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Diplomacy in Action

Opening Statement by the United States at the Third Committee of the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly

David T. Johnson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
New York City
October 7, 2009


Thank you Mr. Chairman. This year has been pivotal in reaffirming the cornerstones of international cooperation against illicit drugs – the three UN Drug Conventions, and setting out our collective vision for the future.

Since we last met, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs conducted a year-long review of progress achieved over the last decade. We did that because countering the threat from transnational drugs and crime requires constant adjustment and reassessment. The United States applauds the work of the High-Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotics Drugs in developing a new Political Declaration and Action Plan to advance our work under the three drug conventions. It is important that this Assembly now complete the work of the CND by adopting via resolution those carefully negotiated documents.

As for my own country, drug abuse trends in the United States are mixed. We have had some encouraging signs of progress:
  • Use of illicit drugs by teens has declined significantly since 2002 and has remained stable since 2005, according to the most comprehensive study of drug use in the United States, released last month (September 2009).

  • The number of teens reporting prescription drug abuse also reached its lowest level since 2002.

Even with this progress, we face significant challenges. Illegal drug use in the United States remains unacceptably high; nearly 20 percent of 18-25 year olds reported having used illicit drugs in the last month. Overdoses, including overdoses of prescription drugs, are now the number two cause of accidental deaths in the United States, behind only motor vehicle accidents.

To address these challenges, the United States will implement new, comprehensive counternarcotics measures. President Obama’s Director of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske is developing a new National Drug Control Strategy, which will be published early next year. Director Kerlikowske recently announced that the rhetoric which calls for a “war on drugs” has ceased to play a useful role. Such a characterization not only does not address the full scope of the problem in some respects, it misses the point. In the end, addiction is a disease, and like other illnesses, we know that the best way to beat addiction is to never get it at all. We also know that this disease is treatable, even when it comes to the most addictive drugs. Therefore, our policy efforts in the United States are undergoing a rebalancing with a greater focus on prevention and treatment.

The U.S. Government is committed to a strategic, balanced, and aggressive approach to address current and emerging drug abuse trends. We will continue to conduct rigorous research on prevention, treatment, and recovery services. We will also continue to collaborate with the international community on the results of our research, so we work together to implement those methods that are shown by the evidence to be most effective.

Drug abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery are essential to the well-being of our societies. But, if these programs are to be successful, we must also confront and dismantle the international criminal syndicates that generate billions of dollars in illegal revenue from this and other illicit trades, and undermine political stability, economic growth, and the rule of law in many of our countries.

These criminal networks seek to expand their reach, tap into new technologies, exploit new markets, and operate out of safe-havens – States or areas where law enforcement is weak, easily corruptible, or overwhelmed and outgunned by powerful drug cartels. To stay ahead of these criminal organizations, we must make wider use of the international framework that our governments have adopted.

In the Western Hemisphere, while many states remain under threat, there are successes. A decade, ago a campaign of violence and intimidation by powerful drug cartels and terrorist groups placed the Colombian government and people in peril. Today, Colombia, with the support of its allies, has broken the power of these cartels and other illegal groups, restored public order and security in its cities, and made great economic progress.

The Government of Mexico has responded with determination and courage to the threats posed by organized crime and violent drug cartels. The United States is committed to support these efforts; we view this challenge as a shared responsibility. Prevention, treatment, and law enforcement on both sides of the border will enhance the safety and health of Mexicans and Americans. And, through the framework of the Merida Initiative we are promoting a closer partnership with the governments of Mexico, Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. That partnership is aimed at prevention, treatment, building the institutions of the rule of law and confronting the criminal organizations whose violence and intimidation threaten the welfare, prosperity and security of our citizens.

Increasingly, in West Africa, criminal networks moving drugs to Europe from the Americas are threatening political integrity and sustainable economic development.

In Afghanistan, the narcotics trade continues to threaten political stability and economic growth, in part by helping fund insurgent terrorist groups, but also by feeding corruption that undermines the rule of law.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in coordination with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), plays a leading role in the assistance efforts that help the Afghan government confront these threats. To do so, however, UNODC needs both political and financial commitments. The United States will continue to provide financial resources in 2009 for UNODC activities in Afghanistan and around the world. And, we urge others to provide their own extra-budgetary contributions as well.

The UN has also galvanized Member States to increase cooperation against crime and corruption. More countries are turning to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as a resource for international cooperation and mutual legal assistance. We look forward to the draft resolution being developed by Mexico and Italy that will highlight the importance of ratifying and implementing this important Convention.

This is also an important time for the Convention against Corruption where the focus has moved from ratification to implementation. The UNCAC, with 137 states parties, has globalized the fight against corruption. It provides the framework and tools for States individually and collectively to attack--both corrupt officials and those who corrupt them – and to deny them the fruits of their unlawful activities. The upcoming Conference of States Parties to the Convention in Doha in November will focus on developing a review mechanism that is effective, transparent, and inclusive.

This year, the United States aims to place a renewed, more aggressive focus on denying entry into our country of public officials who receive bribes as well as officials and directors of companies who supply them. Bribery is not a “cost of doing business.” It is a cancer on the body politic. And neither those who offer bribes or public officials who accept them are welcome in the United States. Nor, do we believe, should they be welcomed elsewhere.

We look forward to continuing our cooperation with other Member States and with UNDOC to reinforce our mutual efforts to share best practices in preventing and treating addiction, to counter narcotics trafficking, to fight organized crime and to reduce corruption.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

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