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05/03/2008 00:00:00

Drug cartels running rampant, says UN

· Governments urged to target traffickers, not users

· West Africa is new gateway to European cocaine trade

The UN will warn today that major drug traffickers are operating with
virtual impunity because governments across the world are failing to
target cartels.

Instead, they are concentrating on small-time users, a strategy the UN
says has led to the "rampant flow" of drugs into fresh markets through
new international trade routes .

According to the 127-page annual report from the UN's International
Narcotics Control Board (INCB), governments need to make greater efforts
to freeze traffickers' assets, improve access to drug treatment
programmes and expand the range of non-custodial sentences available for
convicted users.

The main findings were:

The emergence of new smuggling routes, in particular cocaine from South
America being stockpiled and repackaged in west Africa before entering

Increased cultivation of coca bushes - from which cocaine is derived -
in Peru and Bolivia as crop eradication programmes reduce production in

A 17% increase in illicit opium poppy cultivation during 2007 in
Afghanistan. The country now accounts for 93% of the global market in

Britain appears to have the worst crack cocaine problem in Europe.

The INCB report also highlighted the role of people in the public eye
who used drugs. "Celebrity 'endorsement' of drug-related lifestyles is
particularly relevant when it comes to the issue of deterring drug use
among youth, who are often most vulnerable to the cult of celebrity,"
said the report. "Young people are quick to pick up on and react to
perceived leniency in dealing with such offenders."

It added: "Some countries still spend disproportionate effort in
targeting low-level offenders and drug users, as compared to the more
pressing issues of identifying, dismantling and punishing those who
control or organise major drug trafficking activities.

"Many states impose unconditional imprisonment of drug abusers for
lesser offences, such as possession or purchase of drugs for personal
use and these typically make up a significant proportion of growing
prison populations in some countries. There is no universal 'moral
instinct' when it comes to punishment for less serious cases."

Launching the report in London, Professor Hamid Ghodse of the INCB said
it was a major concern that the main traffickers were escaping capture.
"Organised traffickers have lots of power and do not get their hands
dirty, so they get away with impunity," he said.

The rapid development of smuggling routes through west Africa is
worrying law enforcement agencies. Interpol estimates that 200-300
tonnes of cocaine from Latin America pass through countries such as
Benin, Cape Verde, Mauritania and Senegal every year, from where it is
smuggled into Spain, Portugal and the UK. Cocaine seizures in Portugal,
already at a high level, have almost doubled.

Ships, yachts and private planes are used to evade detection. "Cocaine
traffickers frequently change the airports from which they depart and
their routes," the report observes.

Around 40% of cocaine reaching Europe is shipped through
longer-established routes via the Caribbean. In 2006, Colombia accounted
for 50% of the world's coca cultivation, Peru 33% and Bolivia 17%.

The illicit cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan has continued to
increase "at an alarming level," says the report. The total area used
for illicit opium cultivation increased by 59% in 2006 and by a further
17% last year.

Afghan opiates are smuggled to Iran, Pakistan and countries in central
Asia en route to Europe. Iran now has the world's highest abuse of
opiates, according to the report. Under article 14 of the convention,
the INCB can recommend an embargo against a country if its government
fails to take remedial action or cooperate. Such action was taken
against Afghanistan in 2000 when the Taliban were still in power and on
"half a dozen" unpublicised occasions, and the countries concerned have
responded positively, said Ghodse.

"We learn a lesson from Afghanistan," he said. "Where there is political
upheaval, drug issues should be on the agenda from day one." An
estimated 3.3 million people now use heroin in Europe, according to the
report. Almost all the heroin in Europe comes from Afghanistan.

Cannabis remains the main drug of choice in Europe, according to the
report, with western Europe the main market for cannabis resin. The UK
reported a decrease in cannabis use.

Of crack, the report says: "The abuse of 'crack' cocaine continues to be
marginal in all countries in western Europe, with the possible exception
of the UK."

The INCB remains critical of projects that appear to condone drug use of
any kind, including medical marijuana. It called on Canada to end the
supply of "safer crack kits", claiming such provision for addicts is in
contravention of article 13 of the UN convention against illicit drug
traffic. In the report's foreword, Dr Philip Emafo, president of the
INCB, said suggestions that legalising drugs might be a solution were
"simplistic and misplaced".

The drugs reform organisation Transform disputed the main findings. Its
director, Danny Kushlick, said that with drugs now a £320bn business,
arresting any drug lords would create a vacuum that would be immediately
filled by others.

"People don't take drugs because Amy Winehouse takes drugs," added
Kushlick. "It entirely misses the point. They take drugs because they
make them feel better or they stop them feeling bad." He said the only
solution was a regulated market.

Author: The Guardian via UKCIA

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