The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) works to keep Americans safe at home by countering international crime, illegal drugs, and instability abroad. INL helps countries deliver justice and fairness by strengthening their police, courts, and corrections systems. These efforts reduce the amount of crime and illegal drugs reaching U.S. shores.

Challenges: Despite the enormous decrease in the number of hectares under opium cultivation through the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, opium cultivation in Laos has begun to increase again, from 1,500 ha. in 2007 to 6,800 in 2012, as opium prices have risen sharply in East Asia. Poor farmers in the north, meanwhile, have gotten less help in switching to alternative crops than hoped for; fewer than 200 of the 1,100 villages needing alternative-development assistance have received it. The number of opium users is also trending back upward, and abuse of amphetamine-type substances has proliferated throughout Laos in recent years. Although Lao police are active in seizing drug shipments and making arrests, Lao investigators and prosecutors, as in many countries, traditionally focus on couriers and pushers, and too seldom bring down high-level traffickers. While Laos is working with international donors to modernize its legal sector, its challenges include generally inadequate funding, too few lawyers, and a residual bias toward the prosecution in criminal proceedings.

Goals: The overarching policy goals for U.S. assistance to Laos are to improve Lao governance and the rule of law, and increase the country’s capacity to integrate fully within the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the global economy. INL assistance supports improvements to the Lao government’s capability to address illicit drug cultivation, production, trafficking and addiction through improved law enforcement capacity and evidence-based addiction treatment. In addition, INL assistance aims to build the capacity of the Lao criminal justice sector (police, prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys) to provide transparent and accountable justice and to combat transnational crime.

Accomplishments: INL assistance played a critical role in establishing the Lao National Commission on Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC) and has continued to sustain its operations, both in the capital, Vientiane, and at the provincial and district levels. INL supports a pilot project in Vientiane for community-based treatment for methamphetamine users. In 2012 INL provided community-based treatment to some 800 opium addicts in Laos’ northern provinces. Lastly, INL supports those in the justice sector who wish to move toward a court system that is more adversarial and more adept at using evidence to achieve convictions.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future