Side event – A coordinated regional response to drug production, trafficking and use in the Mekong

Moderator – Jeremy Douglas, UNODC in Southeast Asia

Deputy Minister of Vietnam: I will introduce the challenges faced in tackling drugs in the Mekong region, on behalf of the six countries involved in this project. Starting in 1993, it has been two decades since the UNODC and sub-Mekong countries started suppressing drugs. The MOU in 1993 for cooperation on drug control involves a plan implemented by its 6 members to reduce demand, supply and harm in the country. We have set up cooperation to develop a regional plan so all the multilateral activities and bilateral activities have been improved. The complexity of the drug problem still raises concern, especially synthetic drug production due to easy access to ingredients, especially methamphetamine. The problem really affects our societies. We recently established an MOU with UNODC, the second agreement since 1993, known as the regional action plan no. 9 on law enforcement, judicial cooperation, drug reduction, HIV reduction and sustainable development.

At this meeting, UNODC organized side event on the importance of the Golden Triangle in responding to drugs, introducing the activities of multilateral cooperation etc. The activities under the MOU affirm its role in developing policies, with own efforts of countries. The members hope the international community will pay more attention and eliminate drugs according to the MOU, and the CND resolutions. We highly appreciate and realize the common interests of the international community in all the activities of the MOU. I call on all countries to support the MOU in achieving a drug-free region.

 

Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director

I am pleased to join this event marking this important milestone. You show commitment in this long-standing agreement on drug control. It is fitting to assess the ongoing problems we face, in terms of need to develop a balanced approach, launch of the sustainable development agenda many aspects of which relate to drugs, and despite the successes achieved, the challenged posed by drugs have not diminished but multiplied. The Mekong region is an important area for this. Although drug supply levels have fallen from its peak, it is still one of the largest markets in the world. The region is also affected by the emergence of new psychoactive substances. Some of the achievements include reduction in opium cultivation, and establishment of border liaison offices. The MOU will contribute to tackling ongoing problems.

I encourage other member states to support them in fighting the drug problem. The UNODC will continue in its role in providing technical assistance. I look forward to strengthening this partnership.

 

Jeremy Douglas, UNODC in Southeast Asia

I will present on the details of this project. The MOU was first established in 1993. There has been a series of Declarations to reconceive the concept which involved discussion on how best to formulate the plan of action, including at the CND in 2014 during debate on the resolution.

When we look at opium poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle, it is true is has fallen since peak levels, but it increasing again. Heroin flows and seizures are huge, with the second highest levels after Afghanistan. There has been a 6-fold increase in methamphetamine production. The region is also home to precursor chemicals production, with corruption playing a big role in diversion and trafficking. There has been an increase in the number of arrests and treatment admissions due to the use of illicit drugs. Well over 800,000 people in treatment now and over 600,000 arrested in past year (check).

Mekong integration and connectivity has increased, positive to economic markets but can also make greater connections between precursor chemicals and production sites.

Every two years there will be a ministerial meeting with senior official level meetings annually. The sub-regional action plan will be updated every two years. One of the cases of creative thinking is to look at the trafficking flows and capacity to respond in China, Myanmar and Thailand. The Mekong River is very porous and items can move easily across it. We need to candidly discuss how best to respond. Law enforcement cooperation will be pursued with establishment of Border Liaison Offices. We also provide training and equipment for frontline officers , and enhance legal and judicial cooperation.

Under the MOU we will conduct the first ever drug use survey in Myanmar, and thereby assist with developing demand reduction programmes. We also announced that all six states have agreed to develop community-based treatment, and a set of guidelines. We are also bring best practices on sustainable alternative development.

In this region, given there are high levels of use and supply, we established a regional programme for Southeast Asia for 2014 – 2017 based on priorities agreed to by the countries, to link with the sub-regional action plan (2015 – 2017) agreed last year in Hanoi. It benefits the member countries but also the rest of the world. We ask countries to take note of this and to support it, they deserve this support.

 

State Counsellor and Minister of China
Since the Mekong river drug control cooperation mechanism was formed in 1993, this mechanism has developed soundly and produced good results. This mechanism has played an irreplaceable role in promoting regional peace and development, and well-being of people. This mechanism, is viable, effective and can apply to other areas of counter-narcotics cooperation.

The global drug situation continues to deteriorate. Various drugs are a source of concern, and manufacture of new types of drugs are worsening, and intertwine with transnational crime, making it more difficult for other countries to tackle the problem. Therefore we need to deepen our international cooperation, and make our responses more effective. We need to enrich and expand our drug control cooperation and deepen our cooperation under this mechanism. It must remain inclusive and open, so we need to enhance cooperation within this region. Meanwhile we need to increase cooperation with other regions and organisations. China hopes this will form a blueprint and charter a course for future development. At the same time, we hope colleagues and friends will work together for the sound development of this mechanism. On behalf of the Chinese side, I wish to make a solemn commitment whether in past present or future, the Greater Mekong sub-region is a priority for China and it will in future in carrying out drug control. China will in this framework continue to strengthen pragmatic cooperation, increase our support to member states by providing more funds and technology.

 

Jeremy Douglas, UNODC in Southeast Asia
Welcome to the family, Minister of Health for Myanmar, to this programme.

 

Minister of Health, Myanmar
All of us sitting in this room are equally concerned with use and supply of drugs, in destroying the social fabric of all those in the region. We are fully committed to all three conventions and to implementing them. We are committed to eradicating opium cultivation while helping those living in border areas. We also extended drug elimination programme which started in 1999. The drug enforcement division in police force has been expanded to combat drug control Myanmar government is aware that it has the largest share of opium cultivation in Golden Triangle. There seems to be a downward trend but we need to study this carefully.

The government recognizes the problem with methamphetamine trafficking. Drug use seems to be on the rise. This is a very serious problem for our country. The availability of precursor chemicals has posed a problem for us, this is not manufactured in Myanmar and we ask other countries and UNODC to help us with this. Drug use is clearly a health issue and we are providing treatment through several treatment centres, MMT centres and youth rehabilitation centres. We will conduct operational research to ensure that these are effective and cost-effective. A review of current laws is in process and has been submitted to parliament for final approval. We are currently working with US DEA, Thailand ONCB, Australian Federal Police and China’s NNCC. We are reviewing current approaches to suit local contexts and the contemporary scenario. Based on these reviews and continuous monitoring, the operational research will be conducted with police and other stakeholders.

Drug prevention is incorporated in the school curriculum so that students will know the real dangers of the use of drugs. We will use a multi-pronged approach and continuous monitoring to make sure we are taking the right approach. I have been Health Minister for 6 days only, so I will need to go back and discuss with colleagues on implementing this MOU. With the operational research, we need to find out more about drug use so that we know how to tackle the problem.

 

Minister of Justice, Thailand
The Thai government has placed importance on international cooperation in solving the illicit drug problem in the Golden Triangle for more than 20 years. Would like to commend the UNODC for the initiative it has taken in this region. The situation keeps changing. Apart from production of plant-based drugs, there is also synthetic drug production. The Safe Mekong project initiated by China, and involving four other countries, involved joint interdiction and patrol efforts. China has collaborated with Laos, Thailand and Myanmar on specific projects. Other than a large amount of precursor chemicals seized, the work of the countries has been very effective. The model of the Safe Mekong operation is a useful one for other countries. When we invited Vietnam and Myanmar to join the project we included alternative development in the project. We wish to invite more countries including Australia, India and Korea to join it.

Question from Ken White, Australia:
Australia welcomes this valuable opportunity to discuss greater cooperation. Despite significant effort, the Mekong Sub-region continues to be a site of significant flows of illicit drugs. Australia supports some efforts in this area, including UNODC’s provision of assistance, and law enforcement and border control training. Australia remains committed, and asks what support we can provide.

Statement from Cambodia government
As there is no delegation from the capital, I wish to make a statement on behalf of the government. We are committed to eliminating the trafficking, production and use of drugs. Cambodia is a transit country for trafficking flows. We have not yet realized our ambition to totally eliminate drugs, so we ask for greater cooperation from countries and the UNODC. We will continue to work towards a drug-free ASEAN, and a drug-free world. Cambodia views the global fight against drugs as complementary to the 2030 sustainable development agenda.

Question from Jamie Uhrig
Human Rights Watch has documented abuses in compulsory drug detention centres in Viet Nam, and last week 450 people escaped from one of the centres. Is Viet Nam committed to the closure of the centres?

Response from Jeremy Douglas
if I may answer first, the UN has made a statement in 2012 calling for the closure and we are committed to working with member states on this.

Response from Viet Nam
I respond briefly to the question from Canada. Human rights are respected in the constitution and in promulgation in 2013. Drug addiction is very complicated in Viet Nam. Some are heroin addicts, or synthetic drug addicts, or they can use ice or making outlaw spirits so the treatment is very necessary. For Viet Nam, we consider addicts as patients but they need to be treated but also apply management because the addicts they are very easily linked to criminal activity. There are criminal cases, when they need drugs they can kill others, even members of their family such as their father or mother. So we consider them as patients and they need to be treated. We recently renewed our laws on treatment, and socialized treatment so that some can have voluntary treatment at home, in the community or with a social organization. If an addict is dangerous we will make a profile, to be sentenced by a court. If they have a criminal record or some other relevant history, they may be sent to compulsory treatment. The centre in Vuong To where people escaped from , some committed robbery and assaulted people when they came out. We establish coordination with families as well, so that criminal activities are reduced after treatment. I heard some comments from UNGASS about alternatives such as methadone. So I confirm that with human rights, we are not in violation of them and we are working to make them better people.

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