The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has advocated a collective regional response to drug abuse and illegal drug trafficking almost from the start of its cooperative efforts when it consisted of only five members. As early as 1972, the association convened a meeting of concerned officials and agencies on the prevention and control of drug abuse. Subsequently, the Declaration of ASEAN Concord of 1976 issued by the Heads of Government called for “the intensification of cooperation among member states as well as with the relevant international bodies in the prevention and eradication of the abuse of narcotics and the illegal trafficking of drugs.” This led to the adoption of the ASEAN Declaration of Principles to Combat the Abuse of Narcotics Drugs.

This declaration provided the framework for the adoption of a programme of action in the context of cooperation to combat the abuse of narcotics drugs. The Declaration called on Member Countries “to intensify its vigilance and preventive and penal measures with regard to illicit traffic in drugs, to organize cooperation in the fields of research and education, to institute improvements fight against the abuse of drugs and its consequences.” It also enjoined them “to intensify the involvement of its national agencies with the Colombo Plan Bureau, the United Nations and its specialized agencies, INTERPOL, and such other agencies involved in the activities to combat drug abuse.”

An immediate response to the declaration was the convening of the First Meeting of ASEAN Drug Experts in Singapore in 1976. This meeting formulated recommendations in four major areas: enforcement and legislation; treatment and rehabilitation; prevention and information; and training and research. The meeting also formulated strategies to enhance mutual cooperation for the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration of Principles. All this seeded the initial programme on drugs.

The need for a regional approach in drug abuse control and prevention was strengthened with the adoption of an ASEAN Regional Policy and Strategy in the Prevention and Control of Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking by the 8th ASEAN Drug Experts Meeting in 1984. The document represented a significant departure from the perception of the drug problem as merely a social and health problem to one that had implications for national security, stability, prosperity and resilience.

This regional action plan urged ASEAN countries to exert uniformity in views, approaches and strategies, effectively coordinate at the national, regional and international levels, and to empower the non-government organizations (NGOs) in the effort to eliminate drug abuse. It recommended the incorporation of both supply and demand reduction measures and the enhancement of the legal control system.

In more recent times, ASEAN has reiterated the urgent need to act against the ever-increasing menace of drug abuse and illegal drugs trafficking. In issuing ASEAN Vision 2020 at their 2nd informal summit in 1997, the ASEAN leaders embraced for the first time the idea of “a Southeast Asia free of illicit drugs, free of their production, processing, trafficking and use.”

ASEAN Foreign Ministers, at their 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in July 1998, signed the Joint Declaration for a Drug-Free ASEAN by 2020 that affirmed the association’s commitment to eradicate the production, processing, trafficking and use of illicit drugs in Southeast Asia by the year 2020. In July 2000, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers agreed to advance the target year for realizing a drug-free ASEAN from the original schedule of 2020 to 2015.

The association could make this solemn commitment to a definite program and timetable in part because of the achievements it had experienced in its cooperative efforts on drugs over the years.

Structure of ASEAN Cooperation

As presently organized and implemented, the ASEAN anti-drug effort involves various ASEAN bodies, directly or indirectly, in formulating policies and initiating activities against drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking, which in the context of ASEAN cooperation comes under the broader framework of transnational crime. These include:

ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC). Since 1997, ASEAN increasingly turned its attention to a more diversified list of organized crimes besides drugs that transcend national boundaries (transnational crime). This led to the convening of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC) in 1997. At its 2nd meeting in 1999, the AMMTC adopted the ASEAN Plan of Action to Combat Transnational Crime. The plan has established mechanisms and activities to extend ASEAN member countries efforts to combat transnational crime, including the abuse of narcotics and trafficking in illegal drugs, from the national and bilateral levels to the regional dimension, and strengthen regional commitment and capacity to undertake the expanded task.

The plan of action will put in place a cohesive regional strategy to fight transnational crimes, and will encompass information exchange, cooperation in legal and law enforcement matters, institutional capacity building, training and extra-regional cooperation as key programme activities. On legal matters for example, the plan of action advocates the criminalisation in ASEAN member countries of specific crimes, including illicit drug trafficking.

ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters (ASOD). ASEAN cooperation in drugs and narcotics control initially came under the purview of the Meeting of the ASEAN Drug Experts which first convened in 1976 and was under the coordination of the Committee on Social Development (COSD). Meeting annually since then, the meeting was renamed as the ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters (ASOD) in 1984.

Its mandate includes enhancing the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration of Principles to Combat the Drug Problem of 1976; consolidate and strengthen collaborative efforts in the control and prevention of drug problems in the region; bring about the eventual eradication of narcotic plants cultivation in the region; and design, implement, monitor and evaluate all ASEAN programmes of action in drug abuse prevention and control.

ASEAN Finance Ministers Meeting. At their very first meeting in 1997, the ASEAN Finance Ministers signed the ASEAN Agreement on Customs, which apart from enhancing ASEAN cooperation on customs activities aims to strengthen cooperation on combating trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances.

ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information (COCI) The ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information is also involved in the fight against drug abuse, particularly in terms of projects and educational campaigns. The ASEAN School Anti-Drug Poster and Comic Strips Exhibition, held in Brunei in 1997, showcased comic strips drawn by children from ASEAN countries with the theme “ASEAN Free from Drugs”. It sought to provide ASEAN children and youth with proper insight and protection from drugs as early as possible. COCI has also organized a working visit and workshop project involving ASEAN journalists and media personnel with a view to enabling them to increase their knowledge, get more experience and improve their professional skills in writing about the drug problem in ASEAN. Furthermore, the “Workshop on ASEAN Community Awareness: The Drug Problem in the Region,” which was held in Bandung in October 1999, focused on supporting regional cooperation among ASEAN member countries to overcome the dangers of narcotics abuse through the empowerment of the ASEAN information network.

Action Plan on Drug Abuse Control

ASOD’s current initiatives on drugs are based on the ASEAN Three-Year Plan of Action on Drug Abuse Control that was adopted at the 17th ASOD meeting held in October 1994. Prepared by the ASEAN Secretariat and with funding support from the UNDP, the action plan covers four priority areas: preventive drug education, treatment and rehabilitation; enforcement; and research.

In preventive education and information, the ASOD organizes various workshops on drug education for teachers and curriculum designers and comparative research studies on preventive education. Cooperative activities in law enforcement includes the exchange of law enforcement officers and personnel, the conduct of training programmes with the assistance of international agencies, and the sharing of information concerning trends, modus operandi and routes of narcotics trafficking. ASEAN members have conducted regular exchanges of personnel involved in treatment and rehabilitation at the operational level.

These programmes are complemented by the efforts of four training centres in the region: the ASEAN Training Centre for Narcotics Law Enforcement in Bangkok, the ASEAN Training Centre for Preventive Drug Education in Manila, the ASEAN Training Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation in Kuala Lumpur and the ASEAN Training Centre for the Detection of Drugs in Body Fluids in Singapore.

The ASEAN Training Centre for Narcotics Law Enforcement was established shortly after the Fourth ASEAN Drug Experts’ Meeting in 1979 recommended that the ASEAN countries recognise the need for specialised training to improve national services and strengthen the regional network of narcotics law-enforcement. Key activities undertaken by the centre include: organizing from 1980 to 1988 nine ASEAN narcotics law-enforcement training courses participated by all member countries with the help of the US Government and setting up a three-year training project to meet ASEAN’s needs for long-term projects with the support of the United Nations Development Programme.

A training course for middle-management narcotics law-enforcement officers and a workshop for senior narcotics law-enforcement officers have been held alternately each year, focusing on one major issue at a time. Workshops and training courses on Financial Investigation and Forfeiture of Assets, Intelligence Collection, Analysis and Dissemination and on Controlled Delivery have also been held.

The ASEAN Training Centre for Preventive Drug Education in Manila was established in 1982 for the specific objective of protecting children and youth from drug abuse through vigorous and unified preventive drug education programmes. The Centre’s work includes:

  • setting up a long-range plan of activities in preventive drug education in schools and communities in each ASEAN member country;
  • coordinating the implementation of the long-range plan; assisting in the development of an effective and comprehensive drug education programme in schools and communities in each ASEAN member country;
  • conducting continuing research and evaluation in assessing types of training programmes, new approaches, content and instructional materials
  • planning and carrying out orientation programmes in preventive drug education for school administrators and training programmes for educators, designers, practitioners, police and criminal justice officers and community leaders; and
  • developing and validating the evaluation instruments for education programmes to prevent drug abuse.

To achieve these objectives, the Centre has continuously undertaken training and staff development, development and production of instructional materials, research and evaluation, technical assistance, and special projects and activities.

Key Projects

In line with the action plan on drug abuse control, ASOD has adopted 10 project proposals:

1. Training of Trainers in Interpersonal Skills and Peer Support Counselling in Drug Education
2. Promoting Drug Abuse Prevention Activities Among Out-of-School Youth
3. Promotion of Drug Control Activities in the Workplace
4. Training on Effective Management in Prevention Drug Education Programmes
5. Enhancement of Community-Based Drug Prevention Activities
6. ASEAN Training Seminar for Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Counsellors
7. ASEAN Training on Financial Investigations
8. Training on Intelligence Operations Management and Supervision
9. ASEAN Seminar on Mutual Legal Assistance
10. ASEAN Seminar on Precursor Chemicals

Of the above, Projects 4, 6 and 9 have been implemented, while the other seven projects are in various stages of appraisal and funding consideration.

The implementation of the work programme is critical to ASEAN’s success in reducing the threat of drug abuse and trafficking and achieving a drug-free ASEAN by 2015. The Hanoi Plan of Action of 1998 called on the member countries to implement the ASEAN Work Programme to Operationalise the ASEAN Plan of Action on Drug Abuse Control by 2004. The leaders also enjoined the member countries to continue developing and implementing high-profile flagship programmes on drug abuse control, particularly those related to prevention education for youth, and treatment and rehabilitation. To address the call of the leaders, ASOD endorsed the remaining seven pending projects under the work programme and one new high-profile/flagship project called the Youth Empowerment Against Drug Abuse.

Other projects that have also now been designated as high-profile/flagship projects are: the Training on Financial Investigations, the Enhancement of Community Based Drug Prevention Activities, and Promoting Drug Abuse Prevention Activities among Out-of-School Youth.

Emphasis on Youth. Several ASEAN projects on drug control are specifically focused on the youth in the belief that preventing drug abuse is better handled by the youth themselves. Among these are: Training of Trainers in Interpersonal Skills and Peer Support Counseling in Drug Education; Youth Empowerment Against Drug Abuse; and Promoting Drug Abuse Prevention Activities among Out-of-School Youth.

One aim of the Training of Trainers in Interpersonal Skills and Peer Support project is to train core groups of school teachers/counselors in each ASEAN Member Country in the development of interpersonal skills among students. So far, Malaysia, which coordinates this project, has conducted training in Brunei and in Thailand, which were held in September and November 1999 respectively. The project intends to produce a core group of 30 trainers in each ASEAN country with Interpersonal Skills in Drug Prevention Education, and also to develop a training manual in the respective national language of the ASEAN member countries.

The region’s youth are also the main focus of the Youth Empowerment Against Drug and Substance Abuse project which aims to equip young people with the knowledge, decision-making skills and values to stay away from drugs. Apart from developing regional cooperation and unity to enhance youth capability and participation in preventing drug abuse through positive and worthwhile activities, the project also searches for real-life youth role models who can be capable leaders of youth movements against drug abuse.

Promoting Drug Abuse Prevention Activities Among Out-of-School Youth, in turn, aims to make use of peer group discussions to enhance available information about youth attitudes and behavior regarding drug abuse and related issues to assist ASOD and the member countries in the development of more targeted prevention activities.

The subject of youth and drugs was the highlight of the Regional Conference on Drug Abuse Among the Youth in Hanoi in November 1998. The Conference adopted two documents:

* Appeal to the Youth in the ASEAN Region for a Drug-Free Life; and

* Agenda for Action on Prevention and Control of Drug Abuse for the Youth in the ASEAN Region.

Recent Developments

Due to increasing challenges facing the region on issues of drug control, the ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters (ASOD) has agreed to enhance its regional policy-making role on drug issues. ASOD meetings would be used more actively to discuss and share experiences on operationalizing the vision of a drug-free ASEAN 2015.

Preparations for trainings on drug demand reduction, supply control, and law enforcement are underway.  Efforts to harmonize national laws on drug trafficking by the ASEAN Member Countries are continuing.  Greater coordination between ASOD and the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC) in combating illicit drug trafficking is being intensified.

The First Meeting of ASEAN-EC Sub-Committee on Narcotics, held in October 2002 in Kuala Lumpur, provided an opportunity for both sides to be briefed on each other’s priorities and activities on drug control. Combating money laundering and the diversion of precursor chemicals have been identified as areas for joint cooperation.

The implementation of the ASEAN and China Cooperative Operations in Response to Dangerous Drugs or ACCORD is on track.  The ACCORD Task Force Meeting on Alternative Development, held in Chiang Mai in January 2003, discussed its priorities and workplan for 2003. The ACCORD Task Force Meetings on Law Enforcement, Advocacy and Demand Reduction are planned to be held by mid 2003.  An ACCORD account is being set up for the purpose of project implementation.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the ASEAN Secretariat and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UN-ODC) on Drug Control and Crime Prevention Cooperation has been signed.  The MOU aims to promote closer cooperation on the interrelated issues of drug control and crime prevention.