Worldwide Alliance Against Drugs

By , Richard Thornburgh is attorney general of the United States.

PRESIDENT BUSH'S action last month in signing the United Nations Drug Law Enforcement Convention ratification papers greatly strengthens the United States's leadership role in the worldwide response to the drug-trafficking problem. For too long, international drug traffickers have been outsmarting the civilized nations of the world. The concerns expressed at the recent United Nations Special Session and the Andean drug summit remind us that the drug cartels have created multinational enterprises operating on an international scale without precedent.

Up to now, drug law enforcement has too often been carried out on a nation-by-nation basis with only occasional cooperative efforts. This is changing, as the multinational management systems devised by the drug traffickers are increasingly being adopted by the governments fighting drug abuse.

This effort will be greatly enhanced through the UN Drug Law Enforcement Convention drafted by representatives of more than 100 nations.

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Although the US, regrettably, remains first in the world in drug abuse, this convention recognizes that we are no longer the sole focus of the problem or the nation held almost solely responsible for finding solutions.

There is no more international a business today than the drug cartels: The raw materials are grown in one country, processed into illegal drugs in another, and shipped through several countries for sale in yet others.

Profits from these sales are in turn recycled through laundered investments in a multitude of disguised transactions crossing many borders, often using legitimate international financial institutions.

The new UN agreement, signed by drug-producing as well as the drug-using nations, provides a number of new resources aimed at breaking this cycle.

First, as a law-enforcement convention, it provides new tools for police, prosecutors, and judges more effectively to carry out their responsibilities across international borders, while preserving the sovereignty of each nation.

The veil of bank secrecy, for example, as an impediment to gathering evidence against traffickers and as a method of hiding illicit profits, will be lifted. Governments are given the tools to seize illicit drug profits and use them, as we do in the US, for law-enforcement efforts.

Second, all the nations signing the convention have agreed to exchange evidence of criminal conduct and to extradite accused traffickers so that safe havens are no longer so readily available.

Third, the convention provides for the supervision of the manufacturing and sale of essential and precursor chemicals for the production of illegal drugs, in terms similar to recently enacted US legislation.

Fourth, commercial carriers are brought into the drug war through requirements that they make certain that commercial consignments are free from drugs. Law-enforcement officials are given the authority to board, search, and, if necessary, seize vessels used in the drug business.

Finally, the convention reaffirms the need for continued aggressive efforts in crop eradication and reducing demand.

With these tools, US law-enforcement agencies will be better able to enter into more operations such as the multi-million-dollar money-laundering schemes broken up through Operations C-Chase and Polar Cap, and the cooperative effort with Colombian President Virgilio Barco that has resulted in the extradition by decree of 14 cartel kingpins to the US.

While the convention itself does not alter the laws of any nation, it commits the signers to the enactment of new legislation where necessary and to increased law-enforcement cooperation.

The convention represents the work over four years of hundreds of officials meeting under the auspices of the UN. Eighty-nine signatory nations are expected to implement the work of the Vienna conference.

The UN will continue to play an important role in monitoring the implementation through the International Narcotic Control Board. Policy oversight will be provided by the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Full implementation of this convention could give our children, and their children, the gift of a world cleansed of drug trafficking and drug abuse, a world where governments carry out their responsibilities free of the corrupt influence of drug profiteers, a world where the vicious criminals now in control of transnational drug cartels are behind bars, their networks in ruins, and their seized illicit profits plowed back into more effective law enforcement.

This will not happen overnight and will not happen without a lot of hard work. This convention, however, makes it far more likely that the nations of the world will be working together toward this end.

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