The problem of opium should not be perceived only as a simple, black-and-white, law enforcement problem. To address problems related to opium cultivation, substantial socio-economic development is required to provide meaningful alternatives for farmers, and to ensure that a humanitarian crisis will not occur as the consequence of repressive drug control policies.
An article published recently in El Espectador commented on the two issues that underpin the Colombian discourse on the subject of drugs. To be precise, the government’s discourse is far from reflecting what goes on in practice, or the actions that are still being carried out in the country. Colombia is seen as the star pupil in complying with the United Nations drug treaties and it continues to do things that many other countries would avoid.
A decade ago, Myanmar seemed on course to wipe out the opium fields and heroin jungle labs along its eastern border, the notorious Golden Triangle. Today, valley after valley in these mist-shrouded mountains is covered with resplendent opium poppies, tended by farmers who perch on steep hillsides to harvest the plant’s sticky, intoxicating sap.
In July 2013, the Transnational Institute (TNI) in cooperation with Paung Ku (a consortium aimed at strengthening civil society in Myanmar) held the first Southeast Asia forum of growers of crops declared illicit in Yangon, Myanmar. As a senior policy officer for the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), based in Bangkok and working primarily on drug issues in Asia, I took part to find out more about the situation faced by opium growers in the region. In the movement in support of drug policies more grounded in health and human rights, a lot of attention has been (justifiably) paid to establishing harm reduction approaches for people who use drugs.
The International Guiding Principles on Alternative Development approved last week at an international meeting in Lima, Peru, represents a lost opportunity to promote equitable economic development in some of the world’s poorest regions. The final document on the Guiding Principles bears little resemblance to the document that was originally drafted in November 2011 in Thailand by a group of more than 100 governmental and non-governmental experts.
At the International Conference on Alternative Development (ICAD), held in Lima from 14 to 16 November, the Peruvian Government supported by the UNODC claimed that currently in Peru the surface planted with alternative development crops is superior to the amount of coca, used for the production of cocaine. Allegedly, the 80 thousand hectares with cocoa and coffee have successfully replaced an illicit economy, or prevented it to establish itself.
In November 2011 I was invited by the Thai government to take part in an international delegation to develop a set of UN International Guiding Principles on Alternative Development. Our work began with a five-day journey along the Thai-Burma border to see first-hand the development programs that have been successful in virtually eliminating poppy production in that country. Over 100 government officials and experts from 28 countries visited the Thai “Royal Project,” which has research stations and development projects in five Northern provinces of the country.
Analysis of the social costs of large-scale Chinese-supported rubber farms in northern Burma suggests that the future for ordinary citizens will be affected as much by the country's chosen economic path as the political reforms underway.
The last of the four ‘round tables’ of the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was devoted to the broad issue of Countering illicit drug traffic and supply, and alternative development. TNI had been nominated by the Vienna NGO Committee to give a statement on the issue of Alternative Development (AD), being one of the few member NGOs with a track record on this issue and having actively participated in the Beyond 2008 initiative, including the negotiations at the July NGO forum to reach consensus on the text of a paragraph on AD in the final declaration. This is our impression of the event.
The Transnational Institute (TNI) and the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) co-hosted the First Southeast Asian Informal Drug Policy Dialogue, 12-14 February 2009 in Bangkok. The dialogue – similar to TNI efforts in Europe and Latin America – brought together government officials, experts, NGOs and representatives of international agencies, to discuss dilemmas and possible improvements in drug policy making in the region. Participants in the Bangkok meeting were from Burma, Thailand, Laos, Yunnan (China) and Northeast India.
Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the desired results. We are further than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.
Breaking the taboo, acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for the discussion of a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.
Many people believe that ecstasy is merely a synthetic drug that is manufactured solely with chemicals, so-called precursors. However, the main raw material for ecstasy, safrole, is extracted from various plants and trees in the form of safrole-rich oils—also known as sassafras oil. Preventing ecological damage and unsustainable harvesting of safrole-rich oils is urgently needed to preserve fragile ecosystems.
The review of the objectives and action plans agreed at the 1998 UNGASS on Drugs has reached a critical stage. Following the thematic debate at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and the five expert working groups held in Vienna over the summer, the attention now moves to the political process of negotiating the text of a political declaration to be agreed at the high level meeting in March 2009.
From 2-4 July I attended the “open-ended intergovernmental expert working group on international cooperation on the eradication of illicit drug crops and on alternative development” in Vienna as part of the Netherlands delegation. It was the third of the five working groups that will be organised, which are part of the UNGASS review process. These working groups are preparations for the high-level segment of the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which will take place in March 2009.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) made some interesting video news items on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. In this one leading civils society spokespersons comment Mr. Costa, the UNODC Executive Director, opening speech. Costa's opening speech was somewhat surprising in that he coincided on some points that have been raised by civil society groups over the past years. He stressed that too many people in prison, and too few in health services; that there are too few resources for prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation; and that there is too much eradication of drug crops, and not enough eradication of poverty.
UNDCPs 1998 plan to eradicate the cultivation of both coca and opium poppy by the year 2008 was a rare opportunity to re-think current drugs efforts. Member states were asked to endorse a plan, known as SCOPE, for the eradication of drugs-linked crops by 2008. Is SCOPE viable? And what impact would it have on poor farmers who grow drugs-linked crops to survive?