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Drug Abuse And Crime: Siamese Twins? This Day (Lagos)
March 9, 2004 Posted to the web March 9, 2004
Godwin Haruna Lagos, Africa
The 2003 Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has declared that there is a nexus linking drug abuse, crime and violence in most societies across the world. Godwin Haruna witnessed the presentation of the report in Lagos
The drug menace threatening most societies today, has assumed global dimensions. No country in the world treats the issue in isolation of the other as new strategies are being devised to save the future. Since the youth of the world are the most vulnerable group in the abuse of drugs and prohibited substances, prevention efforts are being targeted towards them.
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 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961. It had predecessors under the former drug control treaties as far back as the time of the League of Nations.
The international drug control treaties require INCB to prepare an annual report on its work. The report contains an analysis of the drug control situation, draws attention to gaps and weaknesses in national control and in treaty compliance and recommends improvements at both national and international levels.
The 2003 Report was presented at the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), Lagos last week by the Country Representative United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), Mr. Paul M. Salay, who stood in for the President of INCB, Nigerian-born Mr. Philip O. Emafo. The impact of drug abuse on crime and violence at the community level is the focus of the first chapter of the Annual Report of the Vienna-based international organisation.
While recognising the macro level political and security implications of transnational organised crime syndicates dealing in drugs, the board urged governments to give special attention to micro-trafficking, that is, community level drug abuse and related crime. Besides violence and its immediate consequences, depletion in social capital, security and support structures, are just some of the effects of drug abuse at the community level that are highlighted in the report. Leaving these concerns unattended while focusing on macro level drug flows leaves societies vulnerable to a long term decline in safety and living standards.
"The very fabric of society is challenged by the continued presence in communities of drug-related crime. Communities that suffer disproportionate levels of violent drug-related crime also suffer from higher levels of other criminality and the disruption to civil society associated with it", declared the Report.
While the Board clarifies that most crime related to drug abuse is non-violent and petty, it stresses that the impact of illicit drugs, crime and violence is highly damaging to local communities at the micro-social level. The relationship between violence and illicit drug abuse is highly complex and has to be examined keeping a range of factors in mind.
Giving concrete instances of the extent of drug-related crime, the Report cites the case of Brazil, where drug-related violence poses a particularly serious challenge that negatively impacts on communities. Of almost 30,000 homicides registered annually, a high proportion are linked to drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking. Street children, acting as couriers for drug traffickers, play an important part in this illicit market, and are frequently killed because they know too much, steal too much or are caught in the crossfire between gangs and dealers.
According to the Report, a survey conducted in Latin America and the Caribbean by the World Bank on youth gangs and violence indicated that youth gangs involved in drug trafficking generally displayed higher levels of violence than those not involved in such activities.
It states that while drug-related crime obviously has a greater impact in resource deficient settings, even in the developed world, the extent of the problem is significant. For instance, in the late 1990s, 69 per cent of those arrested in five police areas in the United Kingdom tested positive for at least one illicit drug upon arrest, and 61 per cent of those arrested for assault tested positive for an illicit drug.
The Report maintains that a demonstrable link to violence and crime exists in that some drug addicts resort to violence either to fund their habits or indeed as a result of the psycho-pharmacological impact of some illicit drugs. However, based on controlled laboratory-based experiments, INCB stresses that it is very difficult and misleading to suggest a direct casual link between violence and illicit drug ingestion. This link has to be examined with reference to culturally and socially situated factors, that, in turn, influence an individual's behaviour.
However, INCB also seeks to draw the attention of Governments to drug abusers, who are victims of violence and crime, both at the hands of criminal elements and sometimes, of law enforcement. A number of studies have concluded that drug abuse leads to a heightened risk of victimisation. Drug abusers are also exposed to situations where violence, and the use of guns in connection with drug trafficking is normalised. Female drug abusers suffer disproportionately from sexual assault.
The INCB calls on governments to implement comprehensive drug demand reduction policies, paying special attention to drug abuse prevention in combination with a range of social, economic and law enforcement measures - if the problem of drug-related violence is to be successfully combatted. Governments and the international community need to recognise the severity of the problem, and grass roots level interventions, including community-based drug abuse prevention programmes and community policing are critical, says the INCB.
"Only with the introduction of a comprehensive demand reduction programme will we see real progress being made to address the multiple problems that illicit drugs inflict on their communities", the Report says.
The Board specifically notes that sometimes, local administrations and law enforcement efforts that do not take into account the peculiarities of local circumstances lead to inadequate measures which can be counter productive in terms of worsening the long-term crime situation. The Report notes: "Local administrations have often been characterised as responding to problems related to drug-related crime and violence based on a process of denial, overreaction and misidentification".
The Board calls for specific attention to be paid to young people, (either individually or as part of gangs) as they are often involved in drug-related violence, either as perpetrators, or as victims.
Citing instances of community-based interventions that have succeeded in suppressing the activities of youth gangs, the Board calls for preventive action. Amongst the specific measures it advocates are early school-based intervention, sensitively targeted police intervention focused on problem areas and training programmes for school employees, criminal justice personnel, parents, community groups and youth workers.
In its regional highlights, the Report notes on the African continent that cannabis continues to be the most widely grown, abused and trafficked drug on the continent. It says Morocco remains one of the world's leading cannabis producers and the source of 60-70 per cent of the cannabis resin seized in Europe. An alarming new trend, especially in parts of Sudan, appears to be the shift from cultivation of food crops to cannabis, resulting in food shortages.
The Report indicates that the abuse of amphetamine-type Stimulants (ATS) continues to be of concern in Southern, Eastern and Western Africa. It says methaqualone (Mandrax) abuse in countries in Easter and Southern Africa, particularly in South Africa, is increasing. It adds that opiates and cocaine abuse has developed along the transit trafficking routes, mainly in Angola, Nigeria and South Africa and in urban centres in other countries.
The report on Africa also indicates limited and declining poppy cultivation in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. It notes that information gathered from conflict-stricken countries, in particular the Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia, indicates that arms and ammunitions used by rebel groups and criminal organisations may have been partially procured with the proceeds of illicit drug trafficking.
The comprehensive set of recommendations suggested by INCB to help communities deal with the problem include: creating a local environment that is not conducive to drug dealing and micro-trafficking; supporting local efforts at employment and illicit income generation, educational programmes targeting socially marginalised groups; integrated as well as targeted intervention work with risk groups; information sharing between various agencies; community-based restorative justice intervention by people representing a cross-section of the community; and interventions taking into account gender, youth and minority affiliation. It notes that programmes need to be sustainable in the long term in order to generate the desired impact, the Report notes in its 2003 outing reviewed in Lagos by Salay.
Also speaking at the presentation, chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Alhaji Bello Lafiaji, renewed the commitment of the agency towards the achievement of more strides in the anti-narcotic crusade. Represented by Mr. Dave Ashang, director-general of the agency, Lafiaji said in 2003 NDLEA made a total seizure of 1044128.481kg of banned substances including 170.32983kg of cocaine, 143.20585kg of heroin, 1,042,087.14kg of cannabis and 143.20585kg of psychotropic substances.
He said during the same period, a total number of 5157 drug suspects were nabbed and about 90 per cent of them prosecuted. The NDLEA helmsman expressed his appreciation to the UNODC for its various support assistance, which has contributed to the performance of the agency.
Lafiaji noted that one such collaborative project embarked upon with UNODC is the regional Academy in Jos, which has been successfully transformed into an international training centre with full complements of facilities. He said the feat has facilitated an arrangement with the USDEA to conduct the first international training with participants to be drawn from other countries of the world at the Academy.
He lamented the inadequate attention to cannabis cultivation in the African continent. "I have consistently harped on the provision of commensurate alternative development assistance to cannabis farmers in the African continent by the UNODC as is presently the case for coca bush and opium poppy farmers in Latin America and South East Asia respectively. I would in essence, avail myself of this opportunity to reiterate this call and to request the INCB to carry this message to the United Nations General Assembly", the NDLEA boss stated.
He disclosed that a cardinal objective of the INCB was the strengthening of institutional capacity for drug interventions. "I will, therefore, not hesitate again and again to state that Africa is fast being affected by the global proliferation of synthetic drugs and precursor chemicals. It is very pertinent therefore to strengthen our capacity to address this ugly trend", Lafiaji stated.
He solicited the assistance of UNODC and INCB in the training of his operatives on the identification of this class of illicit substances as well as organising awareness campaigns for prosecutors and judges on the dangers of the deadly cankerworm. He used the occasion to alert the INCB of a substance that is gaining prominence in the country, which is yet to be criminalized by name datura metel. He urged the INCB to initiate necessary scientific investigation into such new substances for research as a vital pre-requisite for their classification as controlled substances.