Restructuring operational capabilities of the UNODC: “Unchecked” drug trade

drug trafficking


The issue of illicit drug trafficking is not only a concern for national and international law enforcement agencies, but also for the UN, a “grave” concern rather, which forced UN to establish a dedicated agency to combat acts of drugs and crime. Every day, millions become victims of “drug base” abuse, in one form or the other. They severely compromise an individual’s health, threatens his/her safety and securityas it lures the individual into “addiction”, which further makes the individual vulnerable to HIV, or “possible” death.

Today, the “war against drugs” remains an “economic burden” for middle income nations, costing state departments millions in “training and updating” their law-enforcement units, running “de-addiction” programs. Inspite of “heavy spending”, the programs offered by the state remains to be “in-effective” and the training the state agencies tasked, continues to prove “in-efficient”. Policy makers must understand that, these “programs” are more than “tasks on a spreadsheet”, in an effort to combat drug trafficking factions, these initiatives taken by the state must be effectively strengthenedand adequately supported by the nation’s judiciary or “criminal justice” system. “Unchecked” incidents of “drug trade” further boosts the moral of trafficking factions, while severely compromises safety and security of the masses and opens the doors for “gang-related” violence and “warlord-ship”; further reinforced by corruption, and supported by transnational organized crime, these “unchecked” illicit activates then lead to “terror financing” which escalates the issue “from domestic to geo-politic”.

Nonetheless, the issue today is “restructuring UNODC’s fight against drug trafficking”, however, in an effort to effectively combat the issue of drug trafficking, policy makers must understand “essential” factors responsible for “unchecked” drug trade. Eliminating “demand and supply” from the equation of drug trade is not “nearly” enough. To counter, law enforcement agencies must apprehend perpetrators responsible, not only for “production and distribution”, but also those actively working as “sleeper units”. Policy makers must address the “slow and in-effective” rehabilitation centres, which the state finance heavily, but fails to prove a “strategic” asset in reinforcing the law enforcement agencies fight against drug traffickers. Combatting acts of “drug” related crime tends to make law enforcement agencies “operations” limitedhence, dedicating enforcement agencies to “acts of drugs and crime” which may or may not involve “drugs” reinforces the tasked law enforcement agencies to liaise with other agencies and helps the officers in building a “rapport”.

Moreover, policy makers must understand that, success of state sponsored “rehabilitation” programs depend entirely on the “quality” of programs it offers. Since, international agencies such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime faces inconsistencies especially during operations, it will be beneficial for policy leaders to limit their operations in two specific regions:

Thecentral Asia, especially in and around the poppy cultivating regions of Afghanistan, and

Southeast Asia, covering the regions of infamous “Golden Triangle” – comprising Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.

Illicit large production houses established in the regions should be a priority for UNODC officers, especially when these drug trafficking units are run by local warlords, supported by trans-national organized crime with links to terror factions. Moreover, officers should keep a strictvigil on “flourishing” amphetamine tradealong with its “trade and supply” routes in South East Asia.

UN’s mandate on drug trafficking

United Nations, in an effort to combat the flourishing “drug trade” has established a dedicated task force in the form of UNODC; furthermore, it works under two major international agreement, three international drug treaties, a resolution against Narcotics of Drugs, and an independent international Narcotics Commission, along with many international resolutions on combatting drug trafficking. It ratified and created numerous resolutions, treaties, and is a signatory to many national and international resolutions on eliminating trans-national organized crime, corruption, and dedicated resolutions on trafficking of humans, weapons and drugs.

Trafficking of Drugs – South East Asia

According to a recent report published by the UNODC, today, poppy consumers have phenomenally increased in South East Asia because of large “unchecked” and “unhindered” poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Law enforcement agencies estimates “poppiets” to surpass 10 million “addicts” at the fall of 2017. Although, opium was produced historically in the region South East and Northern part of Afghanistan, this production has increased phenomenally, covering over 90% of opium production in Asia. Opiates produced from Afghanistan are then trafficked to neighbouring nations, where they are then “shipped” to Europe (through Balkan) and enter Russia (through Afghanistan’s porous northern boundariesespecially with nations Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan); Opium is then trafficked to North and South America and distributed regionally across the South-East Asia. In an effort to prevent “trafficking” of drugs overseas, UNODC has established “dedicated” teams totarget perpetrators smuggling drugs out of the northern borders ofAfghanistan. Maintaining a strict vigil on the Iran and Pakistan borders, transnational organized crime factions, militant factions along with drug traffickers continue to “traffic” over 70% of drugs from the borders of Iran and Pakistan. Moreover, this “trafficking” route then co-joins the routes to Africa which “under strict vigil” continues to flourish.

One of the prominent issue that “haunts” law enforcement agencies is rapid use of “drug traffic” to finance militant factions such as The Taliban and Al-Shabab, thus instigating “lawlessness and instability” in the region; However, inspite of the “flourishing” drug trade, it is important for law enforcement officers to understand that, the finances generated by this trade involves “sponsoring terror” on a small percentage as drug trafficking is largely a criminal activity rather than terror sponsored– and that changes the “issue” altogether.

Trafficking of Drugs – Eastern and South-Eastern Asia

Policy makers must note that, Eastern and South-eastern Asia has been the “sellers” paradise for long. Myanmar, using sound measures, ran “drug-specific” arrests during the period of 1998-2006; nonetheless, Afghanistan has become the largest opium producer in Asia, opium cultivation at the Golden Triangle hascontinues to multiply every year. The opium produced at the “Golden Triangle” is then smuggled to China, where drugs are smuggled to fulfil the demands of labour masses.

It is also important for policy makers to note that, “free trade” concepts have further eased the “trans-national drug trade”which not only lowers the cross-border trade restrictions but also makes it easy for suppliers to deliver the product to their customers; nonetheless, the concept of “free trade” liberalises trade between countries, but it largely assists “drug trafficking” units and eases their “product” distribution.

Key steps UNODC should take

  1. Initiate active “joint” cross border anti-trafficking operations

In an effort to strengthen the fight against “drug trafficking” factions are by strengthening cross border anti-trafficking measures. By taking in confidence two more national law enforcement agencies and sharing the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and providing adequate training to border patrol units, increasing regular interaction through “DG level talks”, among other “confidence building measures”, would further enhance the reach of law enforcement agencies, leaving no choice for perpetrators but to run. Since, drug traffickers “transport” a majority of their products by air, land and sea, law enforcement agencies must keep vigil on the size of the container and other credentials before beginning their hunt; In an effort to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the law enforcement officers involved in the bust, the UNODC has established dedicated training units to train personnel of Central and South-eastern Asian nations, designated border guarding/patrolling authorities (BLOs) to remain in cross border connection with multiple agencies. Moreover, the UNODC also establishedMobile Intervention Teams (MOBIT) to “man” long and porous boundaries.

  1. Strengthening fight against corruption

Today, corruption is the root cause behind the “rising” production and trafficking of drugs, which carries out in large scale because of “compromised” law enforcement officers, who, on numerous occasions are “distributors”. Drug trafficking factions continues to exist because of widespread support fromcorrupt government officers. Moreover, corruption hollows even impenetrable borders, which becomes victim ofdrug trafficking in one form or other. The profits distributed by trafficking factions as a “cut” to law enforcement officials severely compromises the fight against drug traffickers.

  1. Reducing demands for illicit drugs while strengthening treatment

Policy makers must understand that, production of drugs solely depends upon the demand and number of consumers the drug serves, if the demand for particular product goes down, number of consumers will fall which would bring production on a sudden halt. One of the major step to reduce demands is to strengthen “inter-state” cooperation while inviting the private sector to advocate educational programs.

Rigged drug laws and “criminalization” of drug addictsfollowed by poorly maintained rehabilitation centres with inadequate programs and ineffective schemes, local and national government initiatives fail to reintegrate drug addicts into normal lives, making it “tiring” for law enforcement agencies to “stick” to one case with a single approach.

Possible Solutions

Policy makers must understand the need for such conventions against drug trafficking and resolutions, agreements which eliminate their operations in the designated regions, as they not only task relevant agencies on their modus operandi in tasked cases but also works as a framework for regional and local law enforcement agencies which continues to function aimlessly and without a set agenda. Additionally, state agencies can view these resolutions as a framework to enhance their extent of operations and working mechanism in the regionparticularly in assigning different units for different crimes (such as money laundering, human trafficking, etc.) in an effort to eliminate drug trafficking using multi-faceted approach.

Policy makers must focus on strengthening inter-agency cooperation, coordination and confidence building mechanismas outcomes of such programs would “vigil” illicit border activities at the golden triangle. Inviting more law enforcement agencies from neighbouring countries would further boost the morale of agencies tasked while increasing cooperation and coordination would enhance the modus operandi, designating roles to agencies involves which would decentralise the command structure and operating mechanisms. Establishing a “intelligence centre” or a data headquarters would streamline the flow of information, while enhancing law enforcement agencies to acquire correct intelligence inputs as well as target coordination and perpetrators real time information; moreover, the UNODC can function like a “parent organization” provide consultation, policy support to states heavily compromised with corruption and trafficking of all kinds. Besides working with senior government officers, it can actively invite private stakeholders, to prevent involvement of any “private” stakeholder in the crime factions. Furthermore, there is an absolute need to enhance inter-agency interaction (such as customs collaborating with anti-terror factions) nationally and internationally.

It is the mandate of the UNODC to provide relevant assistance to nations suffering from trafficking in all forms, in policies particularly on anti-corruption under its wing. It is important for policy makers to extensively study the use of drugs and its characterises before heading out for operations. The thorough preparation can be conducted by the UNODC and INTERPOL along with relevant international agencies but not limiting the knowledge to drug trade but also extending it to terrorist groups, their modus operandi or trans-national organized crime factions.

Anant Mishra

Anant Mishra is a former Youth Representative to the United Nations. He has served extensively in United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council along with the Economic and Social Council. He is also a visiting faculty for numerous universities and delivers lectures on political economics and foreign policies.