Illicit Traffic in Opium
THE FIRST DECADE (1921-1931)
THE SECOND DECADE (1931-1941)
Countries of origin
THE WAR YEARS (1941-1945)
THE POST-WAR YEARS (1946-1952)
Illicit opium markets
The situation in various countries and territories
Pages: 24 to 29
Creation Date: 1953/01/01
The Shanghai Opium Commission of 1909 and the International Opium Conference of 1912, in which The Hague International Opium Convention was signed, paved the way for international control of opium and other narcotic drugs. They did not, however, create any international administrative organ to oversee the working of the control measures or to watch the world situation in respect of the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, especially opium.
Illicit traffic in opium during that time was active and wide-spread, and attracted much attention. Information about it, however, was not adequately organized from the global standpoint and did not afford a basis for a systematic study of the manifold aspects of the problem.
A systematic collection and organization of information on a global basis dates from the League of Nations Opium Advisory Committee. In due course the United Nations and its organs took over the work.
Accordingly, this study is based on information contained in the annual and seizure reports furnished by governments, and in the records of the League of Nations and of the United Nations, and follows closely the work of their respective organs.
Four periods may be distinguished, each of which had its characteristic features and left its mark on the international measures in this field.
Finally, a summary account is given of the situation in individual countries and territories, showing quantities of opium seized, where figures are available, the sources and the routes. No attempt is made, however, to cover all the countries and territories where there is opium traffic.
The international administrative control of narcotic drugs began on 15 December 1920, when the League of Nations assumed the control functions, some of which had hitherto been entrusted to the Government of the Netherlands,1 and the actual work got under way when the League's Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium met in May 1921.
1. Article 21 of The Hague Convention of 1912 requires parties thereto to communicate to one another, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, " laws and regulations and statistical information" on narcotic drugs.
At the beginning, the Opium Advisory Committee devoted itself to collecting information from States parties to The Hague Convention of 1912, which it considered necessary to enable it "to report upon the measures taken by the governments to carry out the obligations of the Convention, and upon the production, distribution and consumption of the substance with which the Convention deals".
Originally, no provision was made in the Form of Annual Reports for governments to report the amounts of opium confiscated or seized in any one year. In 1930, the Opium Advisory Committee revised the Form, under which governments were explicitly requested to furnish figures on amounts of opium seized in the illicit traffic, However, beginning with 1925, annual reports by some governments already began to give totals of seizures of opium. Incomplete as they were, these were the only figures available for those years:
"Quantitative statements are impossible in such a matter", the Opium Advisory Committee observed in its report on the work of its tenth session (1927), which contained an analysis of the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, including opium. However, particulars concerning the opium traffic gathered by the League Secretariat and reviewed by the Opium Advisory Committee were sufficient to indicate broad trends of the opium traffic during the period as follows:
The revival of large-scale clandestine cultivation of opium in China;
The export of raw opium from the Persian Gulf to the Far East; and, of lesser importance,
The export of Indian opium for purposes other than medical and scientific needs.
When the Opium Advisory Committee met for its first session in 1921, one of the most important items of discussion in the Committee was the revival of clandestine cultivation of opium poppy in China. It may be recalled briefly that in the long history of China's struggle against the abuse of opium, great progress in suppressing the use of opium was made in the period 1907 to 1917, at the end of which opium poppy was almost extinct in China. However, owing to the conditions of civil war, large-scale clandestine cultivation reappeared after 1917. By 1921, information reached the Opium Advisory Committee to the effect that the quantities of opium clandestinely produced had reached very large proportions, estimated at 15,000 tons per annum, representing approximately "nine-tenths of the total annual world production" at that time. This cultivation was carried on in violation of the laws and regulations on the statute books of China. The Opium Advisory Committee regarded this situation with great concern because it resulted in the outflow of large amounts of Chinese raw opium to the neighbouring countries, and in the expansion of the international illicit opium traffic. For instance, large seizures of raw opium of Chinese origin were reported at that time in Australia, Hong Kong, Netherlands East Indies, Malaya and the Philippines. Opium of the same origin also reached North America. The situation in respect of clandestine opium cultivation in China became so serious that "the Advisory Committee, considering that all measures at its disposal to deal with the situation had been exhausted, agreed to refer the question to the Council" of the League of Nations).
In its report to the Council of the League of Nations on the work of the seventh session (24 to 31, August 1925) the Opium Advisory Committee stated that "the export of opium from the Persian Gulf to the Far East is, next to the production of opium in China, the most important factor in the illicit traffic in opium, which is being carried on in the Far East". In one year (May 1924 to May 1925) over 460 tons were known to have been shipped from the Persian Gulf. "Apart from the quantities required for Formosa (26 tons) and the leased territory of Kwantung (36 tons) nearly the whole of these exports were destined for the illicit traffic", according to the report. This traffic was carried on by sea. Ocean-going vessels of a number of maritime Powers were involved.
Although this caused, comparatively, lesser concern to the Opium Advisory Committee during the period under review than the two factors heretofore mentioned, it was, nevertheless, an important factor from the aspect of the international supervision of the control of the opium traffic. In 1926, the representative of the Indian Government made an important declaration at the eighth session of the Opium Advisory Committee, stating that "the Governor-General-in-Council was recommended to take immediate steps to give effect to the policyof progressively reducing the exports of opium from India, except for strictly medicinal and scientific purposes, so as to extinguish them altogether within a definite period".
In 1932, the Sub-Committee on Seizures of the Opium Advisory Committee began its work. Throughout the period, before each session of the Advisory Committee, the sub-committee made careful study of the seizure reports and annual reports furnished by governments. The 1931 Convention, inter alia, included provisions strengthening the machinery for reporting by governments. It came into force in 1934, and in compliance with article 23 of that Convention, more governments sent in seizure reports. Therefore, much more information on the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs throughout the world was available than in previous years. Subject to the qualification that the figures are incomplete and have other defects, the totals of opium seized year by year during the period under review, as given in the annual reports, may be summarized as follows:
The high figures for 1935 and 1936 included 167 tons and 91 tons; respectively, reported from China, where most vigorous campaigns of opium suppression had been launched in 1934. The low figure for 1941 was due to the small number of annual reports received by the Secretariat of the League of Nations.
During the period under review, seizures of opium were reported from the following countries and territories:
Malaya (Straits Settlements)
United States of America
The chief countries of origin of raw opium seized in the illicit traffic during the period under review, according to annual reports, were: Persia (Iran) China, Turkey.
At the beginning, seizures of Persian, Turkish and Chinese opium were reported from the Far East, and Turkish opium from Europe and North America. Towards the end of the period, seizures of Persian (Iranian) opium were also reported from Europe and North America.
In general, "Turkish opium was exported illicitly, almost exclusively in a westerly direction, whereas the Persian raw opium apparently goes eastward", according to the observation of the Opium Advisory Committee in 1933.
It may be mentioned more specifically that during the period Turkish opium passed through the French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish ports on the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic, on way to the ports on the eastern shores of the United States off America.
On the other hand, Iranian opium went eastward to China, the Netherlands Fast Indies, Malaya, Indo-China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
A third and very involved route, which was brought to the attention of the Opium Advisory Committee in 1937, was that on which Iranian opium was illicitly transported. Iranian opium was first shipped to China, from where it moved to Europe and then to the Atlantic seaboard of North America.
Opium was smuggled into Egypt by way of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
When the Second World War reached its global proportions fin 1941, its effect upon the illicit traffic in opium began to show a definite pattern, which typified the war years.
In many of the countries affected by the war, governmental machinery for collecting and furnishing information on illicit traffic in narcotic drugs had either to perform emergency governmental functions of a different kind along with the routine duties, or-cease to function altogether. As a result, exchange of information between governments, directly or through the Secretary-General of the League of Nations, was drastically curtailed in respect of some countries and practically non-existent in respect of the others. Smuggling through the land frontiers diminished. The report of the Government of Turkey for 1942 stated: "In consequence of the very strict control exercised by each country on its frontiers, which are often guarded by militaryforces, the smuggling of narcotic drugs from one country to another has become almost impossible."
On the contrary, a number of maritime countries reported a significant trend in the international illicit traffic in opium evidenced by the frequent involvements of seamen in opium seizures.
In 1944, the Government of the United States stated in its report as follows:
"The most significant trend in the illicit traffic during the year was the increase in seizures of opium on vessels arriving in the United States in the Atlantic coast area from British ports. Eighty-three seizures were made on vessels in this area..."
This reflected the concentration of war-time shipping passing through British waters.
Similarly, the traditional, sources of supply of opium were supplanted by new sources. In 1944, the Government of the United States reported as follows:
"With the cutting of Southern Europe and the Far East as sources of supply of raw opium, ports of Great Britain, Iran, India and Mexico, in the order named, have supplanted China, Yugoslavia and Italy as the major bases for opium smuggling operations to the United States."
During the period, large amounts of opium were smuggled into Egypt from Turkey by way of Syria and Palestine, and the Government of Iraq reported seizures of opium from India and Iran.
During the war, in areas where there were large concentrations of troops and of military stores, traffickers did not hesitate to take advantage of the facilities and supplies which they could: obtain .in furthering their smuggling activities. Narcotic drugs from army medical stores were seized in Europe, South America and the Far East.
As smuggling by sea and land became very difficult, the shortage of illicit narcotic supplies was acute. In order to obtain supplies to satisfy the craving of addicts at exorbitant, prices, traffickers turned their attention to legal sources, wholesalers and retailers, using false medical prescriptions, resorting to thefts and burglaries, and afterwards highly adulterating the drugs thus obtained.
The international control of narcotic drugs, under the various Agreements, Conventions and Protocols, partially affected by the war, was resumed towards the end of 1946 when the functions exercised by the organs of the League of Nations were transferred to the organs of the United Nations, with the signing on 11 December of that year of a Protocol to that effect.
The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, replacing the League's opium. Advisory Committee, took up the task of watching over the illicit traffic situation throughout the world.
Total opium seizures for each year, during the post-war years, as reported by governments and reviewed by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, were as follows:
While totals of opium seizures on a global scale are incomplete and give only a partial picture of the situation, it is clear that the illicit traffic in opium continues to present a very grave problem.
The main features of this traffic may be analysed under the following headings:
( a) The principal illicit markets.
( b) Sources
( c) Routes
( d) Situation in individual countries and/or terri-tories.
Opium seizures were reported from the following countries and territories:
Netherlands West Indies
The principal illicit opium markets of the pre-war years became active again during the post-war years.
The sources of opium seized in the illicit traffic are either ultimate or immediate. The ultimate sources are countries of origin - countries in which opium poppy is cultivated either legally or clandestinely. During the period under review opium seized in the illicit traffic was reported to have originated in the following countries:
Countries where poppy cultivation is legal: India, Indo-China (later, Cambodia, Laos, Viet-Nam), Iran, Nepal, Thailand, Turkey, Yemen.
Countries where poppy cultivation is clandestine: Burma (cultivation is legal, however, in the Shan States), China, Egypt, Japan, Lebanon, Federation of Malaya, Mexico.
The immediate sources include those other than the countries of origin, from which the traffickers obtain their illicit supply. For instance, during the period, an important source of this kind was the former army stores. It was reported that in 1950, 97 per cent of opium seized in Japan was derived from former Japanese army medical stores. Seizures of opium from similar sources were reported from Europe, the Near East, and South America.
With the sea routes reopened after the war, opium traffic on these pre-war routes became active again. The Government of the United States reported that "with the resumption of shipping between European and certain Near Eastern ports, there are indications that narcotic drugs are available in these ports for smuggling to the United States". In 1948, it also reported that "the trends in the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs in the United States in 1947 began to take on a resemblance to conditions in pre-war days; and that India and Turkey became increasingly active as bases for the smuggling of ... opium".
During the post-war period, opium was smuggled by sea, land and air. By sea, opium was smuggled to North America from the Near East and Southern Europe, in the Mediterranean area; from the Far East across the Pacific; from the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf; and to the Australian ports, from the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia and the Far East. By land, opium was smuggled to Kowloon (Hong Kong) and Burma from China; to Egypt and Israel by way of Syria and Lebanon, across the Sinai Desert; and to the United States of America from Mexico. A few cases of smuggling by air were also reported.
The situation in respect of the illicit opium traffic varies in different countries. A brief account of the conditions in some countries and territories follows:
Opium was the principal drug seized in the illicit traffic in Australia. It was smuggled by sea, chiefly from ports in Southeast Asia, and invariably by members of ships' crews, and also from Hong Kong, Manila and the Japanese ports. The largest total was that reported for 1948.
In Austria, opium seized was chiefly from abandoned stocks of the former German army.
Opium seized in the illicit traffic in Burma came principally by land from the Northern Shan States and from Yunnan (China) along the war-time Burma Road, while Indian opium was smuggled into Burma by land and by sea. Members of ships' crews were said to be primarily responsible for smuggling of opium into Burma. The situation in 1951 was particularly serious on account not only of the large quantities of opium seized but also of the fact that, according to its annual report for 1951, Burma became a transit centre of international opium smuggling operations.
Traffic in opium in Canada has become negligible in recent years. The small amounts seized were discovered on ships from the Far East.
Information received from China included only totals for 1946 and 1947 which were, respectively, as follows: 1946, 2,927.486 kg.; 1947, 3,365.464 kg.
Totals were not given for the years 1948, 1949 and 1950. For 1951, in respect of the Province of Taiwan, total opium seized was reported to be 56.027 Kg.
Opium is among the drugs frequently encountered in the illicit traffic in Egypt. It is smuggled either into the interior of the country across the eastern frontiers by way of the Sinai Desert or to the Egyptian ports on the Mediterranean by steamships or, on occasions, by aeroplanes.
The quantities of opium seized in France increased steadily in the post-war years, the largest being those for 1951, as a result of the tightening of the control and preventive measures exercised by the police. Marseilles was the principal port of entry for illicit opium from the Balkans, Turkey and Iran.
The opium seized in Germany (British Zone) was principally derived from the abandoned stocks of the former German army. Thefts and burglaries from legitimate stocks constituted the other important sources.
The statement in respect of the former German army stocks as a source of opium in the illicit market applies equally to the situation in the U.S. Zone. Thefts and burglaries were also reported as sources of illicit opium. Resumption of smuggling operations along the Bavarian-Austrian frontier was a significant fact reported for 1950.
The annual reports of Hong Kong during the period invariably contained a statement to the following effect:
The illicit traffic was predominantly concerned with opium. Most of the raw opium was smuggled from China and clandestinely converted into prepared opium for smoking.
In the annual report for 1951 it is stated that "although the land frontier was in effect closed, it was still thought that most of the illicit drugs were being smuggled in via this route. This fact, plus the large junk traffic with Chinese territory, rendered control very difficult''. Seizures of Indian and Iranian opium were also reported for 1947.
Illicit opium traffic in India consists of illegal exports to Australia, Burma, Ceylon, French Settlements, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Singapore and Bahrein Islands, and of illegal imports from Afghanistan through Pakistan. The Annual Report of India for 1950 contains the following statement:
"Most of the opium in the illicit traffic derives from crops which are concealed or withheld by the licensed cultivators."
At the beginning of the post-war period, the situation in Japan, in so far as opium traffic is concerned, was abnormal. The annual report for Japan for 1946 contains the following statement:
"Seven and one-half tons of opium originating from the Japanese army supplies in Manchuria were seized in the early part of 1946 as they were being smuggled into Japan. Five hundred and forty kilogrammes of opium contained in a shipment of medical supplies originating from the former Japanese Naval Hospital in Singapore were seized upon entry into Japan."
In 1951, smuggling increased in the Netherlands; the amount of opium seized during that year was the highest since 1945. All of the opium was smuggled by sea, mostly by Chinese members of ships' crews, as in previous years.
It was reported from Singapore that "after the surrender of the Japanese army and prior to the arrival of the British Relief Force, large quantities of opium were sold to the general public... Towards the middle of 1946 illicit supplies began to arrive from India and the Persian Gulf." This was the situation at the beginning of the post-war period.
"The bulk of the opium found in Singapore during the year (1949) was of Chinese origin and was seized in ships coming from ports in China and Bangkok", according to the annual report for 1949. Seizures of opium of Indian, Iranian and Thai origin were also reported.
Illicit traffic in opium in Thailand is still serious.
The principal sources of opium seized in the United States, according to annual reports for the above-mentioned years, were: India, Iran, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey, China and Thailand were also mentioned as sources in the annual report for 1950.
TOTAL OPIUM SEIZURES, BY YEAR, DURING THE POST-WAR PERIOD
(reported in kilogrammes)
Germany (U.S. Zone)
Germany (British Zone)
United States of America
No figures given.
Including figures in respect of the Federation of Malaya.