The Middle East Narcotics Survey Mission (September-October 1959) of the United Nations


The Middle East Narcotics Survey Mission (September-October 1959) of the United Nations


Pages: 37 to 42
Creation Date: 1960/01/01

The Middle East Narcotics Survey Mission (September-October 1959) of the United Nations

Year after year since the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was established after World War II information has been forthcoming from governments participating in the international narcotics control system showing that there was a heavy traffic in opium originating in the Middle East, and going from it to other parts of the world, especially through the Mediterranean towards North America. Since 1951, there were reports of increasing manufacture of opium into crude morphine and diacetylmorphine (heroin) within the region. There was also a constant picture of a heavy traffic in cannabis (hashish) directed to a large and growing market within the region itself. Increased co-operation amongst the enforcement authorities of countries within and outside the region was bringing to light the existence of organized international gangs of traffickers operating from bases in the Middle East. Typical examples were the Abou Sayia gang operating in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, and the organization, headed by Samil Khoury, with extensive connexions in Europe. One of the principal targets of the regional traffic in opium and hashish was, and continues to be, Egypt (now the Egyptian province of the United Arab Republic). In view of this, the Council of the League of Arab States decided, in January 1954, to recommend that a United Nations Anti-Narcotics Bureau should be created for the region of the Middle East with headquarters in Egypt. The object of the proposed bureau would be "to watch the situation on the spot, and to devise and enforce the best means for combating the cultivation and manufacture of, traffic in and addiction to narcotics ". During the discussion of this proposal at the eleventh and twelfth sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 1956 and 1957, some doubts were expressed regarding the desirability of creating special permanent international machinery for dealing with the situation. The proposal, in the form in which it was made, appeared to go farther than normal practice regarding regional organization with respect to composition, jurisdiction and functions. Some aspects required further study and clarity. In addition, some countries of the Middle East received the proposal unfavourably. In view of this, there was general agreement that the matter should be looked at afresh and from another angle. During the thirteenth session of the Commission, in 1958, several delegations considered that an exploratory mission to the region was needed in order to facilitate a fuller examination of the problems involved and of practicable means of solving them, and to achieve this a joint draft resolution was tabled by representatives of Canada, India, Iran, the United Arab Republic and the United States. The Commission adopted this resolution, which in turn was adopted by the Economic and Social Council at its twenty-sixth session as resolution 689 I (XXVI). It would be useful to examine this resolution and the discussions surrounding its adoption, as together they established the framework for the Survey Mission within which it carried out its task.

It was explained in the Commission that the reports of its Illicit Traffic Committee showed that the Middle East was a region of serious trafficking. No one could be satisfied with that situation, although it was recognized that a number of governments in the region had put forth very big efforts to fight this traffic, in particular the very courageous and far-reaching step taken by Iran in 1955 prohibiting opium production. There were, of course, other regions where situations of similar gravity existed; however, the general situation in the Middle East, though not crystal clear, was more susceptible of improvement through concerted action than in some other regions where similar action was also needed, and the Commission might therefore take a lead in this area. In any case, it was pointed out that a mission to the Middle East did not preclude the sending of missions to other regions.

The resolution of the Council requested the Secretary-General to appoint a mission of not more than five members serving as individual experts, and chosen for their knowledge of the problems concerned and of enforcement work. The Secretary-General was also asked to provide the mission's secretariat and to make the necessary administrative arrangements for its work. During the discussions in the Commission and the Council, it was pointed out that it was customary for the Secretary-General to be entrusted with the task of appointing members of missions composed of experts and not of government representatives. And it was agreed that the mission should include both experts from the Middle East with a knowledge of regional narcotics problems and experienced members from outside the region so that the requisite professional capacity and experience could be brought together in a well-balanced group. As the selection of the members would be a delicate matter, the Secretary-General was left the widest possible freedom of action, lest pressures should prejudice the work of the mission before it began. However, the representative of the United States expressed the hope that nationals from Lebanon and the United Arab Republic would be selected to take part in the mission.

The resolution went on to request and authorize the mission to examine and consider the problems involved in consultation

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One ton of narcotics (hashish and opium) captured in a single seizure from a party of twenty traffickers (This is one example of many such seizures reported to the Commission)

with, and with the consent of, the governments concerned. It was explained that the mission's operational area would include those countries which in past years had come under the heading of "Middle or Near East" in the documents relating to the item on illicit traffic on the Commission's agenda. Of course, the mission or members of it would not necessarily have to visit every country in the region and would have some latitude to arrange, in the light of the extensive prior contacts with governments that would be necessary, in what ways consultation during the period of the mission would take place. In the Commission, the view was also expressed that the mission should limit its contacts to governments and not contact public or private organizations from which false information might be obtained. Other representatives cited private organizations which they felt might be able to furnish the mission with useful information. It was generally accepted that the text of the resolution permitted governments to send such witnesses as they considered useful to be heard by the mission.

According to the resolution, the mission should familiarize itself with the situation by studying data transmitted by governments and the United Nations Secretariat, by discussions with representatives of the governments concerned and by visits to countries in the regions which had major narcotics problems. The mission was also asked to discuss with governments their views and suggestions regarding the improvement of the situation. It might make communications for the consideration of individual governments or groups of governments which would be kept confidential as between the mission and the governments concerned. It should also report to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on general matters and suggestions that were not confidential. The mission was further empowered to make suggestions on the ways in which technical assistance might be utilized to increase the effectiveness of measures taken against the illicit traffic.

It was explained in the Commission and the Council that the relationship between the mission on the one hand and governments on the other would be similar to that with which most governments were very familiar in the provision of technical assistance. The main difference was that this was a technical assistance mission to a number of governments with differing but interconnected problems, a kind of corporate technical assistance "task force". The mission should have the opportunity of making confidential communications to governments because of the secret and confidential nature of some of the information involved and of the counter-measures adopted against the illicit traffic. At the same time, the mission should not replace the Commission in its function of advising governments, but should help it in increasing the efficacy of measures for curtailing the illicit traffic. Thus, the confidential communications should be limited to those matters where this procedure was necessary, and the fullest possible report should be made to the Commission. The object of the mission, which should govern its procedures, was to assist governments in their work against the illicit traffic, and also to guide the Commission, for its future consideration of the matter, on the best ways in which the difficulties of governments could be met.

In the light of Council resolution 689 I (XXVI) and the discussions of the Commission and the Council, the Secretary-General commenced the requisite preparations for the survey mission. These involved negotiations for the appointment of the experts who were to serve as members on the mission; governments were approached on a visit of the mission to the Middle East region during January-March 1959, or alternatively during September-October 1959, the earliest feasible dates in relation to the international time-table and taking into account other considerations; financial, travel and secretariat arrangements were set afoot; provisional schedules were worked out for the mission's stay in the region which would enable consultations and travel programmes to be projected; United Nations offices and other international agencies in the region were approached for the loan of office, conference and travel facilities. However, by December 1958 it became obvious that the prior date proposed, January March 1959, was found to be too early by a number of countries in the region. Most of the governments concerned, however, had accepted the second proposal that the mission should commence in the first half of September 1959, and preparations went forward on that basis.

The Secretary-General appointed the following persons to serve as experts on the mission:

Mr. Edmond Azizi, who has had a professional career in the Lebanese customs services, and at the time was captain of brigade. He has specialized in questions concerned with the prevention of narcotics smuggling, and has also represented his country at a number of international conferences.

Mr. J. P. G. Goossen, who has held a number of posts in the legal services of the Government of the Netherlands. From 1946 to 1953 he was Assistant Director-General of the Netherlands State Police. At the time of appointment he was in private practice as a barrister at the Court of Appeal, Amsterdam.

Mr. Veli Inanc, who has held a number of posts in the legal services of the Turkish Government, including that of Public Prosecutor, and has also been a member of the International Social Services Co-ordination Committee. At the time of appointment, he was a senior judge in the Ministry of Justice.

Mr. Leonard H. Nicholson, who has had a professional career in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and served as Commissioner from 1951 to 1959. He was a vice-president of the International Criminal Police Organization in 1957 and has represented his country at a number of international conferences.

Major-General Abdel Aziz Safwat, who has had a professional career in the enforcement services of the Egyptian Government and the United Arab Republic, in which he became head of the anti- narcotics forces. He subsequently served as Governor of Port Said province and at the time of appointment was Governor of Cairo province and Director of the Permanent Anti-Narcotics Bureau of the League of Arab States. He has also represented his country at a number of international conferences.

The mission and its secretariat convened as a whole in Cairo, United Arab Republic, on 7 September 1959. This was in accordance with the arrangements made by the Secretary- General subsequent to consultations with the governments of countries in the Middle East. At its opening meeting, it was informed that Mr. Azizi was unable to attend owing to reasons of health. Mr. Azizi joined the mission only during its stay in Lebanon, 16-22 September, and withdrew from the mission on the latter date on medical grounds. From the outset the mission agreed to proceed in a practical and flexible manner without spending much time on procedural questions. Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Goossen were unanimously elected Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively. The mission established a provisional time-table for consultations with officials of the countries covered in its itinerary and it adopted certain rules to facilitate its own internal working. There was general agreement that the maximum amount of time should be devoted to consultations with the officials actually involved in combating illicit trafficking and, if possible, to observing the problems of control at first hand. A provisional itinerary was adopted by the mission subject to the framework that had to be worked out in advance with the governments concerned within the time-limits and financial allocations available. The mission stayed in the Middle East region for about six weeks, and consultations and discussions took place with the authorities of Afghanistan, Cyprus, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Trucial States, Turkey, United Arab Republic (Egyptian and Syrian provinces) and Yemen.

The mission was informed of the illicit traffic situation in the region by reports of governments on illicit trafficking, reports, recommendations and resolutions of the United Nations and the International Criminal Police Organization, and reports of the Permanent Anti-Narcotics Bureau of the League of Arab States. Information regarding the system of international control and the functioning of the international bodies concerned with the control of narcotic drugs was passed to it. The mission particularly noted the provisions in the international treaties on narcotic drugs which dealt directly with the repression of the illicit traffic. In the countries it visited, the mission interviewed a Prime Minister, Ministers of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Police and Health, or the responsible Under-Secretary of State. It held consultations with senior officials representing the government departments directly concerned with the control of drugs and combating the illicit traffic, including the heads of the anti-narcotics administrations; the directors-general of public security, justice and pharmacies; the chiefs of police, judiciary police, gendarmerie, frontier corps, coast-guard, customs; inspectors of pharmacies, chiefs of pharmaceutical laboratories; town and provincial governors; and some local police and security officials. In all, the mission consulted with over 110 officials in its tour of the region. The mission was provided with opportunities to observe in general the actual problems of control. It visited a number of enforcement services, saw some recent large seizures of contraband and had described the modus operandi of smugglers and traffickers by men who are actually engaged in the fight against them. It stopped at gendarmerie and customs posts and was shown police identification branches and laboratories. It saw some of the desert

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Other example of narcotics seized (the flat packages are "pantoufles" of hashish)

and mountain terrain over which smugglers operate, and it toured a hospital devoted entirely to the treatment of addicts.

As authorized by the Council resolution, the mission made confidential communications direct to certain governments on matters which were domestic rather than international in character, and which, in the judgement of the mission, could best be dealt with in this fashion. Included in these communications were certain recommendations thought to be appropriate; this procedure was found to be useful and convenient.

The report of the mission to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was adopted and signed by its members on 20 October 1959 and communicated to the Secretary-General for transmission to the Commission. The mission's report was unanimous except for a reservation by Mr. Inanu on a procedural matter. Mission members recorded their appreciation for the cordial reception extended and the understanding co-operation given by all authorities and officials visited. They hoped that their efforts would contribute in some degree towards an improvement of the traffic situation in the region.

At the outset, the mission considered it essential to describe briefly the illicit traffic situation in the region. It approached this situation as a regional problem, a point of view which was confirmed by the information it obtained, particularly from consultations with officials. The mission focused attention on the serious features of the illicit traffic, especially the aspects that are regional in character, giving less attention to features which are largely of national interest. It found that there was a problem in this region and one of serious proportions. There was a substantial cannabis (hashish) production and consumption; there was a large opium production and consumption, and opium derivatives went from this region to other parts of the world and in particular to Europe and North America. There was no evidence of any significant importation of illicit drugs into this region from other parts of the world. Several indications were noticed of the growing use of the "white drugs" in the region, and there was also evidence of the export of the "white drugs ", particularly crude morphine, to markets outside the region. The regional traffic followed all routes, by land, sea and air. An important land route for the hashish traffic passed through the Syrian province of the United Arab Republic, Jordan, Israel and to the Egyptian province. The opium traffic to Egypt, too, followed this land route to a significant extent. Opium was converted to crude morphine to facilitate its transport via Syria, Lebanon or Turkey to European countries such as France and Italy for refining, whence it is directed towards North America. The mission noted that along the main routes and in border areas there are features which work to the advantage of the smuggler. There are tribes, some of them nomadic, that span frontiers and whose members have loyalty to the tribe rather than either country. There are regulations in some border areas permitting residents to move freely within a specified distance on either side of the frontier. There are families and groups that have engaged in smuggling for generations and look upon it as a way of life rather than a criminal undertaking. Some of these groups did not hesitate to resist by armed force if threatened whith apprehenston. The mission recorded some of the tactics used by smugglers which rendered the work of enforcement services challenging, dangerous and difficult.

Several suggestions for improvement of the situation came before the mission or originated within the mission itself, and a discussion of the more important suggestions was included in its report. The proposal for the establishment of a United Nations regional narcotics bureau, in the same form as previously submitted to the Narcotics Commission, was recommended to the mission by representatives of the United Arab Republic, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen and Kuwait. The mission noted that there already existed within the United Nations official machinery for collecting and collating general intelligence on the narcotics traffic; there was also officially recognized machinery for co-ordinating and supporting enforcement action, this in the form of the ICPO-INTERPOL; there was also the Permanent Anti-Narcotics Bureau of the Arab League to encourage better enforcement in member States of the League. The proposed bureau would differ from other organizations in that it would have certain supervisory or executive functions within national territories. "The principle of national responsibility arises here. Is it wise to interfere with that principle, which is stated in Article 2, paragraph 7, of the United Nations Charter ? If responsibility is divised in any degree Is it wise to interfere with that principle, which is stated in Article 2, paragraph 7, of the United Nations Charter ? where would accountability lie in case of failure to meet international commitments? And, aside from all other factors, how could such a bureau operate successfully in the region without the whole-hearted participation of all the countries?" (This was in respect of the stated attitude particularly of Lebanon and Turkey.) On the other hand, the mission considered that a small group of United Nations experts might with advantage visit the area periodically, consult with government officials, carry out such other functions as are given them and thereafter report as might be arranged.

A number of countries urged the need for greater co-operation at the working level, especially along frontiers. This need in many sections was clear and frontiers instead of acting as barriers to smugglers actually in some areas facilitated their activities. However, to get improvement in co-operation at working level it was essential to have broad and comprehensive agreements between neighbouring countries, and the mission mentioned the recently concluded Turco-Iranian border pact as a pattern which could be followed with advantage by other countries.

The effective control of cultivation of narcotics raw materials is essential to suppressing the national and regional traffic in drugs. The mission recorded that from its discussions with Lebanese officials it was clear that the large-scale production of hashish was almost inseparably linked with other social and economic problems. On the other hand, neighbouring countries continued to suffer from this production and the mission "was not informed of any concrete plans for eliminating hashish cultivation ". In respect of opium cultivation the mission noted the new Turkish law enacted in July 1959 which promised to bring the control of opium production in that country into conformity with the requirements of the 1953 Opium Protocol.

The mission emphasized the necessity for a strong national policy and machinery to control illicit trafficking. "Generally speaking, it seems beyond dispute that a fundamental requirement for good enforcement in any area is determination of national governments to eradicate the illicit narcotics traffic within their borders. Where such a determination exists and is coupled with a readiness to co-operate fully and whole-heartedly with neighbouring States, the narcotic problem will be kept under control. There must be strong, honest and well-directed administrative and enforcement machinery in each country to apply the legislation and carry out the policy of the government. Where such machinery is found, not only is the standard of national enforcement high, but international agreements may be applied fully and effectively.''

In view of the international nature of the traffic, a number of suggestions were made to facilitate prosecution and conviction of international traffickers, including the recognition of foreign convictions for narcotics offences, extension and use of conspiracy proceedings to get at ring-leaders, and separate penalty provisions for persons proven to be leaders in smuggling and trafficking schemes.

The existing international system of reporting of illicit trafficking and the facilities for prompt transmission of information of the ICPO had proved their value. What was needed was fuller and more effective utilization of the existing machinery in this regard. A number of inquiries concerning technical assistance of different kinds were received by the mission. It drew attention to the existing facilities of technical assistance programmes of the United Nations and other international agencies.

Finally, the mission incorporated a set of recommendations which it considered useful for the guidance of governments and the Narcotics Commission. These are reproduced below, as follows:

As to laws and regulations

  1. That where applicable governments of countries in the region be urged to consider the need for exemplary penalties for smugglers and traffickers together with the desirability of having separate penalty provisions for these crimes.

  2. That conspiracy prosecutions or some other procedure be used to identify and prosecute ring-leaders in narcotic smuggling and trafficking gangs.

  3. That the principle of extra-territorial prosecution for narcotic offences be made use of to the fullest extent possible wherever the laws, facts and circumstances allow, and when prosecution is not undertaken in the country where the offence took place.

  4. That, where not already available, governments consider supplying qualified officers with general authorization to search for evidence of violations of the narcotics laws, thus avoiding the delay which must arise when a separate authority has to be sought in each case.

  5. That governments give every attention to the prompt submission of laws and regulations dealing with narcotic drugs as required by the international narcotics treaties.

As to administrative measures

  1. That in countries where a major narcotic problem exists there should be a central directing or co-ordinating authority, and where several enforcement services are involved one should have primary responsibility with the others required to assist by carrying out clearly defined functions. (The Mission would not limit the application of this principle to such countries, but it stresses the special need for central control or co-ordination where the problem is greatest.)

  2. That countries give as high a priority as is possible to the supply of such equipment as may be needed to permit enforcement services to operate with a maximum degree of efficiency.

  3. That attention be given to simplifying the procedure and seeking as much uniformity as possible in the reporting of individual narcotic cases to the United Nations and to the International Criminal Police Organization including its national central bureaux.

  4. That technical assistance be made use of to the greatest extent possible within the framework of the present technical assistance programmes, particularly in the fields of statistical studies, addiction treatment, specialized training including the use of fellowships and the adaptation of new crops to replace narcotic plant cultivation.

As to national policy

  1. That all countries in the region be urged to consider the vital importance of a strong, positive and well-enforced national programme as a necessary foundation for good regional and international control measures.

  2. That the great value of bilateral agreements between governments of limitrophe countries be recognized, and that on the basis of these agreements every possible action be taken to encourage and improve direct liaison between enforcement agencies, particularly those working along national frontiers.

As to international obligations and machinery

  1. That countries of the region be urged to improve the accuracy of reports required by international narcotics treaties and to give attention to the importance of prompt submission.

  2. That the facilities and machinery of the International Criminal Police Organization be made use of promptly and to the fullest possible extent in the investigation of individual cases.

  3. That governments of countries in the region that have not already done so be urged to ratify those international narcotics treaties which still await their official support.

  4. That a small group of, say, three United Nations experts visit the region periodically, consult with government officials, carry out such other functions as are given them and thereafter report as may be arranged.

Reservation by Mr. Inanu on recommendation (o)

Mr. Inanu believes that such a recommendation which invites new obligations for governments and is not suggested by any country is not within the jurisdiction of the Mission. It is up to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the Economic and Social Council to consider the matter.

Observation on the reservation by Mr. Inanu

The other three members of the Mission believe that Economic and Social Council resolution 689 I (XXVI) provides authority for recommendation ( o).

At its fifteenth session the Commission on Narcotics Drugs was informed of the work done by the Survey Mission. On its recommendation the Economic and Social Council adopted at its thirtieth session a resolution in which it thanked the members of the Survey Mission for their excellent work and outlined other actions. [ 1]


For the substance of that resolution, see next article in the present issue: the fifteenth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the thirtieth session of the Economic and Social Council.