Sergey Kapinos, a Russian career diplomat, assumed the post of the Representative United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for South Asia in November 2016. The office covers six South Asian countries ~ Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Prior to his appointment at UNODC, he was Ambassador, Head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Centre in Bishkek. As the Regional Representative, Kapinos’s focus is to increase awareness about the risks and impact of organised crime and corruption on the rule-of-law and security of the people in the region, and to advocate for the comprehensive implementation of the UN Conventions to counter these.

Kapinos, who was one of the speakers at a FICCI Cascade’s international conference recently, spoke to Ashok Tuteja on the margins of the meet. Excerpts:

What is your organisation’s role in India?

For about three decades, UNODC Regional Office for South Asia (located in India) and the one that I represent, has been working with governments and civil society partners in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, to address the challenges posed by drugs and different types of crime including corruption and terrorism.

Our work in South Asia is implemented under a Regional Programme (RP) framework and all activities are undertaken in line with it. The Regional Programme is developed and implemented in close consultation with our South Asian government counterparts.

So far, we have developed two RPs in consultation with the Governments of South Asia. The latest is our new Regional Programme for South Asia (2018-2021) which covers the following five thematic areas: (i) countering transnational organised crime; (ii) a comprehensive and balanced approach to counter the drugs problem (drug trafficking and drugs and health); (iii) countering corruption; (iv) terrorism prevention; and (v) crime prevention and criminal justice. The RP also aims to assist Governments in attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In India through our projects, we have been working with key Government of India entities on preventing and countering transnational organised crime (including drug and precursor trafficking, trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants etc) and implementing drugs and health-related interventions in community and prison settings.

There is so much to share, but I will highlight only a few examples of our work in India. Under a joint UNODCMHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) project we helped in the establishment of Anti- Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs).

These are special integrated units, which are responsible for rescuing victims, investigating the perpetrators and providing legal aid, counselling and rehabilitation services to the survivors with the help of local NGOs.

The AHTUs were later scaled up by the Government of India. We have developed Standard Operating Procedures for ‘First Responders’ to effectively tackle human trafficking at the India-Bangladesh and India- Nepal borders.

With generous funding from the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, we have been implementing a regional drug law enforcement project for the last few years. We have undertaken several initiatives with the Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment and Ministry of Health on implementing drugs and HIV prevention, treatment and care interventions in community and prison settings.

Various drug demand initiatives were undertaken in India, including a massive “I Decide” campaign to prevent drug use. In North-East India, we worked with communities, faith-based organisations and NGOs to prevent drug use, including among women and partners of drug users.

Drug-related crimes are rampant in South Asia. What is your organisation doing to combat the menace?

Let me begin by contextualising my answer. As you know, the South Asia region holds 1/5th of the world’s population and is geographically sandwiched between the “Golden Crescent” and “Golden Triangle”, making it very vulnerable to drug trafficking, abuse and related crimes.

As you know, India, the largest country in this region shares borders with about six countries. This region also experiences huge migratory flows and contains a large youth population.

My office is making efforts to promote better cooperation between different countries and I would like to share a noteworthy attempt in this direction. We are in advanced stages of discussion with our South Asian government counterparts for finalising the necessary documentation to establish the South Asian Regional Intelligence Coordination Centre to counter transnational organised crimes (SARICC-TOC), including drug trafficking and related crimes.

The establishment of a regional criminal intelligence sharing platform in South Asia will provide a facility for the meaningful and efficient exchange of information on organised crime matters (including drug trafficking) among member countries. Thus, it will help them to tackle TOC (transnational organised crime) challenges in a more effective and coordinated way.

Do you think South Asian countries can cooperate in combating drug-related crimes?

I believe there is no alternative. Trends show strong inter-linkages between drug trafficking, corruption (illicit financial flows) and terrorism. Therefore, all countries ~ whether source, transit or destination ~ have a stake in fighting this together and an important role to play.

Dismantling trafficking networks and preventing cross-border crimes and illicit financial flows within the South Asia region requires strong and coordinated responses from drug law enforcement agencies, including enhanced inter-agency cooperation within a country as well as with agencies across borders and regions.

You have been here for two years now. Do you think India and Pakistan can cooperate with each other to fight drugs and crimes?

Yes, I believe there needs to be close cooperation and coordination between India and Pakistan on security, especially to fight drugs and crime. It is an imperative, actually, given that organised crime transcends borders and criminal networks are coordinated like never before. Crime also affects social and economic development of nations and, therefore, governments of both countries should join hands and establish mechanisms to develop joint responses.

This is possible ~ for instance, India and Pakistan have collaborated in military drills, dialogues and similar confidence-building measures at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). India and China, for instance, have recently signed a bilateral agreement to strengthen security cooperation. This is an excellent example of fostering collaboration to make the region safer for all. Indeed, there are bilateral challenges that need to be addressed.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium-producing country. How do you think India can prevent the smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan?

Before answering this question, it is important to understand the impact of opium production in Afghanistan. As per UNODC’s Afghanistan Opium Survey of 2017, opium production increased by almost 90 per cent. This is a real challenge and threat. It will not only have a negative impact on the country but also the neighbouring countries, including India. Links between drug trafficking and terrorism makes the scenario even more challenging.

In fact, the South Asian region, is both a transit and destination point for Afghan opiates. Traffickers of Afghan opiates use all available modes of transportation for trafficking, namely, air, maritime, mail and land route to ferry these opiates across the region. UNODC has been closely monitoring the situation with partners and governments and developing a comprehensive strategy to effectively deal with this problem.

How does your organisation promote, protect and respect human rights of drug users?

All our programmatic interventions are grounded in the principle of human rights. For us, each drug user should be supported in a humane and health centred framework. We need to promote the rule of law and also understand that the right of each individual, be it a drug user or an incarcerated person, needs to be respected and protected.

UNODC advocates that measures taken by countries must not be discriminatory or conducive to the stigmatisation of persons, especially those with drug use disorders.