x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Regional anti-drugs centre planned

A regional centre to combat drug trafficking in the Gulf is to be established by GCC member states and the UN's anti-drug agency.

A custom officer at Dubai's Cargo Village poses in May with 11.5kg of raw opium that was hidden inside spools of fabric.
A custom officer at Dubai's Cargo Village poses in May with 11.5kg of raw opium that was hidden inside spools of fabric.

ABU DHABI // A regional centre to combat drug trafficking in the Gulf is to be established by GCC member states and the UN's anti-drug agency. The Gulf Centre for Criminal Intelligence will be a focal point for regional law enforcement agencies, according to Mohammed al Mulla, the special representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to the GCC.

The centre, which will be based in the Qatari capital of Doha and staffed by representatives from GCC states, is expected to be operational from early next year. Its main aim will be "to improve the existing co-ordination and co-operation between drug law enforcement agencies of the region", Dr al Mulla said in an e-mailed statement. The UNODC is also expanding its regional presence by opening a sub-regional office in Abu Dhabi next year as a centre for the Gulf states and neighbouring countries, according to Dr al Mulla.

The agency's regional headquarters are in Cairo. The idea of a single body to co-ordinate anti-drug efforts and collect data on cross-border crimes was first floated in 2006. Since then the UNODC has been developing the concept in partnership with the Gulf states - the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. Law enforcement agencies across the Gulf are enthusiastic about the initiative, according to Dr al Mulla.

"They have taken full ownership of the project," he said, adding that the centre will assist in targeting regional criminal activity. "There are indications of illicit drug trafficking through the region," he said. "In order to get a better picture, this new initiative could support member states to improve countermeasures within UNODC's mandates." The project is part of UNODC efforts to promote "international co-operation among member states in the field of drug control and crime prevention", he added.

The centre would help to provide a clearer picture of crime patterns and criminal networks in the region. Currently, accurate regional crime data is scant. The centre is also expected to provide anti-drugs training for local law enforcement agencies in the Gulf region. This will not be the first such centre that the UN has supported. A similar venture has been established for central Asia, and, independently of the UN, several Mediterranean states are considering a similar regional initiative, according to Dr al Mulla.

In 2006, the Qatari government pledged US$10 million (Dh37m) towards establishing the Gulf centre, but once it is in operation, all the GCC states will contribute to meeting its costs. After a lull in preparations - the UNODC at first expected the centre to be operational in 2007 - progress on setting up the centre accelerated last year. In a sign of the plan's advancement, the centre's governing council - representatives of the six GCC states - is to meet in Doha next month, Dr al Mulla said.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have so far nominated their representatives to the council, he said. "This centre is an answer to improving co-operation between law enforcement agencies," Dr al Mulla said. Currently, "bilateral co-operation is more than excellent. But the added value is to work collectively." The centre's first priority will be combating the trade in illegal drugs, but if its efforts bear fruit, its intelligence efforts could be extended into other areas of crime.

"Drugs are still a taboo in the Gulf, so there should be zero availability, but that is not the case, as a result of the transit route through the GCC," said Dr al Mulla. A UNODC study issued in June identifies the Gulf as a drug trafficking route and indicates an increasing number of drug seizures by law enforcement in the region. According to the study, the World Drug Report 2009, opiates in particular are smuggled through the UAE.

zconstantine@thenational.ae