Published: 24 August 2015
The Chairman of the ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters,
Heads of Delegations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
2. Welcome to the 36th ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Drug Matters (ASOD) in Singapore. We are honoured to have the opportunity to host all of you.
3. It gives me great pleasure to speak to you today about our continued fight against drugs. This is an issue that is important to all families within the ASEAN community, and one that is also very close to my heart. 2015 is a milestone year for all of us involved in combating the scourge of drugs. It marks the culmination of our 2009-2015 ASOD work plan towards a Drug-Free ASEAN.
4. We can be proud of what we have achieved thus far as a region. Together, we have worked hand-in-hand to align our national strategies towards achieving drug-free societies. We have intensified our joint operations and created new platforms to tackle drug trafficking, such as the ASEAN Airport Interdiction Task Force and the ASEAN Narcotics Coordination Centre. These initiatives have disrupted the operations of drug syndicates in the region, and improved the coordination as well as the exchange of intelligence and best practices between drug enforcement agencies.
5. However, the war against drugs is an on-going fight, and there is still much work to be done. At the 3rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters in Jakarta in 2014, my fellow Ministers and I agreed that the aspiration of a Drug-Free ASEAN remained relevant, and would continue to guide the work to be done for our region.
Global and Regional Drug Situation
6. As you discuss the ASOD work plans for the year ahead, let us work together to ensure we are always ready to tackle new challenges in our fight against drugs.
7. The international and regional drug situation continues to be challenging, with higher production, higher trafficking, and higher consumption of heroin and methamphetamine. International drug syndicates have also formed networks within Southeast Asia to manufacture, receive and distribute drugs to the region. Drug syndicates are also adapting to our enforcement strategies, and have shifted their mode of operations accordingly. For example, in recent years, traffickers have increasingly smuggled heroin from Afghanistan via the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan. This has resulted in Afghan heroin progressively reaching new markets in South-East Asia, and increased the supply of heroin in the region.
8. The proliferation of new psychoactive substances (NPS) continues to be a worrying trend. By December 2014, the number of NPS reported internationally rose to 540 substances, from the 430 substances reported in 2013, far outnumbering the 243 substances currently controlled under the United Nations (UN) Drug Conventions.
9. Technology and global connectivity, too, present their own unique set of challenges. The DarkWeb and digital currencies such as Bitcoin have made it easier for drug transactions to take place anonymously online, which in turn makes it harder for enforcement officials to trace sellers and buyers, and intercept suspicious packages.
10. In Singapore, we are also concerned about the changing profile of our drug abusers. First, the proportion of younger drug abusers has increased. Of the total drug abusers arrested in 2014, 35% were below the age of 30, up from 29% in 2010. Among new abusers arrested, more than two-thirds were below the age of 30, up from half in 2010. Second, the educational profile of abusers arrested is also changing, with more from our tertiary educational institutions. Third, we are arresting more cannabis abusers, with 184 abusers arrested in 2014. The number may be small, but it is a 50% increase over 5 years. Most cannabis abusers arrested are young people aged below 30.
11. Hence, the Government formed a Taskforce on Youths and Drugs, which I co-chaired. The Taskforce recommended ways targeted preventive drug education initiatives to enhance the effectiveness of our anti-drug messages and to better engage youths in the fight against drugs. The Taskforce also recommended initiatives to build a community of advocates against drugs, which includes an "Anti-drug Abuse Advocacy" Network. Through these initiatives, we aim to better protect our youths from the scourge of drugs, with the help and involvement of the community.
The Significance of UNGASS 2016
12. On the global stage, there has been a shift in the views of several countries and their approaches to handling the drug problem.
13. In 1998, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem espoused the aim of a "Drug-Free World" and the total eradication of drug supply and abuse. Today, while there are still those who continue to reject the scourge of drugs and who work towards drug-free societies, others in Europe and South America, as well as some states in the USA, have given up the fight. They have begun decriminalising or even legalising drug consumption. They have framed the fight against drugs as a "failed war". These countries have their own reasons for doing so, for example, to increase their tax revenues and to alleviate prison overcrowding. However, what is worrying is that they are also advocating for other countries to adopt this approach.
14. We are now at an important crossroads in the global fight against drugs. Next year, the United Nations General Assembly in New York will be holding a Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016). UNGASS 2016 will be a platform for countries to come together to take stock of the global fight against drugs, and chart a plan of action to tackle the world drug problem.
15. We anticipate that some countries will use this opportunity to push for more liberal drug policies, such as the de-criminalisation of drug consumption and the legalisation of cannabis. We cannot allow these countries to dominate the agenda. The 2014 World Drug Report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime cautioned that liberal drug policies reduce the perception of harm in drug use, which could in turn increase drug use, especially among young persons. This harms the future of our nations, our youths, and also runs counter to our common vision of a Drug-Free ASEAN.
A United ASEAN Stand
16. The threats to our vision of a Drug-Free ASEAN come not just from drug syndicates but also from those advocating for a more liberal drug regime at UNGASS 2016.
17. As members of the ASEAN community, we respect that each country has the sovereign right and responsibility in deciding the best approach to tackling the drug problem, taking into account its own historical, social and cultural contexts. However, while we respect the decision of those who have chosen to adopt a more liberal approach towards drugs in their countries, we as ASEAN must stand firm, and stand together, to say that that this approach is not for us.
18. Hence, just as how we have taken a united stand in combating drug syndicates, we should similarly present a united front and put forward a united ASEAN statement at UNGASS 2016, to counter these liberal voices. It is important that we make our ASEAN position clear at UNGASS 2016, as we are the only regional bloc that has maintained a drug-free focus in our policies.
19. This statement will send the message to our citizens and to the international community that we continue to strongly reject the scourge of drugs and do not condone its presence in our society. It reaffirms our commitment to give our children the right to live and thrive in a drug-free environment. The statement can also send a strong message to the international drug syndicates that ASEAN will continue to work together to disrupt their illicit activities to ensure that they do not establish a foothold in the region. United as one, we will do what it takes to address the drug problem in a comprehensive and holistic manner, to protect our youths and families from drugs.
20. You may have noticed that some of our Singaporean officials are wearing a green and white anti-drug ribbon. I encourage all delegates today to also put this ribbon on. The green and white colours of the anti-drug ribbon signify 'Health', 'Vitality' and 'Strength'. This ribbon symbolises our commitment to the vision of a Drug-Free ASEAN.
21. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have done much as a region to combat the scourge of drugs. What we have achieved together is proof that as a closely inter-connected region, we need to work together towards our vision of a Drug-Free ASEAN. Even as we are encouraged by the good work achieved thus far, let us look ahead and prepare for the challenges on the horizon.
22. One key challenge that we need to meet head-on as a community is at UNGASS 2016, where we must stand firm and united to send a strong signal opposing drug abuse taking root in society. We need to convince the global community to join us in the fight against the scourge of drugs. I urge all participants here to do their utmost to prepare for this important meeting next year.
23. Ultimately, the fight against drugs can only be effective if our citizens and grassroots share our vision for a drug-free society. They can support us in many ways, from protecting and educating our children on the harms of drugs to helping ex-abusers reintegrate into society. Governments alone cannot win this fight.
24. Let us continue to work together as one big community to fight for a society free from drug abuse. Thank you for taking time to attend this ASOD. I wish all of you a fruitful meeting ahead.