Many countries follow the advice given by UNODC and INCB the two UN drug agencies. Smits argues ‘ that is why it is important for UNODC to some soul-searching and to recognise that the early stage of HIV epidemic comes from drug uses or sex-workers. ‘
ARHN and public health officials are calling for more harmony between police bodies, anti-drug organisations and their work in harm reduction. "Forcing people who use drugs further underground and into situations where transmission of HIV/AIDS is more likely, and denying them access to life-saving treatment and prevention services is creating a public health disaster”, noted a report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The UNAids agency is very critical of the lack of support from UNODC and its failure to highlight harm reduction and public health priorities.
Such are the passions and paranoia aroused by narcotics in many countries, that rationality and science appear to be unwelcome intruders. Politicians exploit these fears to the hilt especially in the US. Columnist Antony Lewis writing in a Boston newspaper commented ‘ Drugs arouse paranoia in politicians. That is why for many decades, drug policy has been immune to examination in the light of reason and experience. ‘
Public health experts and scientists know that blind law-enforcement offers no long-term solutions either for drug addicts,or for drug-afflicted communities in a world awash with heroin, amphetamines and other dangers to the health.
The first step to dealing with the global drug problem is to increase honest debate and information about drugs and abandon the propaganda about narcotics in favour of rationality, science and compassion for those who have fallen foul of addiction.
Eureka Films, Thailand
This is a reprint by permission of the author, who also owns the copyright, from the magazine Resurgence published in Penang – Editor