Speech by Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, to the 50th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Vienna, 12 March 2007


Mr. Chairman,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome to the Golden Jubilee of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Over the past half century this Commission, by combining health protection, socio-economic concerns and law enforcement initiatives, has been a framework for policy debate, lessons learned and early warning.

The Commission's track record speaks for itself and I compliment your work.

·               You have brokered the (1961) Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs.

·               You have tackled psychotropic substances in the 1971 Convention.

·               Then you focussed on the links between drugs and crime, paving the way to the (1988) Convention against drug trafficking.

·               Over time, the Commission has shifted the world's attention from drug supply to demand reduction, thus enhancing drug treatment and prevention.

·               Later on, the Commission has promoted shared responsibility. This Copernican revolution in drug control has ditched the woefully wrong notion that the world drug problem could be solved by disciplining a few thugs (in drug producing countries) while ignoring the responsibility of rich, consuming nations and the drama of their addicts.

·               Over the past decade, you have focussed on HIV/AIDS derived from drug addiction.  UNODC welcomes this emphasis on the global fight against AIDS.

·               Finally, the Commission was instrumental in prodding the General Assembly to call for a decade of enhanced efforts in drug control.

The best way to celebrate the Commission's 50 years of experience is by pondering over: (a.) the outlook for the drug control regime, as UNGASS comes to a close; and over (b.) the institutional future of this Commission, as the nexus between drugs, crime and terrorism comes to the forefront ever more forcefully.

The Conventions and this Commission's deliberations have provided the legal foundations for the drug control regime. In turn, UNGASS has prodded Member States to put in place the measures needed for its successful implementation.

But legal measures and institutional process are means to a goal.  What matters most to parents, politicians as much as to the media, is not a process, but the progress our societies are making towards the ultimate goal of reducing drug abuse.  The world is asking:  is there a hope for healthier societies, progressively freer from addiction?

To answer this question I submit three observations:

·               first, the drug epidemic of the pre-UNGASS period has stalled, namely it is controlled

·               second, specific problems persist - some very serious

·               third, for even greater improvements we need stronger social vaccines to protect society against drugs  - just as it is being done against another killer-substance: tobacco.

What about the goal of a drug free world?  At the closure of UNGASS, I hope you will confirm this inspirational principle that remains as relevant and noble as humanity's other aspirations:  a world free of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, nuclear weapons, human rights abuse, mass diseases and gender inequality.  Individually and collectively we need such aspirations as a compass for action.

Let me now give you a summary of where the compass has taken us so far.

General containment, with specific problems

You will recall the argument I made last year: during the past few years, I said then , global controls have broadly stabilized supply and demand for illicit drugs. The world drug problem is being contained.

This year I confirm the argument, and I take it one step further.  The specific areas where containment is not working - whether in a given country or in relation to a given drug - require comprehensive attention. Why? Because the factors hindering success in these areas are so vast and complex that they cannot be removed only by more aggressive counter-narcotic measures.

To illustrate this let me summarize the world drug situation as described in the forthcoming 2007 World Drug Report .

(i)  First cocaine.   Over the past five years the strong decline in coca cultivation has generally been sustained.  Not so for the actual output:   after an initial dip (down to 784t in '03), cocaine production has increased again (to 900t/y) because of higher yields and improved processing.

Let's recognize it. Evil minds are at work, looking for productivity improvements even in the deadly business of illicit drug making. To counter-act them, illicit cultivation in the Andean region must be curtailed further. 

In Colombia, eradication has cut coca cultivation in half since the year 2000.  But in the past two years aerial spraying has run into diminishing returns because of the difficulty of destroying coca fields fragmented in size, dispersed on steep mountain slopes, embedded in protected national parks, and grown in proximity to international borders.   The reduction of coca cultivation in Peru and Bolivia, major in the past, now has also stalled.

UNODC calls for programs that, as a complement to forced eradication, make Andean farmers responsible for the voluntary elimination of their own coca plants.  I invite consuming nations to provide greater and more targeted assistance:  first, because the region badly needs to develop;  second, because some of the initiatives can help save the environment.

I have in mind, for example, Colombia's forest wardens program (guardia bosque):  it combines a strong no to coca (on the basis of self-eradication) , with an equally emphatic yes to the environment (by protecting tropical forests).  The Andean region is one of the planet's biggest lungs:  Europe's growing commitment against global warming is not coherent with its growing appetite for cocaine whose production is a major cause of environmental destruction.

Globally, demand for coke has also been contained but not reduced, the decline in North America offset by an alarming rise in some European countries where addiction levels are among the highest in the world.  Europe should learn that cocaine is an illicit drug not a status symbol and, if addicts in dark-alleys in New York, Delhi or Moscow are nothing more than ''junkies'', the same should be said about those pop stars and models whose shooting and sniffing habits have been celebrated by the press.

Cocaine containment has also doubled the interception rate: from a quarter (24%) of coca production in 2000, to almost half (46%) last year. As a consequence coke trade flows are being re-arranged.  Drug seizures and related violence in western and southern Africa, in Mexico, Central America and Brazil are rising dramatically. I invite consuming nations to help the many urban centres that are out of control. 

(ii)  The cocaine market is driven by demand. Opium is a different story:  it is supply driven as output far outweighs demand (by about 1/3).  Here historic shifts are at play:  the Golden Triangle region is soon to become opium free, as today's limited production in Myanmar is supplying solely neighbouring markets. 

The world's opium monopolist, Afghanistan, is a story unto itself, each year adding a new chapter.  Last week, I discussed with President Karzai a promising development:  the current divergent trend between north and south. 

In 2007 cultivation is likely to decrease in the centre and north of Afghanistan, to the point that by this Summer our Office may certify as opium free as many as 1/3 (some believe 1/2) of the country's 34 provinces.  A balanced system of retribution (eradication) and rewards (assistance), now under way, offers the best chance to create an opium-free belt across Afghanistan, from the border with Pakistan in the south-east to Turkmenistan in the north-west.

In southern Afghanistan the vicious circle of drugs funding terrorism and terrorism supporting the drug trade is stronger than ever.  Here, ever-increasing opium cultivation is less a narcotic issue and more a matter of insurgency.  In Kabul I was glad to learn that new rules of engagement are being considered to fight drugs and insurgency at the same time, with the same weapons.

External factors are a further obstacle as drugs, chemicals and laundered money move freely across the region.  UNODC has launched a border management initiative between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to complement the crime intelligence sharing centres in Central Asia and in the Gulf.  I encourage you all to provide operational and funding support.

Although the opium supply is ever expanding, containment of demand seems to be working - though with an ugly twist.  Stable, even declining, levels of abuse in mature markets (Europe) is offset by increased heroin injection in transit countries -- resulting in a spread of HIV/AIDS.  I appreciate the support UNODC has received to tackle these twin problems along the opium trafficking routes.

(iii)  The output for synthetic drugs also seems stable at the global level.  Over the past few years, the alarming increase in the production of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) of the 1990s seems to have levelled off, though the relative decline of old producing centres was partly offset by new labs in eastern Europe, southern Africa, Central America and parts of Asia. 

These production trends mirror the situation of demand:  stable overall, declining in some mature markets (Europe) but rising in new ones (developing countries).  In Europe the ecstasy market is maturing as demonstrated by rising demand for treatment and growing awareness of associated risks, especially for young addicts. These are leading indicators of a slow-down in abuse. 

Nevertheless, we should heed the damage meth can do to public health as witnessed in the United States and South East Asia.  The law enforcement challenge is enormous because of availability of precursors, simplicity of manufacturing and short trafficking routes:  demand is mostly met within the same country - even the same town.   As control policies lag, greater awareness is the main option:  in Northern Europe, where the majority of young people believe ATS is dangerous, addiction levels are low.

(iv)  In the case of cannabis I need to invert my earlier argument: cannabis is a global problem with a few, specific exceptions.  As a weed, cannabis grows all over the world, indoors and out - and this is a fact we need to cope with. 

First, a good news: the world's biggest cannabis resin producer - Morocco - has slashed cultivation by half in the past few years (from 134,000h in '03 to 70,000 last year).  I urge European countries, foremost importers of Moroccan hashish, to curb consumption (to facilitate Moroccan supply control) and provide assistance.

We face another evil innovation:  cannabis supply is influenced by bio-technologies, some indoor, that increase its potency and its yields by many multiples.  This is aggravating the impact on public health. 

In countries where young people are aware of the risks, cannabis use is either low (Japan and Northern Europe) or decreasing (Australia).  In other countries (United Kingdom) law enforcement lowered consumption.  These examples, across cultures and continents, defy global trends of increased cannabis use thanks to easy availability and benign neglect.  All considered, cannabis remains a drug crying out for a coherent policy.

A Broad, Shared Responsibility

I am now ready to draw some conclusions.  Let me start from the collateral conditions to drug control - crime and HIV/AIDS -- and associated proposals to ditch the UN drug Conventions as a way of reducing both these problems.

I stand by what I said during earlier Commissions.  First, modern society does not have to choose between protecting health through drug control, or protecting from crime through liberalized drugs.  Similarly, and second, modern society does not have to choose between drug control and HIV prevention. 

UNODC firmly believes that governments can and must ensure both health and security, as much as they can and must protect citizens from both drugs and HIV/AIDS.  Actually, I find it tragic that in many countries it has taken either a crime or an HIV epidemic to trigger stronger drug prevention.  Had drugs been taken more seriously at an early stage, both crimes and HIV could have been avoided

In the past there was a third false dichotomy -- between producing and consuming nations.  This Commission, and the Political Declaration from UNGASS, have correctly brought forward the concept of shared responsibility.

I value this notion of shared responsibility so much that I wish to see it applied to all levels of social organization:  the international, the regional and the local level.  I even want to apply it to our Office's relations with this Commission.

First, the international level.  A main message of UNGASS is that states have a responsibility to each other:  countries with high demand (usually economically better off) have a responsibility to lower abuse and help reduce supply.  Supply countries should work with others to fight trafficking and promote domestic security and development.

Second, the regional level.  Countries cannot choose neighbours:  so they have a self- and a common interest to work together to stem drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime.  The concept of shared responsibility seems more difficult to apply across immediate borders than across oceans or continents.  UNODC is working tirelessly to promote regional drug control cooperation:  I invite member states to join the process.  Learning from ongoing efforts in Central Asia and the Gulf, I encourage countries in the ASEAN region as well as in the Andean region to consider establishing counter-narcotics intelligence sharing centres.

Third, the local level.  Society at large, and not only drug experts, has a responsibility to reduce demand for drugs. We all have a stake in the well-being of our children, colleagues and communities. It is therefore up to us as parents, peers, educators and employers to steer people away from drugs.

But individuals need a context to operate.  Acting locally, with a global conscience, governments have the responsibility to follow internationally-agreed drug control policies that are coherent, evidence-based and consistent over time.

This means programs to strengthen families, especially those that are socially isolated.  This means more engagement in schools to transmit values, nurture emotional development and encourage positive life styles, and more targeted prevention to reach young people who, for social, mental or behavioral reasons are vulnerable to drugs.  The world over, families, schools and peers are the first line of defense against drugs.

The media also has a major responsibility - too often neglected.  Of course, fashion models with notorious drug habits are good press and good marketing.  Yet, society should make media understand that it must be part of the solution, not part of the drug problem as it is today. More coverage of the damage of meth or of the increased potency of THC and less focus on coke snorting celebrities would help governments shift public attitudes and contribute to the development of social consciousness.

Fourth, the institutional level.  UNODC has a responsibility to produce evidence-based advisory services (technical assistance) and analytical assessments (the World Drug Report and crop surveys).  But we find it hard to operate because of major gaps in our knowledge of drug abuse.  We have good coverage for about 15-20% of humanity.  Of late, I am pleased of India's consideration for a household survey of drug abuse:  with this information our percentage of knowledge coverage would double. Other countries will hopefully follow.  Yet, by the time we complete the assessment of the UNGASS process, we would only know the drug habits of 1 out of 3 citizens in the world.  You can all count on the technical assistance from my Office to reach the UNGASS objective of improved drug abuse knowledge.

UNODC Delivering on Expectations

Fifth, I see a shared responsibility between the legislative (the Commission) and executive (UNODC) arms of the UN drug control regime.  This partnership was evident in drafting the UNODC mid-term strategy.  I pay tribute to the Chairmen of the two Commissions who were instrumental in bringing this process to fruition.

I urge you to endorse the Strategy as our down-payment to the General Assembly that has included fighting drugs, crime and terrorism among its '08-'09 priorities.  Of course, as a counterpart to clearer priorities and increasing tasks, the Office needs stable, predictable and sufficient funding.  This too is a shared responsibility. 

For our part, UNODC will develop an implementation plan for the Strategy, inclusive of the costs for the next biennium and will move ahead with management reform.  The drive towards cost-effectiveness has already compressed overhead expenditure:  at 18% of budget, we are today the second best-performing institution in the UN system, and heading for the gold medal.

During his recent visit, the Secretary-General was impressed by the fact that in 2006 our Office received 4 UN awards out of the 20 decided by the Secretariat:  this is 20% of the awards for an Office with less than 1% of the UN regular budget.

You must also be pleased as your voluntary funding has doubled since 2002.  Also our stake-holder base is widening, with growing funds from new donors and more effective joint work with international financial institutions and development banks. This enables us to leverage resources.

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To conclude, Mr Chairman, in the period ahead UNODC will again do its best to support the work of this Commission, in order to build on a successful half century tradition of making the world safer from illicit drugs.  Our common efforts are not over, not for a long time, but progress is undeniable.