News / Asia

UN Boosting Myanmar Efforts against Drug Trafficking

FILE - Police officers are seen near seized drugs which will be burnt, at an event to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking outside Rangoon.
FILE - Police officers are seen near seized drugs which will be burnt, at an event to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking outside Rangoon.
Ron Corben

The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime is starting a new program to help Myanmar's law enforcement system better crack down on drug trafficking and transnational crime. Rights groups are welcoming the program as a way to tackle the impunity and criminal activities that the United Nations warns are undermining Myanmar's development efforts.

The four-year $45 million program comes as the U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says criminal activity in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, is undermining the country's development, increasing human insecurity, and threatening the peace talks aimed at ending ethnic insurgencies.

UNODC South East Asia and Pacific regional representative Jeremy Douglas said the underground or “black” economy generates millions of dollars that are laundered into other areas of the economy, threatening the broader society.

"The [black] economy is very large in Northern Myanmar, primarily drug driven, but also there's a lot of precursor trafficking, there's the other forms of trafficking and transnational issues which are generating enormous income, income that is not in the hands of many and at the same time that the money needs to be moved and needs to be legitimized. So it does impact into the legitimate economy," said Douglas.

While Myanmar's economy has grown in recent years, driven by economic and political reforms, the country remains dogged by high rates of official corruption. Watchdog group Transparency International ranks Myanmar very low on its corruption rankings: 157 out of 177 countries.

The U.N. program, initially funded by the U.S., funds efforts to improve law enforcement capabilities in tackling transnational crime, including drug and human trafficking, environmental crime and border control. It also includes anti-corruption measures and reforms in the criminal justice and prison system. Douglas said one key target is development of alternative crops for opium farmers in the northeast.

Myanmar is the largest producer of synthetic drugs in Southeast Asia and the world's second largest opium producer after Afghanistan.

Rights activists say the opium and drug trade has led to powerful individuals rising through the political ranks, including in parliament. Myanmar rights activist Debbie Stothard said the increasing influence of such people is a cause for concern as the country's economy grows.

"Many blacklisted cronies who are being fêted by international business people have themselves become rich because of corruption and other connections to criminal activities. What we are seeing now is a situation where the past generation of criminals, organized crime, in many cases become respectable under the current reform regime,” said Stothard.

Stothard said people close to Myanmar's drug trafficking networks were elected to parliament in the 2010 elections. She said there is a link between these people being elected and higher rates of opium poppy production. The UNODC reported a 26 percent jump in opium production in Myanmar in 2013 to 870 tons, based on increased cultivation.

Stothard said concerns over human rights and lack of freedom and rule of law were seen to be linked to a rise in crime in recent years. Growing demands for land for development has also led to mounting conflict between developers and local people.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, points to on-going impunity as a growing problem due to rising criminal activity in the economy.

"The fundamental link between the black economy or the criminal economy that you are talking about and the issue of rights is the impunity that people have if they are well connected, if they are a crony of a minister, if they are connected to a military commander to abuse rights. The key issue is impunity," said Robertson.

Robertson added that a key test for the UNODC program will be if diminishes this culture of impunity by prosecuting well-connected persons involved in drug trafficking or other criminal activities.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid