Drugs: Breaking the Cycle - Home Affairs Committee Contents

2  Global drugs policy

History of international drugs control

15. The first international drugs control treaty was the 1912 International Opium Convention, which gained widespread adherence after the First World War after it was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles and connected treaties. Other international agreements aimed at limiting the international supply of narcotics were concluded between the wars and in 1946, ownership of these agreements passed from the League of Nations to the newly-created United Nations. In 1961, the first UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (later amended by the 1972 protocol) was agreed. It covered opiates, cannabis and drugs derived from the coca plant. The 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances expanded the coverage to include psychoactive drugs such as amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and psychedelics. The 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances established legal mechanisms to support the earlier conventions such as restrictions upon precursor chemicals and asset seizure and extradition relating to drugs offences.

16. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is the independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the implementation of the United Nations international drug control conventions. It was established in 1968 in accordance with the 1961 Convention. Its role is to ensure that adequate supplies of drugs are available for medical and scientific uses and that the diversion of drugs to illicit channels does not occur. It also identifies weaknesses in national and international control systems and contributes to correcting such situations and is responsible for assessing chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of drugs, in order to determine whether they should be placed under international control.[28]

17. Established in 1997, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the lead United Nations entity for delivering legal and technical assistance to prevent terrorism, the illicit trade in drugs and international crime. Based in Vienna, UNODC operates 54 field offices around the world, covering more than 150 countries, including an office in Bogota, which we visited while we were there. UNODC relies on Member States to fund efforts to tackle crime, drugs and terrorism worldwide. They also receive financial support from multi-donor trust funds, other United Nations entities, international financial institutions, private foundations and other organizations. Their 2010 annual report notes that "in 2009, as a consequence of the global financial crisis, UNODC experienced a sharp decline of 26% in general purpose income."[29] Their budget for 2009 (the latest year for which data is available) was US$243 billion.[30]

The unintended consequences of drugs policy

18. In 2008, the then-executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, described the five unintended consequences of the international drug control system:[31]

a)  The development of a huge, highly profitable, criminal black market, in which hundredfold increases in price from production to retail are not uncommon.

b)  Policy displacement, specifically the redirection of public resources from public health programmes to law enforcement.

c)  Geographical displacement—also known as the "balloon effect"—whereby tough measures to tackle the production and supply of drugs in one area result in increased production and supply elsewhere (even if the overall result is a net decrease). Mr Costa cited the shift in Andean coca production from Peru and Bolivia to Colombia in the 1990s as an example, but during our visit to Bogota (four years after Mr Costa gave his speech), we saw evidence that tough enforcement measures in Colombia were pushing production and supply back in the opposite direction.

d)  Substance displacement,[32] which occurs when effective measures to combat the supply of or demand for one drug results in increased supply of or demand for another. We saw examples of this in Florida, where a stepping-up of law-enforcement action against the supply and use of cannabis had been followed by a growth in so-called "pill mills", medical clinics operating at or beyond the border of legality to supply excessive quantities of psychoactive drugs, such as oxycodone.

e)  The exclusion and marginalisation from the social mainstream of those who use illicit drugs. This fifth unintended consequence is the way we perceive and deal with the users of illicit drugs. A system appears to have been created in which those who fall into the web of addiction find themselves excluded and marginalized from the social mainstream, tainted with a moral stigma, and often unable to find treatment even when they may be motivated to want it.

Current international drugs policy

19. Drug Policy is an issue which affects almost every country in the world, whether as source, transit or consumer countries. According to the UNODC, the largest consumer region is North America (44% of total retail sales), followed by Europe (33%), although no region is spared. Patterns of consumption are constantly changing. In recent years, cocaine use has declined in North America and grown in Europe, whereas heroin use has stabilised or fallen in Europe but has increased in some transit countries. Sources of drugs are spread around the world—cannabis is cultivated widely, but with concentrations in Africa and the Americas; Asia is the largest source of opiates; cocaine is produced almost exclusively in South America and synthetics are produced in Europe, Asia and North America.[33]

20. The supply and transit of drugs is a major threat to the governance structures of the countries concerned. The Mexican drug wars, which have resulted in more than 50,000 deaths since the mid-2000s, are an extreme example of the toxic mix of armed conflict and political corruption that affects several countries in South and Central America, Africa and Asia.[34]

21. In 1998, the UN held a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs at which they agreed a number of ten-year targets. None of these targets was successful. In a response to the 2008 UNODC World Drugs Report, the Transnational Institute said

The world today is not any closer to achieving the ten-year targets set by the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs. These goals were "eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by the year 2008." Instead global production of opiates and cocaine has significantly increased over the last ten years. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) global illicit opium production doubled from 4,346 tons in 1998 to 8,800 tons in 2007. This is mainly due to the massive increase in opium production in Afghanistan. The estimated global cocaine production increased from 825 tons in 1998 to 994 tons in 2007, an increase of 20%.[35]

22. The continuing illegal trade in drugs is leading some world leaders to question the viability of the criminalisation of users. In 2009, three former Latin American presidents—Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia (whom we met informally during our visit to Colombia), and Mexico's Ernesto Zedillo—announced that the war on drugs had failed and that it was time to discuss alternative approaches. This was followed by a 2011 Report which called for the decriminalisation of drugs. The Report was produced by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, an independent body funded by a number of private sources, including George Soros's Open Society Foundations, the Drug Policy Alliance (an organisation which campaigns for drug-law reform in the USA) and Richard Branson's Virgin Unite. The Report was signed by those same former presidents, as well as Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland; George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece; Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations; George P. Shultz, former US Secretary of State, and Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve. Since then, a number of current Latin American Presidents have called for reform. It is important, however, to put this campaign in perspective as despite continued debate on the potential benefits and disbenefits of decriminalisation over the last decade and more, in the majority of countries it is the settled policy of governments that illicit drug use will remain criminalised for the foreseeable future.

23. In March 2012, we travelled to Bogotá, Colombia, to meet President Juan Manuel Santos, Minister of the Interior Germán Vargas Lleras, and National Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno. President Santos told us that in his opinion the war on drugs was the source of many of Colombia's problems—terrorism, corruption and criminal violence. He also stated that after a period of collective denial, the Colombian people had woken up to the problem and, with international support, had managed to make progress. However, they had paid a high price. The country had lost many of its best judges, police officers, journalists and politicians but had made progress by any standards. He advocated an international debate about the best way to tackle the drugs problem. He was open to the possibility that the status quo, or something like it, might eventually emerge as the best way forwards, but the possibility of a different approach to the war on drugs had to be considered. He was of the view that whatever the outcome, only a co-ordinated, global drugs policy would be successful. The drugs trade only thrived because it was profitable—targeting the profits of organised crime, much of which was in North American and European financial institutions, should be a central part of international efforts to tackle the drugs trade.

24. The President stressed throughout our discussion that he was not advocating the legalisation of drugs, but the establishment of a new international consensus around the best way to tackle the problem. He was, however, keen to emphasise that legalisation should not automatically be ruled out as a possible part of a global solution. He pointed out that whereas in consumer countries such as the UK, the problems created by the consumption of illegal drugs were predominantly associated with health and crime, in supplier countries such as Colombia, they were problems of national security. It was brought home to us by several of those we met in Colombia how close the country had come to falling entirely under the control of the drugs cartels; this is clearly a world away from the problems of addiction and acquisitive street crime which are associated with the drugs trade in the UK.

25. The Committee saw for itself during its visit to Colombia the effect of the drugs trade on producer and transit countries—the lives lost, the destruction of the environment and the significant damage caused to governance structures by corruption and conflicts. We recognise and sympathise with the immense suffering and slaying of innocent people which tragically has taken place over the years in Colombia and other Latin American countries, as a result of the murderous rivalry between drug gangs.

26. Bolivia has already in effect withdrawn from the 1961 Single Convention.[36] The country intends to re-accede the treaty in January 2013, with a new reservation that gives legal protection for the traditional use of the coca leaf (which, in its unprocessed form, is chewed and made into tea) but this will only happen if two thirds of all parties to the Convention do not express objections. Whether Bolivia would still decide to re-accede if that reservation were not accepted, remains to be seen.[37] The International Narcotics Control Board was critical of the move in its 2011 annual report, arguing that if other state parties were to follow the mechanism of denunciation and reaccession, "the integrity of the international drug control system would be undermined and the achievements of the past 100 years in drug control would be compromised".[38]

27. We believe it is important that countries remain inside the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, rather than entirely outside it. We therefore believe that Bolivia should be allowed to re-accede to the Convention, with the reservation they require for traditional practices. We recommend that the UK Government support this position and encourage other countries to do likewise.

28. The UN General Assembly has recently approved a resolution to hold a General Assembly Special Session to review current policies and strategies to confront the global drug problem. The session will take place at the beginning of 2016 after an intense preparatory process which will begin next year. The draft resolution, which was presented by Mexico, was co-sponsored by ninety-five United Nations member countries including various countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and in the European Union, as well as Japan, China, Australia, and the United States.[39]

The impact of globalisation on the drugs trade

29. In 1999, the then-Secretary General of Interpol was quoted by UNESCO as saying

Globalization and its many manifestations mean that borders of all sorts are becoming increasingly difficult for governments to define, let alone maintain. International drug trafficking has been aided by the explosion in computer and telecommunications technology and by world-wide transport systems. These same facilities, as well as advances in the banking and services sectors also benefit money launderers. There is no doubt that the illegal trade in narcotics is being regular economy on a national as well as an international level. This situation makes combating of the drug trade on a financial front all the more difficult.[40]

In 2007, trade in illegal drugs was estimated at five to six percent of overall world trade, which is slightly larger than the combined global trade in agricultural products and cars.[41]

30. Between 80% and 90% of globally traded goods are transported by sea. Maritime transport of goods has quadrupled in the past 40 years. The global shipping network is the dominant method of transporting illicit goods, including drugs.[42] Part of the reason for this is the growth in the use of containerised shipping—containers conceal their cargo, they have few distinguishing features and thousands go through the world's busiest container ports each day. Despite this, the UNODC estimates that only 2% of containers are inspected.[43] A recent report in to trends in maritime trafficking stated

The growth in container shipping has been exploited by drug trafficking organizations whose own cargo ships were increasingly targeted by air and sea operations involving the US Coast Guard, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and European law enforcement agencies. In 1999 a US intelligence study noted that the rapid growth in containerized sea transport offered narcotics traffickers 'simplicity and convenience', stating that containers were the most 'cost effective' method.[44]

31. Also in 1999, the World Customs Organization reported that 64% of the cocaine seized globally was intercepted in maritime containers. By 2010 more than 80% of the cocaine seized on its way into Spain was in shipping containers. In 2010, the US State Department assessed it as the most cost-effective and lowest risk method of transporting cocaine to distribution centres in Europe and the USA.[45] The containers are often transported on ships which are owned by mainstream shipping companies based in EU, NATO or OECD member states and without the knowledge of the ship's owner, operator or officers.[46]

32. As a result of the prevalence in maritime transport in the trafficking of drugs, there are several joint operations involving a number of countries which cover the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the eastern Pacific. The Joint Interagency Taskforce South (JIATF-South) is based in Florida and is thought to have been responsible for more than 40 %of global cocaine interdiction in 2009.[47] JIATF-South includes personnel from the US armed forces, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, the Netherlands, Peru, Spain and the UK. We were, however, informed that UK practical assistance by the Royal Navy had been dramatically reduced following the strategic defence spending review.

33. In Europe, the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) (MAOC(N)) performs a similar function and works closely with the US Joint Interagency Taskforce (which has observer status in MAOC). We visited MAOC's Lisbon headquarters in March 2012. The Centre was established in 2007, and its focus is on using intelligence to guide the interception of vessels carrying cocaine and cannabis. Much of this cargo comes across the Atlantic from South America to West Africa, where it is processed and packaged for onward shipment to Europe and elsewhere. The number of maritime seizures attributable to MAOC's work had fallen, following its early success which owed much to the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and its historically successful bilateral co-operation with Spanish and Portuguese authorities, and changes to smugglers' methods. This is despite the number of "vessels of interest" rising significantly from around 10 in 2007 to over 100 in 2010.

34. Data about maritime trafficking, maritime pollution, ship safety, vessel traffic and fisheries protection data can be combined to build a more accurate picture of trafficking flows. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has argued that EU Member States and institutions should create an information-sharing mechanism for lists of suspect ships and shipments that could be integrated into other EU systems as part of a wider holistic approach to maritime security and the enforcement of EU arms embargoes.[48]

35. We were concerned to discover that the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) has seen a sharp fall in its rate of drug interdiction and now faces an uncertain future over its funding, 95% of which is currently provided by the European Commission. Gathering reliable intelligence about the maritime trafficking of illegal drugs is a crucial part of the international fight against the drugs trade. While recognising that this is not a matter for the UK Government alone, we urge the Government to work with both EU countries and other key international partners to ensure more effective drug interdiction in the future.

36. Policies governing trade, such as import duty and inspection regimes, regulations placed on shipped goods, and the ease of travel and contact between citizens of different countries, will have an impact on illicit trade as well as on legitimate trade.[49] Although it has less of an effect, the increasing ease of international migration has also affected the drugs trade, especially within the EU. SOCA, which conducts operations against British criminals involved in the drugs trade in other EU countries, told us that

organised criminals are entrepreneurial, agile and resilient. They operate like businesses and do not respect regional, national or international boundaries, managing the risk they face from other criminals and law enforcement, including by changing commodity, location, changing supply routings and modus operandi according to opportunity and risk.[50]

37. The outcome of law enforcement action against such organisations, rather than dismantling them, can sometimes result in them simply transferring their base of operations. The Agency cautions that criminal organisations will change their operating methods or physical location in response to police intervention, citing the example of successful SOCA operations against British gangs abroad.

operational activity does not cease when arrests have been made. Such displacement often forces organised crime groups to alter their operating methods or change their physical location, therefore making themselves more vulnerable to law enforcement intervention. For example, it is known that law enforcement activity, targeting Class A drugs and associated criminal finances in Spain and the Netherlands has resulted in some British criminals relocating from these countries. SOCA-led activity continues to put pressure on organised crime groups through a number of approaches ranging from financial investigation through to more non-traditional techniques. [51]

This is one example of the displacement, or 'balloon' effect.

The balloon effect

38. Black markets do not respect borders, so in an era characterized by globalisation the development of a global drug policy might be the most effective way to combat drug production, trafficking and consumption. The issue often faced by national counter-narcotics operations is that when one area of production or route of trafficking is disrupted, production simply shifts to other locations, and trade to other routes. The United Nations Development Programme in Colombia described the balloon effect this way:

The economic mechanism underlying the global effect is quite simple: the success of eradication in one area temporarily reduces the supply, and that translates into a price rise. Then, given that the supply function is fairly [price] elastic, higher prices stimulate people to plant crops in other places. The costs to start planting are quite low given that the majority of property rights on land planted with illicit crops are ill defined.[52]

39. One example of this is the evolution of cocaine production and trafficking routes over time, largely in response to crop eradication policies, interdiction efforts, competition among actors and shifts in demand. We discussed this extensively with senior politicians, academics, journalists and police officers during our visit to Bogotá. Coca leaf production increased considerably in the 1980s, mainly in Peru, followed by Bolivia. Production in the mid-1990s shifted to Colombia, with a corresponding decline in the other Andean countries and the total area under coca bush cultivation thus stabilized, at a high level, in the 1990s.

40. In the 2000s, cultivation was successfully reduced by a massive eradication programme undertaken by the authorities in Colombia, which has been successful in reducing the area of cultivation within the country by almost a third.[53] This success has come at a high human cost. The use of crop spraying is effective against larger areas of cultivation, but much of the eradication work is carried out on the ground by officers of the Counter-Narcotics Directorate of the Colombian National Police (DIRAN). The Counter-Narcotics Jungle Company, whose training base we visited during our stay in Bogotá, trains men and women to venture into hostile territory by helicopter to dig up coca plants by hand. This is the only effective way of destroying small plantations of the bushes, which are very resilient. Officers are vulnerable to attack from cartels and guerrillas. Plantations are sometimes mined. We were told that, for every 30 officers attacking a crop, around 100 others were needed to defend them. Although Colombia's success in crop eradication has been partially offset by an increase in Bolivia and Peru, it has still let to an overall reduction in potential production of around one sixth between 2007 and 2010.[54] In effect, for every two bushes that are destroyed in Colombia, another one is planted elsewhere in the Andes.

41. A similar effect has been observed in the shifting of supply routes in response to effective interdiction. In the 1970s and early 1980s, cocaine was smuggled into the USA primarily using air shipments from Colombia to Florida and other destinations along the eastern seaboard. In response to increased law enforcement efforts during the 1980s and 1990s, traffickers switched to using boats crossing the Caribbean. In recent years, the route has switched to the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, with semi-submersibles carrying cocaine between Colombia and Mexico for onward transport overland into the US.[55] The calamitous impact on Mexico of this shift in trade routes is well documented: 12,903 people were killed in drug-related violence in the first nine months of 2011, bringing the total number of dead since 2006 to 47,515. Targeting supply at an early stage is the most effective way of reducing supply, as larger amounts can be intercepted higher up the supply chain. Even so, we do not believe that it will be possible to reduce the overall volume of the international drugs trade dramatically only by tackling supply — it is too easy for narco-criminals to respond by diversifying their supply routes.

42. The global nature of the drugs trade, and the potential for displacement of drug cultivation and supply routes in response to law enforcement measures, means that the international drug trade can only ever be tackled effectively by co-operative, co-ordinated international efforts. We must recognise that no one nation can do this on its own.

43. As well as geographical displacement, the drug trade is susceptible to substance displacement, where targeting the supply of one type of drug leads to increase in use of another. In 2011, a survey carried out by DrugScope highlighted the rapid rise in the use of ketamine since it was banned in 2006, as well as the rise of benzodiazepines. It was suggested that this might reflect a shortage of good-quality heroin from late 2010.[56] When we discussed the prevalence of prescription drug abuse with law enforcement officials in Miami, some argued that the growth of 'pill mills' in Florida has been due in part to tough law-enforcement action against other drugs such as cannabis.

44. The potential for "substance displacement", where users switch from one drug to another in response to changes in supply, has clear implications for public policy. In particular, the Government must be mindful of the fact that tougher measures against one drug can lead to increased consumption of another. Where the drug that is being targeted is less harmful than its substitutes—and all recreational drugs are harmful to a greater or lesser extent—there is the clear potential for measures which are intended to tackle the supply and consumption of drugs to result in an overall increase in the harm they cause. We recommend that, where decisions about the classification of drugs are concerned, the opinion of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs should be sought on the potential for substance displacement, and the comparative risk associated with the likely substitutes.

The environmental impact of drugs

45. The environmental impact of drugs production is rarely discussed, but it is far from negligible. Significant ecological damage is caused both by those producing the drug and those attempting to halt its production. Not all drug production is environmentally harmful, but the fact that such production is carried out clandestinely means that it is entirely unaffected by the environmental protection measures by which legitimate industry must abide.


46. According to the Ecologist Magazine, by 2009 cocaine production had been responsible for the destruction of two million hectares—an area the size of Wales—of Amazonian rainforest. Police officers in Colombia told us that a hectare of coca plant produces about a tonne of leaf, which produces a kilogram of cocaine base. It has also been estimated that for every gramme of cocaine produced, four square metres of rainforest are required, taking into account additional clearance for habitation, processing and supply routes. Further damage is inflicted by the introduction of precursor chemicals—including kerosene, sulphuric acid, acetone, petrol, urea and cement—into the sensitive Amazonian ecosystem. The chemical agents used in crop eradication are no less harmful to the environment, and the aerial spraying of herbicides such as glyphosate kills plants indiscriminately, potentially leaving the soil barren and contaminating the water supply.


47. One of the precursor chemicals, used to make ecstasy comes from safrole, made from the roots of the endangered selasian wood tree found in the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia. Traders illegally harvest their roots to stew in vats for up to 12 hours in order to make the oil. As well as illegally hunting local endangered animals for food and profit, the traders often cut down other trees to build fires to stew their oil, endangering the supply of cardamom which impacts negatively on the businesses of the local spice merchants. Leaks of oil into water courses can have a negative impact on aquatic life.


48. So-called "wild grow" sites are especially common in the USA—nearly 50,000 cannabis plants are found each year in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks in California. Growers routinely clear the area of its natural wildlife and treat the sites with herbicides and pesticides many of which will run off and damage local plant, aquatic and wild life. Where cannabis is grown indoors, many producers use chemicals such as hormones which are then simply poured or flushed away into the waste water system. In Miami, we saw evidence of underground grow houses which had resulted in hugely increased use of, often illegally diverted, electricity.


49. By-products of methamphetamine production which include red phosphorus and iodine, both harmful at low doses, have been found dumped into domestic water wells, mine shafts and on to farmland, contaminating water supply and soil.

50. We asked Russell Brand, a former drug user, if he thought the environmental consequences of drug production could be used to deter drug use:

No more than the industrial consequences of oil production affect people using their cars. People don't care about industry. People care about getting the resource that they require. The illegality makes no difference, the consequences in the nation of origin make no difference. [...] Of course, any illegal industry, or the cocaine manufacture in South American nations, or wherever, has a negative consequence for their nations but I don't think that that is something that individual drug addicts are going to be affected by, to be honest, because they are normally on drugs.[57]

Links between drugs, organised crime and terrorism

51. According to the UNODC, the illicit drugs trade accounts for half of all transnational organized crime proceeds and is the most profitable sector. It estimates that around $2 trillion was laundered in 2009 and that probably around 0.2% of illicit financial flows are currently being seized and frozen.[58] The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) told us that around 50% of all organised crime groups were involved in drugs, including 80% of the most dangerous groups, most of whom are involved in the supply of Class A substances.[59]

52. In 2011, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre published a report on people trafficking in which the largest identified trend was the trafficking of Vietnamese children into the UK—37 of the 58 children identified were trafficked into the UK to work in cannabis farms.[60]

53. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) estimates that 25 to 30 tonnes of adulterated and unadulterated cocaine is needed each year to meet UK demand. A tonne of cocaine at import could, depending on purity, equate to between seven and 14 million street deals of cocaine at £20 to £40 per deal. Between 18 and 23 tonnes of adulterated and unadulterated heroin are imported annually to supply the UK market. A tonne of heroin at import could, depending on purity equate to between 3 and 6 million street deals of heroin at £10 to £20 per deal. This equates to a total street value of heroin and cocaine which is already somewhere between £4 billion and £20 billion. But that is before further cutting agents—which may be anything from cheaper drugs which mimic the effect of the drug in question (e.g. cocaine cut with local anaesthetics) to wholly inert diluents such as talcum powder—are introduced to increase profit margins.[61] In 2005, the UNODC calculated that in Europe, heroin and cocaine cost six times more per unit weight than gold.[62]

54. The Home Office told us that the links between the drugs trade and terrorism are most apparent in Afghanistan, where the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the insurgency derives approximately $150 million per annum from Afghan narcotics, and in Colombia, where criminal groups continue to support terrorist and paramilitary groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). There is also evidence of the profits from the transit of drugs in the West African region being used to fund terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).[63]

55. We are concerned that despite significant international efforts to disrupt supply of illegal drugs and bear down on demand, the illegal drugs trade remains a hugely profitable enterprise for organised criminals and narco-terrorists. In part this is due to the highly inflated prices of the drugs in question, inevitable in a high demand underground market, and in part due to very low production costs, arising from cheap labour costs where many workers are exploited and the fact that most illicit drugs are very simple and inexpensive to make. This ultimately causes massive harm and deaths around the world. We urge the Government to continue to factor this unintended consequence into considerations on drugs policy.

Human rights abuses

56. A number of organisations have called attention to the abuses of human rights which are committed through the implementation on international drugs policy. The International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy told us that human rights abuses associated with drug enforcement include extra-judicial killing, the death penalty, corporal punishment, arbitrary detention, denial of healthcare, discrimination, and violations of multiple other rights including for specific groups such as children and indigenous peoples. They argue that

While some of the most egregious human rights abuses in the context of drug control occur overseas, the UK cannot divorce itself from the international context for a number of reasons. First, the UK funds drug enforcement efforts in countries with poor human rights records; second, developments in the UK are looked to in other parts of the world; and third, almost all UN Member States have agreed to be bound by the same law enforcement based approach to drug control.[64]

57. There are currently thirty-two countries or territories in the world that have laws prescribing the death penalty for drug offences but it is estimated that executions for drugs have taken place in just 12 to 14 countries over the past five years and that only 5 %of nations actually enforce mandatory death sentences for drugs in practice.[65] Those states that regularly enforce the death penalty in drugs cases are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office estimates that there were 590 executions for drugs offences worldwide in 2010.[66]

58. Human rights abuses by the military and police officers in attempts to eradicate drug production have been widely reported. In 2011, Human Rights Watch found evidence that strongly suggests the participation of the Mexican security forces in more than 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances, and 24 extrajudicial killings since December 2006.[67] An earlier report into extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs focused on Thailand. In February 2003, the Thai government, under then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, launched a 'war on drugs', aimed at the suppression of drug trafficking and the prevention of drug use. In the first three months of the campaign there were allegedly some 2,800 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers. In 2007, an official investigation found that more than half of those killed had no connection whatsoever to drugs.[68]

59. According to Human Rights Watch, compulsory drug treatment centres where users are detained (often without trial and sometimes for indefinite periods of time) exist in Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, China, Indonesia, Singapore Cambodia, Vietnam, and Lao PDR. People detained in drug detention centres have reported beatings, rape, denial of meals, isolation and forced labour.[69] A number of these centres are funded by international donors.[70]

60. It is important, however, not to imply that it is in pursuit of such state-sanctioned drugs policies that the most egregious human rights abuses associated with the drugs trade occur. In fact the most widespread human rights abuses associated with the drugs trade are perpetrated by the organized crime gangs who profit from exploiting vulnerable communities and individuals. In Colombia, we were told that the activities of the cartels and criminal gangs (known as "BACRIM") had been responsible for numerous murders of police officers, judges, journalists and politicians over several decades. Hostage-taking had been for many years a standard tactic. As we have already noted, drugs gangs are involved in the trafficking of children into the UK as slave labour (see paragraph 52). In Chihuahua, Mexico, the authorities recently announced the discovery of mass graves of bodies showing evidence of torture.

61. The Government should not turn a blind eye to capital punishment and other human rights abuses affecting those involved in the drugs trade. In particular, we recommend that the Government ensure that no British or European funding is used to support practices that could lead to capital punishment, torture, or other violations.

28   http://www.incb.org/incb/en/about/mandate-functions.html Back

29   United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Annual report 2010, p 63 Back

30   Ibid, p 64 Back

31   United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Making drug control fit for purpose: Building on the UNGASS decade (2008), p 10-11 Back

32   The term, "balloon effect" is also sometimes used to describe substance displacement. Back

33   United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report (2012), p 66 Back

34   Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Maritime Transport and Destabilizing Commodity Flows (January 2012), p 1 Back

35   The Transnational Institute, Rewriting history: A response to the 2008 World Drug Report,(June 2008), p 1 (http://www.tni.org/briefing/rewriting-history) Back

36   Babor et al, Drug Policy and the public good, (Oxford University Press, 2010), p 16 Back

37   The Transnational Institute, Fact Sheet: Coca leaf and the UN Drugs Conventions (October 2012) (http://www.tni.org/briefing/fact-sheet-coca-leaf-and-un-drugs-conventions?context=595) Back

38   International Narcotics Control Board Annual Report 2011 (February 2012) Back

39   Press Notice form Mexican Government, La Asamblea General de la ONU aprueba resolución presentada por México sobre cooperación internacional contra las drogas, (November 2012) Accessed November 2012: http://saladeprensa.sre.gob.mx/index.php/es/comunicados/2149-351 Back

40   http://www.unesco.org/most/sourdren.pdf Back

41   Yale Centre for the Study of Globalisation (YaleGlobal), Globalization and the Corrupt States, (November 2007) Accessed November 2012: http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/globalization-and-corrupt-states Back

42   Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Maritime Transport and Destabilizing Commodity Flows, (January 2012), p 1 Back

43   UNODC, Countering the world of smuggling through container control, (May 2011) Accessed November 2012: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2011/May/countering-the-world-of-smuggling-through-container-control.html Back

44   Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Maritime Transport and Destabilizing Commodity Flows, (January 2012), p 37 Back

45   Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Maritime Transport and Destabilizing Commodity Flows, (January 2012), p 37 Back

46   Ibid, p 49 Back

47   Munsing, E. and Lamb, C. J., 'Joint Interagency Taskforce-South: The Best Known, Least Understood Interagency Success', Center for Strategic Research Strategic Perspectives 5 (National Defense University Press: Washington, DC, June 2011), p 3 Back

48   Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Maritime Transport and Destabilizing Commodity Flows, (January 2012), p 49 Back

49   Babor et al, Drug Policy and the public good (Oxford University Press, 2010), p 253 Back

50   Ev 129, para 4 Back

51   Ev 129, para 2 Back

52   United Nations Development Programme Colombia, National Human Development Report, Chapter 13: Taking Narcotics Out of the Conflict: The War on Drugs, (2003). Back

53   United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report (2012), p 76 Back

54   United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report (2011), p 20 Back

55   United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime , World Drug Report (2012), p 78-79 Back

56   The Economist, The fire next time, (November 2011) Accessed November 2012: http://www.economist.com/node/21538765 Back

57   Q250 Back

58   United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Estimating the illicit financial flow resulting from drug trafficking and other transnational organised crimes, (October 2011), p 7 Back

59   Ev 181 Back

60   The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, The trafficking of women and children from Vietnam, (2011), p 3 Back

61   Ev 187 Back

62   Babor et al, Drug Policy and the Public Good, (Oxford University Press, 2012), p 69 Back

63   Ev 175, para 50 Back

64   Ev w107 Back

65   P. Gallahue, 'The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2011', Harm Reduction International, (September 2011) Back

66   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report (March 2011), p 204 Back

67   Human Rights Watch, Neither Rights Nor Security Killings, Torture, and Disappearances in Mexico's War on Drugs (November 2011) Back

68   Human Rights Watch, Thailand's 'War on Drugs' (March 2008) Accessed November 2012: http://www.hrw.org/news/2008/03/12/thailand-s-war-drugs Back

69   Ev w108 Back

70   Human Rights Watch, Torture In The Name Of Treatment: Human Rights Abuses In Vietnam, China, Cambodia, and Lao PDR (July 2012), p 16 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 10 December 2012