The UN and drug control

12 July 1998

The Drug Summit special session of the United Nations General Assembly last month was a disappointment. It was attended only by some 31 heads of state and heads of government out of a possible 185.

The session was held to mark the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and it was also tasked to assess the international drug problem posed by the increasing illicit use of drugs, including heroin and cocaine, and developing a strategy based not just on curbing the supply of these substances but rather on achieving a balanced approach towards reduction of both of supply and demand.

Except for presidents Bill Clinton and Jacques Chirac there were hardly any other international heavyweights attending the special session. What was conspicuous was the presence of the 20 heads of government or state from Latin America and the Caribbean which was well rioted and quite momentous for the summit organisers.

Asia and Africa were represented by low-level leaders. The absence of Nelson Mandela, Hosni Mubarak, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Jiang Zemin and Ryutaro Hashimoto were noted and missed. Of the 185 member nations, only 152 countries bothered to send representatives while 33 designated only their permanent representatives.

We were represented by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Datuk Tajol Rosli Ghazali.

Tajul, in his seven-minute speech, told the summit: "The Malaysian government has, for the last few months, embarked on the process of developing further our vision to create a drug-free nation by the year 2023. A timespan of 25 years or roughly one generation is our target for realising this vision.

"To achieve this objective, we believe first in the creation of a drug-free generation. Programmes and strategies are being developed, including a comprehensive demand reduction programme starting with the smallest unit of the family, moving on to schools, work places, village communities, the various districts and states and, finally, the nation as a whole.

"By the year 2023, we envisage the emergence of a whole drug-free generation nationwide. Admittedly, this is an ambitious vision. However, it is not just a rhetorical proposal. We aim for it to be a serious, comprehensive and workable long-term strategy. We are convinced that it is achievable and we are determined to achieve it."

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, in his message to the summit, said that every nation is affected by the scourge of drugs and that there are today 21 million victims around the world who abuse cocaine and heroine and another 30 million who abuse amphetamine type drugs.

Countries that used to be classified as drug producing must now also deal with drug abuse.

Sounding rather optimistic, the secretary-general, stated: "I hope real progress towards eliminating drug crops will be achieved by the year 2008." A good 15 years ahead of us; may be a bit unrealistic. Some observers are of the opinion that it is too soon. However, let us not be too soon to accent on this melancholy conclusion!

The question being asked (and high time too) is: What is the private sector doing or what can it do to help combat the worldwide scourge in illicit drug trafficking?.

Tajol-did allude to the fact that Malaysia includes the private sector in its ongoing campaigns against drug abuses. The moot point is: how serious is the private sector involvement?