Session to discuss fight against illegal trade in narcotic drugs

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Belarus has to develop an efficient anti-drug policy, President of the Republic of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the government session held on 4 December to discuss the fight against the illegal trade in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, their precursors and analogues.

The head of state called for a complex, countrywide approach to fighting the illegal turnover of narcotic substances. “It is necessary to pursue an effective state policy against narcotics. The main goals include the prevention of drug addiction in the population and the decisive suppression of drug crimes. Fortunately, we can still do it and without too much effort. The state administration mechanisms, the structure of the state authority, the approaches allow us to resolve the problem,” the Belarusian leader believes.

Red-tape practices are inadmissible in fighting drug abuse, the head of state stressed. Addressing participants of the session, among other things the President asked whether the interagency council set up under the auspices of the government had enough authority to fight drug abuse and the illegal turnover of narcotics. “I am simply disheartened by these commissions that you suggest we should create and new councils on top of the minister and those in charge of fighting narcotics. I don’t understand why you are doing it. Are you dragging your feet? What effect will any commission or council bring?” the head of state said.

In Belarus there are specialists that directly fight the spread of narcotics. “We have the people who fight this disease on the basis of the law as well as moral norms and their internal convictions. We have the relevant minister, investigators, prosecutors, judges and so on. I don’t understand what else we need,” the President noted.

“There are councils and commissions everywhere. If there is a council or a commission available, then those, who have to deal with the problem, will look up to the council and the commission. And the council and the commission will take months to give answers to those, who expect responses from higher-ups. We will drown any process in red-tape by doing so. You have to answer whether we need it or not. No more of deliberations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko believes.

The President urged to toughen punishment for drug-related crimes by introducing amendments to the existing legislation. “Those who commit the most heinous crimes must serve 20 to 25 years in prison. Those who commit less severe crimes should be given shorter prison sentences. You need to come up with the criteria and we will incorporate it into the law. MPs will support us,” the head of state told those present at the meeting.

Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that the prison conditions for people convicted for drug-related crimes should be toughened as much as possible. “These people should have the most severe prison conditions. I do not think that we need a separate prison for such criminals, but if there are too many of them they can be put in one prison. By the way, the prison population in the country has fallen by more than 50% and now we have enough correctional facilities. Such criminals can serve their sentences in a separate block of a maximum security prison. The same can be applied to drug dealers,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. As far as drug addicts are concerned, they must get medical treatment. “Yes, we are sorry for these poor people, but they need medical treatment. However, they must be placed in specialized preventative clinics instead of conventional hospitals,” the President said.

The head of state has been recently informed about two successful police operations to expose a drug ring which included drug producers and dealers. “Our policemen know how they look like. They need to tell us what measures we must take in respect of these criminals,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“I am also wondering what we need to do to discourage people from taking drugs. In my opinion, these are our main objectives. We need to find answers to these questions and enact them into a law. We will do our utmost to raise the efficiency of this law,” the head of state added.

Top on the agenda of the session was the improvement of the legal framework of the anti-drug campaign. “However, the analysis of the work of the police and other law enforcement agencies reveals that we should have twisted some necks a long time ago ignoring excuses and allegations of inadequate legal framework,” the President said.

A draft law on drugs was presented to the head of state at the session. The President wanted the participants of the session to answer a number of questions. The President asked whether the efforts to combat drug trafficking, including the measures suggested by the new law, are comprehensive enough to be used effectively along the entire front of the anti-drug war. The President wanted to know whether these efforts will help respond to and prevent new wiles on the part of drug dealers and producers. “Will we be able to effectively combat drug-related crimes and will the new draft law be of great help to us in these efforts?” Aleksandr Lukashenko wondered.

The President reminded that the decree to counteract opium poppy trafficking that was passed in January 2014 helped reduce the consumption of opium poppy. “Once we cut down on opium poppy consumption, we got a new problem – spices. What’s next? Will this draft law be able to grapple with this issue? Can we foresee and prevent a possibility of new drug-related threats in the near perspective? Do we have enough resources and facilities to do it? For example, do we know how to combat online drug trade?” Aleksandr Lukashenko asked.

The head of state wanted to know whether the amendments to the law contain any provisions on drug addicts and how to bring these people back to normal life. “If the new law can shake up and intensify the work of all the elements of the system and make it more efficient, then let us pass this law,” the President said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko was particularly concerned by the decreasing age of drug abusers in Belarus. School students, vocational school students, university students, and other kinds of youth are now among them. The number of smoking blend consumers has increased. Over 1,000 cases of spice overdose have been registered, with 25 people dead in two years. “It brings sorrow to families and the state. It is a threat to the gene pool of the nation,” the President stressed. He reminded that the problem had been raised at a recent meeting with students of the Maxim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University.

“Back then I promised that we will pool all the resources to accomplish the strategic goal of forming a hardworking, educated and healthy nation. The danger of alcohol and drug abuse was mentioned back then. It is not something plaguing individuals at the bottom of the society. It is a serious threat to the present and the future of our society and the state. And the threat concerns absolutely everyone, including those present here today because everyone has children and grandchildren,” the head of state underlined.

Total rejection of narcotic drugs by the public should become a serious barrier to the drug distribution. The President stressed that the country should build up a clear-cut hierarchy of agencies responsible for the war on drugs, including the major anti-drug authority and all other related government institutions and organizations. “There should be no unnecessary elements in this hierarchy. Total rejection of drugs by the society should serve a serious barrier to drug distribution. The government, mass media, NGOs, the church, educational institutions, families and the general public should join efforts to shape and promote anti-drug attitudes based on traditional Christian values,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. These efforts combined with tougher punishment will help achieve the necessary effect.

Interior Minister Igor Shunevich put forward a number of proposals to promptly respond to drug-related crimes and work out a number of measures to react to the new tendencies in this business.

In particular, the draft bill envisages toughening of criminal penalties for the sales of psychotropic substances to underage people and for the production of narcotic and psychotropic substances at illegal drug labs. The document will also enhance responsibility for the use of drugs in public places. Provisions allowing to ban the sales of new narcotic drugs, mostly psychotropic substances, within a week will be included in the law on narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, their precursors and analogues. According to the minister, the new bill will help promptly add new substances to the existing lists of drugs. Igor Shunevich said that there are no such precedents in other countries. The notion ‘basic structure of a chemical substance’ will be included in the bill. The measure will help prohibit up to 96% of new substances, mostly spices, which are constantly emerging on the drugs market.

According to the Interior Ministry, it makes sense to introduce a single centralized register of drug addicts at healthcare institutions. As a result, these people will not be removed from the register due to the change of accommodation or imprisonment.

The Interior Ministry believes that it is also essential to set up specialized preventative clinics for drug addicts.

Igor Shunevich said he believes it is high time the legislation on the Internet was corrected. In particular, he said it is necessary to ban all the Internet users from accessing the websites on the restricted access list. Besides, the Interior Ministry believes it is necessary to prohibit the creation of digital wallets in the digital payment systems operating in Belarus without forcing users to disclose their complete identity to banks. The Interior Minister said that following the existing procedure the police needs 20-30 days to get the necessary data from communication services providers and banks, giving criminals too much time to commit a number of grave crimes, cover the tracks or dodge responsibility.

Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that the Interior Ministry should be authorized to get the necessary information in a timely manner. “Not every police officer should have this right. A head of a unit should be given the authority so that the prosecution or some other agency could ask the officer later why he or she needed the information and what results the information produced. You have to understand that just like our society the police takes all sorts. It is unclear why they would request such confidential information. Therefore, this right should be given to the minister and department heads. But once the information is requested, it must be made available within 24 hours or several hours. If it is not done, we will ask the bankers some pointed questions,” the President remarked.

“The United States of America, ‘the most democratic country in the world’, you know the kind of democracy they practice as far as the security of citizens is concerned and other matters. A kid raises a toy pistol and they shoot him dead without talking. And nobody will blame the policeman for it! It is the law. Belarusians are democrats, we may prevent some cheats from accessing the Internet or a bank may refuse to disclose information citing bank secrecy. What nonsense!” the head of state said.

“Yes, banks may lose some revenues from this drug money in their accounts, deposits, and so on. But we are trying to resolve a more serious problem. We don’t need money like that,” the President added.

“What a mess! Drugs are mailed by parcel while we are unable to do anything about it! Get together with your colleagues and eradicate it!” Aleksandr Lukashenko told the minister.

The President has vested the Interior Ministry with absolute authority for the sake of coordinating fight against drugs.

“As of tomorrow you will call the shots. Your decisions will be mandatory for everyone with regard to the fight against drugs,” Aleksandr Lukashenko told Interior Minister Igor Shunevich. “If you send me a letter requesting the president to get involved in the process, it will be mandatory for me, too. Only by doing so will we be able to make headway,” he added.

“If the minister gives orders regarding this topic, then the Healthcare Ministry, the Education Ministry, and other ones have to fulfill these orders,” the head of state said. “As far as drugs are concerned, your decisions will be the law for everyone. The decisions will not be made up by you in your office, but by the colonels and majors who are directly responsible for fighting this disease”.

“The situation is very serious. We have a war on our hands,” the President remarked. “Regular police officers complain that they could do so much more if their hands were untied. Meanwhile, we act like criminals by braking this process. Not for some criminal purposes but because we believe it is not important. But it is!” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“Everyone has little children and grandchildren. All kinds of things may happen to them. There are quite many children of government officials and other big shots that smoke, drink alcohol, and abuse drugs just like children of common people,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

The President said that the Belarusian Education Ministry does a poor job of raising the awareness about the harm of drugs abuse.

“It is not a poor effort. There is no effort at all. We put no effort in it either in school or anywhere else. The best case scenario is if someone says that drugs are bad. In every school you have to act the way it was done in the Soviet times to fight tuberculosis: look, these are the scary lungs of a tuberculosis patient, see and understand the results. Kids are receptive to this kind of things at school. They will remember it. But they have to be shown these scary things, have to see pictures and movies,” the President said. “The Healthcare Ministry should do the same,” he added.

“But the scariest crime is that drug abusers give birth to similar people,” the head of state continued. “He drank and smoked today, she did the same, tomorrow they give birth to a child and give it away for the state to raise. And we are better off taking the child away from the family. We can understand very well what kind of a person the family can raise. They will be, first of all, totally sick people, who may abuse drugs and may commit crimes in the future. Therefore, we should look deeper into the problem since it can destroy the gene pool of the nation. Who will give births to children? And what kind of children will such people give birth to?”

“This is why forgiveness is out of the question! It is a very dangerous, very serious problem. And on top of that, it doesn’t depend on us. I don’t think that these spices are made in Belarusian labs the way people make homebrewed alcohol. They will send drugs to us, will bring them personally, will just leave drugs here while crossing the country. We should fight it. We have a normal government and an educated society. And we can do it today. We cannot let the process get away from us,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.

“Have a look at Norway and Switzerland. They rank high on happiness charts, they are excellent countries where people would like to move to live. Meanwhile, there are drugs abusers aged 10-11 over there. In Norway there are children aged 11-12 who abuse drugs. We cannot drop that low. Everyone must wake up and get down to dealing with the problem, including the Education Ministry and the Healthcare Ministry,” the President said.

“This problem is huge worldwide and we are not an exception. I believe the preventive measures are vital,” the head of state stressed.

Chairman of the Investigation Committee Valentin Shayev was in favor of the introduction of tougher criminal responsibility for selling drugs if the person, who takes the drugs, dies after that.

Valentin Shayev also pointed out the rising number of cases when psychotropic substances are sold by people under 16. The Investigation Committee suggested reducing the age of criminal responsibility for selling drugs from 16 to 14 years.

The Investigation Committee also put forward proposals on treating drug users. They may be encouraged to voluntarily undergo treatment against drug abuse by the introduction of criminal responsibility for using narcotic substances within one year after the administrative punishment for doing so was enforced. The Investigation Committee also suggested legislating the possibility of forced medical examination for drug intoxication. For now there are no mechanisms or legal grounds to do that, Valentin Shayev said.

The Investigation Committee also deems it necessary to work out a long-term strategy to coordinate the fight against the illegal turnover of drugs and get it approved by the head of state.

Aleksandr Lukashenko backed these proposals. “If you have to reduce the age, do so. I am totally amazed by what you said about forced examination. It should have been done long ago!” the President said.

Chairman of the Supreme Court Valentin Sukalo, Head of the Main Department on Drugs Control and Combating Human Trafficking of the Interior Ministry Vasily Losich, members of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly also put forward their proposals.

At the end of the session the President suggested including all these proposals in a decree and submitting it to the head of state for consideration. “Perhaps, it will be better to incorporate these tough measures into a presidential decree. Of course, the parliament will later introduce relevant amendments to the law,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. He also gave an instruction to submit all provisions of the document for public consultation.

The President suggests setting up a separate penal colony with the most secure level of custody for drug offenders.

“If those who import and sell drugs and other stuff like that know that they can face a super maximum security colony, it will add to preventive control against breaking the law. These people are murderers who bring a slow death into the society through drugs,” the head of state said”

As for drug users, Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that drug addiction treatment centers should provide high-security conditions as well.

“We must uncover the main links. Not drug distributors but those who produce and bring it inside the country to sell, drug dealers. The less their number is, the less we have drug users. This is the main issue we should focus our attention on. The police should target the main links: drug producers and drug dealers. There should be no mercy for them,” the President said.

“This problem is huge worldwide and we are not an exception. I believe the preventive measures are vital,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.