Fact Sheet No. 1


United Nations General Assembly
Special Session on the World Drug Problem

New York, 8-10 June 1998


Effective international cooperation on judicial matters, such as the extradition of fugitives, mutual legal assistance, transfer of proceedings and controlled delivery, is essential for success in the global fight against illicit drugs. Without inter-State cooperation in these areas, few of the international treaty provisions against illicit drug trafficking, such as those contained in the 1998 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, can be implemented. By adopting special national measures to implement the 1988 Convention, Governments can build an international network of coordinated action.

In addition to the 1988 Convention and the earlier drug control treaties, the United Nations has initiated action on a number of other fronts. In February 1990, the General Assembly's seventeenth Special Session, devoted to international drug control issues, adopted a Global Programme of Action. This Programme of Action called for the strengthening of judicial and legal systems in the areas of law enforcement, drug trafficking, diversion of arms and explosives, and trafficking in illicit materials by rail, road, air and water. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs has also called for greater judicial cooperation among States through the adoption of laws and procedures to facilitate criminal investigation and prosecution. For its part, the International Narcotics Control Board has recommended ways to improve criminal justice systems, as well as ways to use them more effectively to combat illicit drugs.

The General Assembly at its next Special Session will consider ways to enhance judicial and law enforcement cooperation as provided for under the 1988 Convention. Some of the main areas of judicial cooperation to be considered by the Special Session include extradition, mutual legal assistance, transfer of criminal proceedings, controlled delivery, illicit traffic by sea, and other forms of training and cooperation.


It is essential that States remove impediments to extradition for serious drug offenders. Obstacles to extradition include differing views regarding the need for extradition treaties; traditions of refusing to extradite one's nationals to other States; the requirement in some States that a bilateral treaty is necessary for extradition; and different requirements regarding evidence according to the judicial system.

At the Special Session, States are expected to adopt recommendations to:

Mutual Legal Assistance

Effective cooperation in investigation and prosecutions is essential in international actions to combat drug trafficking. Drug trafficking organizations usually operate in several countries, with raw materials produced in one country, processed and refined in another, transported through other States and distributed in yet others. It is therefore essential that Governments cooperate in collecting evidence to prosecute offenders. Article 7 of the 1988 Convention provides the legal foundation and steps to follow which may be requested to obtain evidence or statements from persons, serve judicial documents, conduct research and make seizures, examine objects and sites, provide information and evidence, including financial and business records, and to trace proceeds and property related to drug trafficking.

At the Special Session, States are expected to adopt recommendations to:

Transfer of Proceedings

The international nature of many drug offences raises the possibility of transferring criminal proceedings from one State to another where a more appropriate forum could be provided, or when such transfer could enhance the effectiveness of prosecution. In some cases, transfer of criminal proceedings can serve as an alternative to other forms of cooperation, such as extradition. Among other things, this procedure allows for the consolidation of different drug trafficking cases involving the same accused persons, although the crimes might have been committed in one or more States.

At the Special Session, States are expected to adopt recommendations to:

Other Forms of Cooperation and Training

The extent to which the law enforcement agencies of one State can cooperate with foreign law enforcement agencies without judicial authorization varies considerably. Under the 1988 Convention, countries are encouraged to develop and maintain communications channels, cooperate in investigations, establish joint teams in appropriate cases, provide samples of substances for analysis, exchange personnel, develop training programmes, and assist one another in research and training.

Considerable cooperation already exists between law enforcement and customs organizations at the bilateral, regional and international levels. This is facilitated by meetings of the Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies, the International Criminal Police Organization, and the World Customs Organizations.

At the Special Session, States will consider whether they should:

Controlled Delivery

Controlled delivery is an investigative technique that allows specific consignments of illicit drugs or other controlled substances to pass through the territory of one or more States. The objective is to identify those persons involved in a transaction and to facilitate the arrest of drug "kingpins", not only the street dealers. Controlled delivery is often difficult because law enforcement agencies in recipient countries usually become aware of an illegal shipment after it is already in transit, or has reached national territory. Details of the intended route may be limited, and routes can change unexpectedly.

For the technique to be successful, controlled delivery must have the support of the legal authorities of the country concerned. In some cases, this requires that countries may have to consider permitting a detected shipment to be exported from or imported into their jurisdiction, or to pass through it. The method of controlled delivery is particularly effective in situations related to drug smuggling by sea, unaccompanied freight consignments, postal shipments and unaccompanied baggage.

At the Special Session, States are expected to adopt recommendations to:

Illicit Traffic by Sea

Sea routes have become more popular avenues for transporting illicit drugs as Governments have improved their capacity to intercept air and land shipments. Sea transport is less easily detectable than other methods, due to the large number of container ships, fishing vessels and pleasure craft in territorial waters and on the high seas. This form of transport also allows for larger sized shipments that can be concealed in legitimate cargo.

Although Article 17 of the 1988 Convention requires States to cooperate to the fullest extent possible to suppress illicit traffic by sea, the effective implementation of that Article depends on a number of factors. For example, each party should have laws to enforce its jurisdiction over offences committed on vessels flying its flag or displaying registry marks of that State. In addition, States should be in a position to render assistance to requesting States regarding vessels suspected of engaging in illicit traffic.

At the Special Session, States are expected to adopt recommendations to:

Complementary Measures

States will also consider recommending that complementary measures be developed to enhance implementation of the 1988 Convention in the following areas:

For more information, please contact:

Sandro Tucci
United Nations International Drug Control Programme
Vienna International Centre, Room E 1448
P.O Box 500
A-1400 Vienna, Austria

Tel: (431) 21345-5629;
Fax: (431) 21345-5931

Bill Hass
Development and Human Rights Section
United Nations Department of Public Information
Room S-1040
United Nations Headquarters
1, United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017

Tel: (212) 963 0353/3771;
Fax:(212) 963 1186