UN Asks the Holy See to Co-operate

By Alberto Carosa
 From time to time in the not too distant past we could hear about initiatives within and without the UN for the Holy See to be increasingly marginalized or even expelled from the Organisation and its proceedings. Much more rarely do we hear about the contrary, namely the UN seeking co-operation with and help from the Holy See. This is precisely what happened when the head of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Italian-born Antonio Maria Costa, was recently received in the Vatican by John Paul II and the secretary of State, Angelo Cardinal Sodano (cf. Corrispondenza romana, May 15, 2004).
“I showed the Pope our work”, Costa reportedly said after the talk, “which is also about terrorism prevention, since it has by now been proven that all the organisations of that type resort to drug trafficking as a financial resource”. The UNODC also showed Sodano a graph indicating the various “specialising” activities of the different terrorist groups. “Only to refer to the best-known”, he said, “Al Qaeda trades in heroin, like other groups active in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Turkey and Uzbekistan; the Colombian FARC is peddling cocaine, while marijuana is being pushed by Hezbollah, Nepalese Maoists and the Abu Sayyaf militiamen in the Philippines”.But there is also the problem of Aids, Costa continued, which should be also addressed because it is partly a result of drug addiction and is on the rise, especially in Eastern Europe and in the Baltic states.¬† John Paul II exhibited a keen interest, Costa noted, and from his questions one could realise that he was well aware of the problem, particularly in Colombia and in the former Iron Curtain countries.Costa also pointed out that corruption is among the worst crimes and it is caused by drug trafficking, which annually slashes lawful trade by over $ 1 billion, thus turning into a real enemy of development. Another drug-related, appalling scourge is human trafficking, a modern form of slavery whereby million people every year are deprived of their freedom, enduring the worst forms of exploitation. In the face of such phenomena, legal measures, though important, are not enough, Costa stated. “The opposition from civil society should instead be enhanced”.

In Costa’s opinion, prevention measures are of paramount importance. “We need for evil in drugs to be grasped, and for this to be perceived in schools, which I don’t see particularly committed in this regard, in working places, in amenities, such as discos, and worship places, such as oratories”, he said. “Anti-social patterns of behaviour undermine the fabric of all of society, and may be effectively tackled by society as a whole”. From this perspective, and with the aim to keep our youth away from drugs, crime and terrorism, “a possible co-operation between the UNODC and social-oriented Catholic organizations around the world has been thrashed out, especially to strengthen family and community capacities in handling anti-social patterns of behaviour”, concluded Costa in his briefing.

But how can civil society best be involved and mobilised for it to promote its opposition against the drug scourge? An interesting clue in this regard came from a conversation with Mrs Betty Sembler, a veteran anti-drug activist, the president of Drug Free America Foundation (DFAF) and the wife of Melvin Sembler, the US Ambassador to Italy. She supports an aggressive campaign through a series of ads for print and electronic media. This campaign, Mrs Sembler made clear, was the child of another NGO, The Partnership for a Drug Free America, and it is an excellent example of fruitful interaction between public institutions and private-run organisations. These ads were launched first in the United States as a joint initiative with the government, which paid for them through grants to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and were even televised during the Superbowl. The ads are not only increasingly fine-tuned and effective, but also created with multicultural approach, making them easily transferable from one country to another.

One of these ads particularly struck Mrs Sembler.

“I’ve seen a most effective ad, perhaps the most effective ad I have ever seen, and which I would very much like to see it used in Italy as well”, Mrs Sembler continued. “It was a full newspaper page, which read: ‘How to write an obituary for your son’. This sentence says it all. The text is very short and calls on parents to look after their children, to keep them away from dope, to check on who their school mates and friends are, to identify the wrong information targeting them, and discover those who are promoting drug use among them. ‘Unless you want to write this obituary’ – it’s the shocking conclusion”. Just the idea of having to write an obituary for a son “strikes to the heart of a mother”, says Mrs. Sembler. “I have no direct knowledge of what’s going on in an Italian family, but a mother is always a mother, whether she is Italian or Eskimo”.

Source: Drug Free America August 2004

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