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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More