Illicit Drug Challenge Remains “Formidable,” Says UNODC Chief

A UNODC report on Afghanistan in 2016 showed poppy cultivation had increased by 10%, and production by 43%.A UNODC report on Afghanistan in 2016 showed poppy cultivation had increased by 10%, and production by 43%.

The value of opiates trafficked out of Afghanistan is “staggering” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Yury Fedotov, told an audience at a high-level conference in Tehran on February 27.

Taking the Balkans route as an example, the illicit proceeds of trafficked Afghan opiates amounts to $28 billion, he said.

“This figure exceeded not just the gross domestic product of Afghanistan, but it was also only one of the three main trafficking routes flowing out of the country.”

Fedotov was speaking at the Tehran International Conference on Cooperation against Illicit Drugs and related Organized Crime, which brought together ministers, ambassadors, experts and others from Central Asia and beyond to discuss drugs and crime, reported.

He told the audience that a UNODC report on opium grown in Afghanistan published in 2016 showed that poppy cultivation had increased by 10% to 201,000 hectares. Production, driven by the high opium yield, had risen also by 43% to 4,800 tons.

UNODC was responding, he said, by working with regional and international partners to build greater cooperation against transnational organized crime and terrorism threats, as well as refining regional drug control coordination.

Known as the “One UNODC Concerted Approach for Europe, West and Central Asia,” activities included efforts under the Regional Program for Afghanistan and Neighboring Countries, and South Eastern Europe, the Program for Central Asia, and the Country Programs for Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

Underpinning these activities were a number of other integrated initiatives. One such program, the Triangular Initiative, brought together Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to share information and good practices on law enforcement, and to conduct joint operations against the traffickers founded on the intelligence of a Tehran-based Joint Planning Cell.

 Anti-Money Laundering Network

Fedotov said UNODC was planning to complement these activities by setting up a regional anti-money laundering network in Tehran to counter regional terrorism financing.

Another important activity within the “One UNODC approach” is the Networking the Networks initiative to build bridges between law enforcement bodies along the major opiate trafficking routes. Organizations involved in this process included: the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC), the Joint Planning Cell and the Doha-based (Persian) Gulf Criminal Information Center for Combating Drugs, among others.

The broad range of UNODC’s activities in the region were undertaken to also support the outcome document of last April’s UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem (UNGASS 2016). He stressed that last October’s Brussel’s Conference on Afghanistan had also reinforced the need to focus on illicit drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism in the region. But, “High level political commitment and pledges must be backed by the required support, including financial resources.”

At the end of the conference, organizers issued conclusions recognizing that “Afghanistan and the transit countries in the region continue to face multifaceted challenges, and reaffirm[ing] the continuing need for cooperation and support, including the provision of technical assistance to, inter alia, enhance their capacities to effectively address and counter the drug problem”.

Fedotov said, “The conference’s conclusions are useful inputs for the forthcoming 60th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the ongoing post-UNGASS 2016 implementation efforts.”

The UNODC chief also met Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Minister of Interior and Secretary General of Drug Control Headquarters Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli.  

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