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 (ha) 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 5,700 ha in 2018. Methamphetamine and amphetamine-type substances have proliferated throughout Laos in recent years, and trafficking has dramatically increased throughout the region. 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. Similarly, Laos has significant levels of human and wildlife trafficking, which the government is working to combat in coordination with the international community. Money laundering, especially as a proceed of these forms of trafficking and endemic corruption, contribute to significant transnational criminal activity and undermine the rule of law. Laos also faces significant challenges in securing its borders, particularly along the Mekong River, which leaves the country vulnerable to trafficking and other illicit activity.
Goals: The policy goals for U.S. assistance to Laos are to improve Lao governance, law enforcement capacity, border security, 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. INL assistance also works to combat human and wildlife trafficking, money laundering, border security, and riverine security along the Mekong River. Overall, 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 combat transnational crime.
- INL assistance helped stand up Lao Customs first ever Investigation and Suppression Division (ISD) which is helping Lao Customs develop law enforcement capacity in addition to their traditional duties.
- INL assistance played a critical role in establishing the Lao National Commission on Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC) and continues to offer support to the Ministry of Public Security both in the capital, Vientiane, and at the provincial and district levels.
- INL supports community-based treatment for methamphetamine users in hospitals across the country.
- INL supports Lao government efforts to strengthen its response to trafficking in persons (TIP), which has led to increased enforcement action and notably improved government response to combat TIP.