Wednesday, June 24, 2009

UN Office on Drugs and Crime admits it is at war with itself

News release

24th June 2009

The World Drug Report 2009, the flagship annual publication of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), will be launched in Washington DC on 24 June. Launched in the run up to World Drug Day on 26th June, the report provides detailed descriptions of trends in world drug markets. The report is likely to repeat the fact that the drug control system creates huge unintended consequences.

Transform, an NGO with special consultative status with the UN, argues that it is the regime of global prohibition that has created and compounded what is generally thought of as the ‘drug problem’, and that the UNODC is in agreement about the problem, if not the solution. Transform argues that the war on drugs must be ended to enable legally regulated drug markets to be established .

Even the UNODC website admits:

“Global drug control efforts have had a dramatic unintended consequence: a criminal black market of staggering proportions. Organized crime is a threat to security. Criminal organizations have the power to destabilize society and Governments. The illicit drug business is worth billions of dollars a year, part of which is used to corrupt government officials and to poison economies.

Drug cartels are spreading violence in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. West Africa is under attack from narco-trafficking. Collusion between insurgents and criminal groups threatens the stability of West Asia, the Andes and parts of Africa, fuelling the trade in smuggled weapons, the plunder of natural resources and piracy.”

The World Drug Report has long been criticised as attempting to dress up the long-term systemic failure of the international drug control system as success, and for ignoring some of the system’s most catastrophic failings. Despite the ongoing attempts to put a positive spin on the data there is no hiding from the reality that the era of global drug prohibition, enshrined in the three UN drug conventions (1961, 1971 and 1988), has witnessed a consistent escalation in harms associated with illicit drug production, supply and use.

Not only has the international drug control infrastructure – by its own measures – consistently delivered the opposite of its stated aims (the creation of ‘a drug free world’ being further away than ever) but, as Antonio Costa (UNODC executive director) has repeatedly stated, it has created a series of disastrous ‘unintended consequences’. Costa describes how the drug control system that his office oversees has created the ‘huge criminal black market’ that turns over in excess of £160 billion a year that has devastated producer and transit countries, has displaced policy ‘from public health to enforcement’ and caused the ‘balloon effect’ in which the problem is not eliminated but merely moved from one region to another.

Indeed the UN drug agencies are increasingly isolated from the UN family and at odds with the principles and practices of other UN agencies, whose work is built upon the pillars of human security, human development and human rights. Illustrating the point, a World Health Organisation report stated only last week that:

“The first two [drug] conventions predate the HIV/AIDS epidemic, while the third one predates the explosive global growth of injection drug use. Hence, while they benefit from considerable international support, these conventions my need to be revised today because some of their provisions affect the control of the HIV epidemic.”
Danny Kushlick, Head of Policy at Transform said:

“UNODC is officially at war with itself. The Executive Director has admitted repeatedly that the UNODC oversees the very system that gifts the vast illegal drug market to violent criminal profiteers, with disastrous consequences. The UNODC is effectively creating the problem it is claiming to eliminate. Mr Costa has identified five major ‘unintended consequences’ of the drug control system. Is there a time limit on how long a consequence remains ‘unintended’? Aren’t they now just ‘consequences’?”

“On the supply side fragile states like Afghanistan, Colombia and Guinea Bissau are drawn deeper into the illegal market where their profound underlying social and economic problems are compounded. Whilst for the rich consumer countries, like the US and UK, the illicit nature of trade is a catalyst for drug dealing and turf war violence, with the collateral damage inflicted on their more vulnerable neighbours, such as Mexico.”

He concluded:

“Only by ending our politically driven war on drugs can we hope to address the underlying sickness of producer, transit and consumer countries alike. In the short term, the UN and its member states should be obliged to conduct transparent impact assessments of their continued commitment to the Conventions with a view to acting on the evidence that they garner. In the longer term, the conventions need to be adapted, specifically allowing the flexibility for states, should they democratically decide, to explore legal regulation of drug production and supply. Until then the conventions will continue to undermine development, security and human rights.”



  • Danny Kushlick, Head of Policy and Communications 07970 174747
  • Steve Rolles, Head of Research 07980 213943

Notes for Editors:

Updates 25.06.09:

Transform quoted in the Guardian coverage:
UN report shows fall in opium and cocaine production

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