Five years' work of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs


After working five years as Assistant Secretary-General in charge of the Department of Social Affairs, Professor Laugier has left the United Nations Secretariat. He did not want to leave without participating once more in the work of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in which he always took a keen interest. Here is how he summed up his view of its activities


Author: H. Laugier
Pages: 1 to 2
Creation Date: 1951/01/01


Five years' work of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Prof. H. Laugier

After working five years as Assistant Secretary-General in charge of the Department of Social Affairs, Professor Laugier has left the United Nations Secretariat. He did not want to leave without participating once more in the work of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in which he always took a keen interest. Here is how he summed up his view of its activities

This is the last time that I shall have the honour to address the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in my capacity as representative of the Secretary-General, and I should like on this occasion to express my appreciation of all that has been accomplished by this Commission in less than five years. When I rose to speak at the first session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, I did not dare to hope that on the expiry of my term of office I would be able to look back with such satisfaction over the road we have travelled. I do not say that all is for the best in the world of narcotic drugs, I do not say that you have solved all the problems with which you were faced: I say only that significant and important results have been achieved.

Let us now consider together the progress we have made in the years between 1946 and 1951. At the end of the Second World War, after those years in which humanitarian problems had taken a secondary place in the thoughts of the Allied Powers driven by necessity into a merciless struggle against nazi aggression, amidst the physical and mental anguish of the war victims and in the disorganized state of international thought and life, traffickers in narcotic drugs enjoyed ideal conditions for their operations. It was urgently necessary to restore international co-operation in this field, as in all the devastated lands of Europe and among all the nations of the world. It was for this reason that the United Nations General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council set up a body, this Commission, which set to work with a profound awareness of its lofty responsibilities.

Fifteen States were designated to constitute your Commission and for that purpose pursued a policy for which they cannot be too highly commended: they selected representatives who were highly qualified technically for what was a technical task. That is why, as a doctor and physiologist, I have always felt perfectly at home in this Commission, as though at a meeting of my colleagues.

By your practical and fruitful discussions you have gained an outstanding place in the vast army of international agencies, a place which you have won by virtue of your expert knowledge, your competence and your hard, unremitting and creative work.

In 1946 the Commission's prime task was to re-establish control, a field in which the universally acknowledged success of the League of Nations was hard to live up to. The first step therefore was the signature of the 1946 Protocol which provided a solid legal basis for the transfer to the United Nations of the functions and powers previously belonging to the League of Nations.

It was then necessary to re-establish relations with international agencies, including the Permanent Central Opium Board and the Supervisory Body, and with governments, so that the painful efforts of the two previous decades should not have been made in vain. This has been accomplished: the annual reports, the Seizure reports, and the laws and regulations of the various countries are now circulated once more to all the departments concerned through the agency of an international Secretariat which studies them and extracts the information they contain.

With the re-establishment of international exchanges, however, the world came face to face with the inter-related problems of drug addiction and illicit traffic which for forty years have hindered international agreement and co-operation. In dealing with these two problems, you have acted, not as a world government might have done, by enacting universal laws, but by making use, on the one hand, of the effective means made available by the Conventions, and, on the other hand, of public opinion, that powerful and formidable weapon which, happily, is used from time to time in the interests of mankind. Drug addiction may be studied, it may be cured, but it cannot, as such, be legislated out of existence. That is why you have emphasized the need to improve living conditions and, above all, educational facilities in those countries in which drug addiction is rife. You have combated the illicit traffic which foments this evil by recommending legal penalties for traffickers and by help- ing governments to acquire a better technical knowledge of the traffic. I should like to illustrate this by reference to the programme of research now in full swing to determine the origin of opium by chemical and physical means. This experiment provides a specific example of international co-operation; though limited in scope, it is important as representing one of the first steps towards collective scientific action to combat a scourge of man kind.

You have not confined yourselves, however, to applying the principles laid down in the Conventions; in following the course of events you have gone beyond the mere letter of those Conventions. A number of governments, for example, have been given effective technical assistance in reorganizing their national drug-control services; progress has been made with the attempt to abolish opium smoking in the Far East; above all, synthetic drugs have been placed under control and prevented, so to speak, at birth from having injurious effects. The Paris Protocol is undoubtedly one of the most important technical achievements standing to the credit of the United Nations.

And now you are faced at the present time with fresh problems of great complexity, the solutions of which will have more than technical results: they pave the way, I feel, to the kind of action which the Members of the United Nations hoped to see accomplished while the war was raging-truly disinterested collective action whereby every nation surrendered something of its sovereignty, that is to say, of its power and pride, for the sake of international co-operation. The action I have in mind is the limitation of the production of raw materials. I have read and carefully studied the report of the Commission of Enquiry on the Coca Leaf. As a doctor, and simply as a friend of humanity, I have found this report extremely interesting and have been struck by the practical possibilities afforded by international action to improve the lot of those nations which, by historical or geographical accident, have become under-privileged. It is a great task that you have undertaken and I am confident that it will be extended and successfully completed in the next few years.

At this session you are going to discuss the problems raised by another important raw material-opium. Here, too, your work may literally be revolutionary, since what is called for is not the uttering of verbal exorcisms nor the formulation of pious hopes, but, in the case of a number of countries, the acceptance of a specific, and, in some cases, heavy financial loss in the interest of mankind as a whole. I cannot appeal to you too strongly to succeed in this task, to reach agreement and establish a viable international monopoly which will demonstrate that it is possible for men and governments to subordinate their legitimate national interests to the higher interests of suffering man kind.

In conclusion, I should like to say that although I am leaving you I shall continue to be closely interested in your work. You are about to attempt the drafting of a single Convention which will organize the control of narcotic drugs on a simple and practical basis. When this Convention has been drafted and comes into force I shall be proud to have contributed to it, in however small a degree. I should like to add that five years of work for a cause such as ours leave their mark on a man and that, despite the inevitable disappointments, difficulties and occasional setbacks and, at times, the feeling of being unequal to the task, five years of work cannot become just another memory: they are for me more than an experience, an enrichment; they represent a whole period of my life which will profoundly influence all the efforts I hope still to be able to devote to the great causes for which we have fought together.