12 March 2012 - Stronger regional networks are vital in confronting the threat of illicit drugs, said Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director, at the opening of the fifty-fifth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which is meeting in Vienna from 12 to 16 March. "We face a transnational threat of extraordinary proportions that amounts to $320 billion or some 0.5 per cent of global GDP", he stressed.
Ministers and counter-narcotics officials from the 53 member States of the Commission will consider issues of concern, including the availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes and prevention of the diversion of chemicals for use in the manufacture of illicit drugs. The Commission is the central policymaking body within the United Nations system dealing with illicit drugs.
President Evo Morales of the Plurinational State of Bolivia explained that his Government was vigorously combating cocaine trafficking and had destroyed tons of that drug. He said his country needed more international assistance to combat the scourge, particularly in the form of equipment and technology. However, Bolivia had decided to withdraw from the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 to "correct a historical error" concerning the indigenous uses of the coca leaf. Bolivia would reaccede to the Convention if it could make a reservation allowing the traditional consumption of coca leaf to continue, he said.
The Executive Director urged States to intensify health strategies as part of a comprehensive response to drug demand, supply and trafficking. "At present, the balance between our work on the supply and demand sides stays firmly in favour of the supply side. We must restore the balance. Prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, reintegration and health have to be recognized as key elements in our strategy", he said. "Overall, our work on the treatment side must be considered as part of the normal clinical work undertaken when responding to any other disease in the health system."
Given that 2012 marks the centenary of the signing of the International Opium Convention in 1912, the first legal instrument on drug control, the Executive Director said that it was important to recognize the gains made over the past hundred years, but that more needed to be done. He stressed the importance of human rights: "Our commitment is founded on the drug conventions. They form part of a continuum based on human rights and the rule of law that flows directly from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international standards and norms to our delivery of practical actions."
Mr. Fedotov highlighted the regional initiatives being spearheaded by UNODC in the context of shared responsibility among drug-consuming and drug-producing nations to combat the security threats posed by drug flows. UNODC recently launched a regional programme for Afghanistan and neighbouring countries to help to create a broad international coalition to combat opium poppy cultivation and opiate trafficking and production. Networks such as the triangular initiative between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan and the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre are being strengthened. The Office will soon launch a new regional programme for South-Eastern Europe that will focus on the "Balkan route" used for heroin trafficking.
Mr Fedotov also emphasized the importance of enhanced support for Central America: "Countries in Central America, especially in the "Northern Triangle", face dramatic challenges. States have called for a strong UNODC presence in the region. This is why we have created a regional hub for Central America and the Caribbean in Panama to be linked with a re-profiled office in Mexico and other countries in the region."
Important as those initiatives are, tackling supply only was not the solution, according to the Executive Director. "Let me be clear: there can be no reduction in drug supply without a reduction in drug demand, " he said.