Pubdate: Thu, 12 Mar 2009
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2009 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Mark Heinrich, in Vienna
Cited: Transform
Referenced: Costa's statement
Bookmark: (UN Vienna drugs conference)


A UN anti-narcotics drive has backfired by making drug cartels so 
rich they can bribe their way through west Africa and central 
America, UN crime agency chief Antonio Maria Costa has admitted.

The ten-year "war on drugs" had cut drug output and user numbers, he 
said yesterday. But as a "dramatic unintended consequence" 
profit-gorged trafficking gangs had destabilised nations plagued by 
poverty, joblessness and HIV-Aids.

"When mafias can buy elections, candidates, political parties, in a 
word, power, the consequences can only be highly destabilising," Mr 
Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told a 
UN drug policy review meeting.

"While ghettoes burn, west Africa is under attack (by Latin American 
traffickers transhipping cocaine to Europe], drug cartels threaten 
central America and drug money penetrates bankrupt financial 
institutions," he said.

A key part of the problem was the failure of many countries to take 
UN conventions against crime and graft seriously and the prevalence 
of corrupt border, army and police officials.

"As a result, a number of countries now face a crime situation 
largely caused by their own choice. Worse is the fact that vulnerable 
neighbours often pay an even greater price," he said.

Mr Costa was launching a meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic 
Drugs to review the decade since a UN set targets to tackle 
producers, traffickers and end users.

At the last convention in 1998, the slogan "A drug-free world - we 
can do it" launched a campaign to eradicate all narcotics by using 
law enforcement to tackle producers, traffickers and end users globally.

Drug policy campaigners, social scientists and health experts argue 
that the strategy has failed, with statistics showing drug 
production, trafficking and use have all soared during the decade, 
while the cost of law enforcement, financially and socially, has 
rocketed, with vast numbers imprisoned.

In the United States, where illegal drug use is highest, the 
government spends around $70 billion (UKP 50 billion) a year to 
combat drugs. But illegal use has risen steadily over the past decade 
and a fifth of the prison population is incarcerated for drug offences.

Papering over internal dissent on ways of making anti-drug policy 
more effective, the 53 nations on the commission are expected today 
to enact a declaration committing them to a programme to fight the 
drug trade for another ten years.

"It is a tragic irony that the UN, so often renowned for 
peacekeeping, is being used to fight a war that brings untold misery 
to some of the most marginalised people on earth," said Danny 
Kushlick, head of Transform, a British drug policy group.

"More than 8,000 deaths in Mexico in recent years, the 
destabilisation of Colombia and Afghanistan, continued corruption and 
instability in the Caribbean and west Africa are testimony to the 
catastrophic impact of a drug control system based on global prohibition."

Global addiction had stabilised for several years, Mr Costa said, 
with demand falling for some drugs and rising for others. "This is no 
longer the runaway train of the 1980s and 1990s," he said. But he 
conceded world markets were still supplied with about 1,000 tonnes of 
heroin, 1,000 tonnes of cocaine and untold volumes of cannabis and 
synthetic drugs. 
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