Seventeen years ago, the United Nations General Assembly voted to observe June 26 as the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (http://www.un.org/NewLinks/drugs/). The date marks the 1987 signing of the declaration adopted at the International Conference against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, and its avowed purposed is "to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse."
This year, the annual event's theme was "Drugs: Treatment Works." "The campaign aims at emphasizing the importance and effectiveness of drug treatment -- to drug dependent individuals, as well as to the general public," the UN Office on Drugs and Crime noted as it announced the campaign. "UNODC also hopes to diminish the stigma attached to drug users by illustrating the possibilities for a positive future, using the stories of individuals who have successfully undergone treatment and are engaged in productive lives."
China was way off-message. Chinese state media reported over the weekend that Chinese authorities had marked the International Day by trying, sentencing, and executing dozens of people convicted of drug trafficking. Most of the executions took place in southwestern Chongqing, where the Chongqing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court convicted 16 people in a one-day, mass public trial, then immediately killed them.
Another mass punishment took place in Shanghai, where 78 people convicted of drug crimes were sentenced. Among them was Lin Shengfu, a native of southern Hainan province, who was executed after being found guilty of smuggling about four pounds of heroin from Myanmar, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.
China officially admits to having about one million "registered drug addicts," but that figure could be far higher. According to the Ministry of Public Security, Chinese authorities have prosecuted more than half a million drug cases in the last five years alone. They also reported seizing more than 51 tons of heroin and 52 tons of methamphetamine.
The Chinese weren't the only ones using the International Day Against Drug Abuse to teach murderous lessons. According to a bizarre report in the Sangai Express in the Indian state of Manipur, an armed group called the Organization to Save the Revolution in Manipur (KYKL), killed Ningthoujam Raja as a drug dealer and "also punished a number of drug abusers with a bullet each on their legs."
According to the South Asia Intelligence Review, KYKL, a Manipur nationalist organization in existence for the past decade, has for the past three years undertaken a "renovation" of Manipur society by cleansing it of vices like "immoral behavior", drug use and trafficking, and corruption. In a press statement Saturday, KYKL said that those shot were punished under the campaign. The group added that they timed their operation to coincide with the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
The KYKL has vowed to make Manipur's Bishnupur district "drug-free" by December. In its statement, the group vowed to keep a close watch on all drug activities and warned all drug users and sellers to surrender to them soon. In a sign of the group's nationalist paranoia, it added that the Manipuri people have been on the receiving end of "the narco-chemical warfare unleashed by India." The province borders Burma, a leading East Asian methamphetamine producer.
There is no indication the UN approves of "revolutionary justice" in India, and it has not spoken to the Chinese executions. Most International Day events, in fact, are reportedly rather boring, ill-attended, or just plain silly. For instance, India's Chandighar Express reported that one International Day function there consisted of a hundred kids flying kites that carried messages warning against drug abuse.
In Malta, a series of events organized by drug experts drew little public enthusiasm. "Poor Attendance at International Day Against Drug Abuse Events," was how the Malta Independent headlined its coverage. Meanwhile, back in India, Chandigarh officials hosted a "drug de-addiction awareness program" and offered a "free treatment camp." Some 300 villagers watched the presentation, the Express reported.
In Indonesia, the UN and local anti-drug bureaucrats used the occasion to hand out awards to nine journalists for their stories on juveniles and narcotics, the Jakarta Post reported. And in several African countries, officials used the International Day to give speeches or place opinion pieces in local newspapers. The International Day was also observed in Bahrain, where the Northern Governate held a series of events, including a seminar on "Drugs: A Monster Threatening Our Society," held in conjunction with the Interior Ministry and the Islamic Enlightenment Society, the Gulf Daily News reported.
The UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking is in most places an innocuous exercise that may even do some good -- if prevention messages are presented in a science-based, non-propagandistic way. Describing "drugs" as a "monster" is not an encouraging sign. But when the International Day becomes an excuse for mass murder and "revolutionary justice," maybe it is time for the UN to rethink this annual exercise.
DRCNet editorialized against the UN Anti-Drugs Day and US cooperation with Chinese anti-drug investigators four years ago. Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/143/editorial.shtml to read it.