South Asia: Dialogue on strengthening regional cooperation on drugs and crime continues
Following the launch of the UNODC Regional Programme for South Asia (2013-2015), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime held its first Programme Steering and Policy Coordination Committee Meeting in New Delhi, India to review the progress of implementation of the Regional Programme. The two day meeting brought together delegations from the six countries that the UNODC Regional Office for South Asia covers, i.e. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
During the first day, UNODC briefed delegations on the approach of the Regional Programme, the key achievements during 2013 as well as the planned activities for the coming two years under the five Subprogrammes on (i) Transnational Organized Crime, (ii) Corruption prevention, (iii) Terrorism prevention, (iv) Efficient and fair justice systems and (v) Drug use prevention and treatment and HIV and AIDS. The presentation highlighted the gradual diversification of the UNODC approach in the region from a project-led to a broader, strategic one which also embraces crime-prevention related mandates of the organization and aims at strengthening regional and inter-regional cooperation.
The following thematic debate focused on the 'Need for enhanced regional and international cooperation in drug law enforcement'. Country-specific assessments provided detailed briefs on the current situation in each country with regard to drug law enforcement capacities as well as the needs and priorities for future cooperation and assistance, both at the country and regional level. The debate concluded acknowledging that it was time to focus drug law enforcement efforts on emerging trends in the drug markets, such as (i) the use of precursors for the production of synthetic drugs, (ii) pharmaceutical drugs and (ii) new psychoactive substances through awareness creation, data collection and research as well as through capacity-building. The usefulness of the UNODC developed e-learning tools in drug law enforcement was widely recognized.
The second thematic debate on "regional and international cooperation and asset recovery from illicit proceeds of crime" allowed to take stock of respective existing country specific legal and institutional frameworks as well as to learn from country-specific casework in asset recovery. Countries expressed the need for specific UNODC assistance under the overall framework of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and highlighted the urgent need for more sensitization of public officials, parliamentarians, enforcement officials and lawyers with regard to the need for corruption prevention.
Both thematic debates brought to light the need for regional platforms that allow information and intelligence sharing for especially complex organized crime cases that involve more than two countries. UNODC provided a brief on different models of regional platforms/centres that UNODC had helped set up in the Gulf States and Central Asia, which now allowed for in-time information sharing and joint operations. Delegations felt that such a platform for South Asia could be of benefit to the region, using and strengthening existing regional platforms.
While the two thematic debates focussed primarily on law enforcement and investigation capacities, UNODC's contributions in the area of drug use prevention and treatment and HIV and AIDS were also recognized. Participants underscored that the drug problem in South Asia needs to be understood as a social and development issue. They encouraged UNODC to continue its ongoing work for the benefit of vulnerable populations, such as drug users, people living with HIV, prison population and prisoners after release, including strong advocacy to reduce stigma and discrimination, as well as support for reintegration of released prisoners into society, working together with civil society organizations as critical agents bringing about a positive change in society.