Press conference with UNAMA and UNODC

28 Jul 2008

Press conference with UNAMA and UNODC

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Christina Gynna Oguz, Representative, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Aleem Siddique, UNAMA Spokesperson’s Office.

Dari - Pashto

UNAMA: Good morning everybody. I’m Aleem Siddique from the UNAMA Spokesperson’s Office. We’re pleased to be joined by Christina Oguz from the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan. Christina will make some brief remarks to update us on recent counter narcotic efforts amongst other work of the UNODC. But before I handover to Christina, I have some news from the World Food Programme.

UNAMA strongly condemns the latest attack on a World Food Programme convoy.

Once again an attack on a convoy has stolen food from Afghanistan’s poorest people. We have a message for those responsible - shame on you, such attacks dishonour the Afghan people and the generosity of the international community, they are unacceptable and must stop.

The World Food Programme has a long history of feeding the needy in Afghanistan and these attacks will mean that communities who need our help the most will suffer.

At this time of severe drought and rising food prices it is even more reprehensible that a humanitarian convoy would be attacked in this way. Let me give you some details on the attack.

Last Thursday unidentified armed men attacked a convoy of forty nine commercial trucks which were transporting United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) food from Kandahar to Herat.

The attack occurred in the Balabloc district of the western Farah province. Two trucks were torched. Eight trucks were stolen and have not been recovered so far. And more than 320 metric tonnes of food, that’s enough for around 38,400 Afghans for one month was looted.

Despite this WFP will continue food dispatches from Kandahar to Herat in the western region. Let me remind you that between January and June this year there were 12 armed attacks against vehicles carrying WFP food.

A total of 466 tonnes of food, valued at over USD 300,000, was lost. WFP could have fed almost 46,600 (7,767 families) vulnerable people with that food for one month.
In 2007, more than thirty attacks against commercial vehicles or convoys carrying WFP food were reported last year. In all, 870 tonnes of food, valued at USD 730,000 was lost.

UNODC: In previous press conferences I have talked about poppy cultivation; I have also talked about the need for the Afghan law enforcement and justice institutions to target the important drug traffickers, the criminal networks and the corruption. Today I would like to talk about another very important aspect of the drugs problem: the smuggling into Afghanistan of chemicals that are used in the illegal heroin laboratories. I will also briefly touch upon the campaigns that have started to convince farmers not to cultivate opium. And finally, I will brief you on an historic event: the establishment of an Independent Afghan Bar Association.

You often hear that Afghanistan is the root cause for all the evils in terms of the drug problems in the world. I think this is wrong and it is not correct to blame Afghanistan alone for the heroin problem in the world. It is true that this country is producing the raw material for heroin but it is not possible to make heroin without certain chemicals and these chemicals are not produced inside Afghanistan they are smuggled into the country.

Previously Afghanistan used to produce the opium and then take it out of the country but in recent years there has been a significant increase in the chemical conversion of opium to heroin inside Afghanistan. We also have evidence that there is higher quality heroin being manufactured in some regions, with the assistance of chemists coming from outside, foreign consultants as it were. Last year we think that about 60% of the opium was converted to heroin within Afghanistan and this means of course that there is a need for increased quantities for these chemicals needed for the refining process

Our current estimate is that somewhere in the region of 13,000 tonnes is required based on last years figure for opium. This includes 1,500 tonnes acetic anhydride which is the most well known and most crucial chemical substance.

These chemicals are not illegal. They are legally produced for industrial purposes. They are used in a variety of industries like the paint industry, the pharmaceutical industry etc and they are produced in industrialized countries. And in most cases they are also legally exported. But once they reach destination point they are diverted and smuggled into Afghanistan.

Afghanistan itself has virtually no legal requirements for these chemicals. At UNODC we have a project that aims at countering this flow of chemicals that are used in the illicit manufacture of heroin into Afghanistan. Through this project we are training and equipping the counter narcotics police, the border police and customs so that they can better control the borders. In addition, we are setting up and training mobile teams to operate along the borders and in local production areas.

The Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan has also increased their efforts to intercept consignments of smuggled chemicals. More than 200 tons of chemicals have been seized by the authorities in Afghanistan since 2006.

This UNODC project also seeks to encourage and implement regional cooperation in the field of precursor control because these chemicals come from the countries surrounding Afghanistan. We share methodology with them and train the Afghans to map seizures and to back-track investigations. This has led to a much improved understanding of the trafficking situation.

There are long established smuggling routes and they are still active, especially in the south, south-east, and south-west, the areas where the major poppy cultivation takes place. The vast majority of seizures occur in Nangarhar, but we also have evidence of significant quantities of chemicals crossing the border with Iran. And they use both legal and illegal crossing points but when there are significant quantities crossing the border then the legal crossings are utilised quite readily to smuggle the larger consignments by truck.

Investigations conducted by Afghan and international law enforcement agencies indicate that these chemicals originate from China, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Europe and some other countries as well. And the consignments from these countries often transit Pakistan and this was established through a recent seizure of 14 tons of acetic anhydride at Karachi port in February this year. This was the first seizure since 2001.

Obviously you don’t find these chemicals without doing some intelligence investigations before. In this particular case, the chemical was shipped from South Korea, concealed in a shipping container, and was uncovered as a result of activities carried out under Operation Tarcet which is a UNODC initiative involving Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, as well as others in the region.

A couple of months later in April, the Iranian authorities also discovered another very significant consignment of five tons of the same substance, also originating in South Korea, and also destined for Afghanistan.

In Kabul itself, the Counter Narcotics Police enjoyed a considerable success also under this Operation Tarcet when they seized three tonnes of chemicals that had been smuggled over the border with Pakistan, probably through the Torkham checkpoint

We have some in indicators that traffickers were experiencing a scarcity of acetic anhydride, leading to significant price increases in some regions of Afghanistan and we think this is partly due to the seizures that we talked about but also at the international level, a large number of acetic anhydride seizures, stopped shipments and ongoing investigations are having an impact on international trafficking operations.

So I would like to conclude this part of the briefing by saying that the challenge now is for the wider international community to come together and share information on known smugglers, many of them are long established and based in neighbouring countries, as well as in Afghanistan itself.

I’ve talked about the end of the chain, now I would like to say a few words about the beginning.

It must be borne in mind in any discussion on counter narcotics that the entire opium economy begins with an individual, or a family or a community making a choice to plant poppy seed in the ground and one way to influence the decisions of farmers is through public information and awareness raising campaigns.

This year under the leadership of the Ministry Counter Narcotics, the pre-planting, public information campaign has begun. The campaign covers 18 provinces across Afghanistan including all major poppy growing provinces. Through Shuras, media campaigns and other community activities this campaign emphasizes the licit alternatives to poppy cultivation but also raises awareness of the negative consequences for the individual, for the families and for the communities engaging with the drug industry.

UNODC has done some research into the effectiveness of previous campaigns and this year’s campaign is using the results to design province or region specific counter narcotic messages. The results of this research show that it is very important to understand the motives of farmers to engage in, or disengage from, poppy cultivation, in order to design an effective public information campaign. Some of the key motives that we identified included farmers' concerns about the risk of their children becoming opium users if poppy is cultivated in their community, and the risk of communal conflict when poppy is introduced.

As we speak, a historic meeting of advocates from all over Afghanistan is taking place: it is the General Assembly meeting of the Independent Afghan Bar Association which is meeting here in Kabul. This is the first such association in Afghan history and it’s a really historic event. Such associations exist all over the world, in Islamic and non-Islamic jurisdictions, and they are the accepted way of ensuring the independence of the legal profession.

The right to defence is a constitutional right in this country, but the reality outside Kabul is that most investigations and court proceedings, including trials, are taking place without the protection of a defence lawyer and far from every trial in Kabul as well.

There are 580 defence attorneys for all of Afghanistan which means 23 attorneys for every one million Afghan citizens. In comparison, in the Philippines there are 44,000 attorneys (with 80 million inhabitants), or 550 attorneys per million citizens, or an advocate/citizen ratio 23 times greater than here in Afghanistan.

A critical step towards fair justice was taken late last year when the Advocate’s Law was passed. The establishment of this independent bar association is another major step taken towards promoting meaningful access to legal representation and justice for all persons regardless of their ethnical, religious, economic or social conditions.

The Afghan Bar Association will play a vital role in promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for the law. It will be responsible for administering the licensing and registration of advocates, of setting accreditation criteria for entry into the profession and also regulating advocates according to its Code of Conduct.

Raising public awareness is also part of the new Bar Association’s mandate because people in this country are not aware of their rights and they want and need the Rule of Law. Justice in the community is fundamental and it cannot be established and maintained without advocates, who participate in every phase of the process to ensure that the rights of the suspects, the accused and the victims of crimes are upheld, and also that the laws are properly interpreted and applied.

Most of the time we talk about those who are not behind bars, but who should be there and I have on many occasions have spoken about them and I will continue to do so because they are the people who have committed crimes of corruption or who are the brains and profiteers behind trafficking networks. They are people with power and people with powerful friends, who can use their mobile phones to release a suspect from detention without a fair trial, what I have named telephone justice. This is not the rule of law; it is the rule of law by those who are corrupt and powerful.

But there are also people who are innocent and who spend years behind bars because they do not have powerful friends. It is these innocents that should be released, and have a right to release, but a defence attorney is needed to ensure that right. Yet these innocents and those that have served their sentence and should be released are not released because they did not have a defence lawyer, and also they probably did not even know that they have the right to defence according to the constitution.

I think that the Advocate’s Law and the establishment of the Independent Afghan Bar Association should change this. I’m hopeful that this is a very important step in the right direction. It will take time but every change starts with one small step so I am confident and UNODC has supported this development and we will continue to support the right of defence and the Bar Association’s guarantee of that right.


IRNA [translated from Dari]: Afghanistan produces opium, the raw material for heroin and some other countries like the Russian Federation, China and South Korea produce the chemicals used to produce heroin. The chemicals being exported are destined for a certain destination and the countries, through which the containers loaded with the chemicals pass, do not have the right to check these containers. How do these chemicals end up in Afghanistan?

UNODC: It not possible to forbid these chemicals because they really have a wide legitimate use, very wide use. There is an international control system in place. If a country wants to export at least some of these chemicals they have to know and notify the authorities in the recipient country and they can say “yes this paint factory needs this much or no this is too much for the factory” or there is no use for these chemicals here in which case the export does not take place. The problem is that once the chemicals have reached some of the countries around Afghanistan then they disappear. I would like to ask a UNODC expert if he would like to add something.

UNODC OFFICIAL: Yes Christina is right. Some of these chemicals are controlled and some are not. Acetic anhydrite is controlled. The problem is secondary diversion. Chemicals are sold legitimately to verified companies in different countries and then the secondary diversion takes place and then they are actually smuggled into Afghanistan. Smuggling across the border is the key thing.

JANE’S DEFENCE: I would like to ask a question about the control system that is in place, how exactly does it work? Is it done through the local police in the producing countries and local police in the importing countries?

UNAMA: Can I suggest we pick up on that question after the press briefing; it sounds like it is technically quite a detailed question. We will give you a specific briefing on this separately.

THE INDEPENDENT: You mentioned foreign chemists who have come to Afghanistan to improve the quality heroin. Could you give us an idea how many people there are and where are they from and where these factories are based?

UNODC: You have to look at this as a business. So I would like before going to answer your question directly I would like to say a few words what has happened and is happening in other parts of the world. If you look at Latin America for example, they actually had consultants coming over from United States. You probably know that Europe is the major producer of ecstasy and when that product took off that was before the EU had been formed or eastern European countries were members of the European Union (EU). There were a lot of unemployed highly skilled chemists in these countries, they were imported or used as consultants for the manufacturing of ecstasy in some of the western European countries.

Coming to Afghanistan, the most important areas for laboratories are the border areas. In the east Nangarhar, south Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz, these are the most important areas. There are other areas as well, but these are the areas that are the closest to the raw materials, the opium. And the chemists come from countries that are close to these areas and the laboratories are based in the border areas. Now this is a business obviously so you look for the best expertise you can get, doesn't matter where it comes from. So what it indicates is of course that it is very well organized from inside Afghanistan but taking in the expertise if you don’t have the expertise here you take it from outside.

FREELANCE JOURNALIST: You talked about the successes relating to convincing farmers and seizing chemicals; but also about the fact that the brains behind these operations are not being prosecuted as they should be. This seems to be indicative of the lack of political will and this has been recently well documented by a very senior US official, a former official dealing with the counter narcotics problem. The lack of political will seems to go right to the top both to the international community as well as the Afghan government; do you share the apprehension about this?

UNODC: I think that the lack of success in terms of really getting the people behind this industry is a combination of corruption within the system which I have talked about previously and those of you who know me I consider this as a very serious problem. But also it is a question of capacity and competence and ability to do something. Afghanistan has not had a well trained police force for many, many years: they are taking baby steps now and the recent seizure in Kabul of chemicals is a result of a positive development.

I listened to the representative of the Afghan government at the Paris Conference and I was very impressed with the strong statements to really start taking corruption seriously. These were spoken words and of course what we are now waiting for is to see the decisive actions to follow up on those spoken words, but at least it is a start that it is recognized as a problem and that it is talked about openly and not something that just the international community accuses the government of; the government has said yes we have a corruption problem. We will wait and see what steps they will take.

SABAH TV [translated from Pashto]: I would like to know about the amount of the cultivation of opium and according to the Ministry of Counter Narcotics, 18 provinces will be free of poppy this year. Your views on this issue please?

UNODC: We are still getting the numbers and we are calculating and we will be able to answer this question towards the end of August.

KILLID GROUP [translated from Dari]: Given the fact that a number of high ranking government officials are involved in the business and trafficking of narcotics, are the actions that are taken by the Government of Afghanistan, acceptable for you?

UNODC: I think that if you are accused of being involved, there should be a proper procedure for investigating that. And I can not see that these procedures are followed as it is now. I would just like to say that it is very dangerous for any society if people believe strongly that the people who are there to protect their interest, the people in government are corrupt. Even if it is not true it is very dangerous for the society because it indicates that there is no trust in government. Also I would think that the best thing for the government is to really investigate these allegations.

AFGHAN VOICE AGENCY: It is said that opium is mostly cultivated in the provinces under the control of the Taliban and also it is said that the Taliban also use opium production to fund themselves economically. I would like to know your view on whether the Taliban are encouraging the farmers to cultivate opium?

UNODC: The involvement of insurgents varies from province to province obviously. Also in provinces which are very insecure. I was recently in Nangarhar and I was told that there it happens that insurgents buy opium and then sell it further to earn money rather than taking a tax for example. While In Helmand they are taxing the farmers through the traditional “Hoshr” that we have in this country. I think that the most important link here is also a kind of opportunistic link that drug traders and insurgents have a common interest in keeping part of the country out of reach for the legitimate government. So they are sort of creating a conducive environment which makes it possible to cultivate opium.