04/03/16 Doug McVay

This week we continue preparing for the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs, which will be held April 19 and 20 at UN headquarters in New York, by hearing from two of reform's leading opponents: Singapore and Russia.

Century of Lies
Sunday, April 3, 2016
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon COL040316.mp3



APRIL 3, 2016


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

This week we continue to look ahead to the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs, which will be held April 19 and 20 at UN Headquarters in New York City. The UNGASS is an important step on the road toward eventual reform of the international drug control treaties. We're going to see the world's leaders discuss drug control policies, harm reduction, decriminalization, even legalization.

Unlike the last UNGASS, which was in 1998, we will not see the world's nations embrace the global drug war. We will not see the world's nations endorse the current regime. We are not going to see the world's nations proclaim “A Drug Free World: We Can Do It.” That unrealistic and absurd slogan was the theme of the 1998 UNGASS.

This year, reality will finally make an appearance on the international stage. Will we not get everything we want, but neither will the prohibitionists. The United Nations operates on consensus. They work to achieve a broad agreement between states. If there is disagreement on something, a resolution, or wording, a phrase even, and that disagreement can't be worked out, then that phrase or word or resolution will not move forward, and it will be omitted. Final resolutions are the product of negotiation and compromise, and nations, particularly those with economic and or military might, will have their way. They may not get everything they want included, yet they will be able to exclude things to which they object.

So this year, we will see the UN promote the idea of a balanced approach for drug control. What that means will be open to interpretation. They will promote the idea of the need to respect human rights. How that comes out in national legislation, well, that's different, because we'll also hear about the need to respect national sovereignty. National delegations will certainly endorse their own brands of drug control, so some nations will speak out for decriminalizing, for legalizing, for harm reduction. They will speak out against the death penalty, and against other cruel and unjust punishments. Other nations will defend their rights to decide on their own laws, even if they include the death penalty and cruel and unjust punishments.

At the end of the UNGASS, the general assembly will stand, shakily, somewhere in the middle. This may not sound like much, but really, it is great progress. More and more nations, backed by civil society, are pushing for drug control policies that promote public health, respect human rights, and promote human dignity. The conventions will not be overturned or rewritten this year, yet we are seeing the beginnings of that process.

And we have only gotten this far because you care about these issues, you pay attention to what's going on, you take the time to learn what works and doesn't, and most importantly, dear listener, you are talking about these issues, issues like harm reduction, medical access to effective medicines for patients in need, decriminalization of drug use, legalization of drugs, an end to mass incarceration. We have a lot of work left to do, but we are on the right path.

So this week, to get an idea of what we're going to hear at the UNGASS, we're going to listen to more of the presentations from the recent meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which was held at the UN's International Center in Vienna, Austria. In last week's show, we heard a really powerful presentation by the representative of Canada. Canada was one of several nations speaking out in favor of reform, and we will be hearing more of those, but not today.

Way back when I was youngster, I participated in debate. One thing that I learned was that to prepare for a debate, you have to study what the other side is saying, the points they assert, the evidence they claim to have, the language they use, the contradictions they make. That's how to argue effectively, and how to win in a policy debate.

Frankly, I would prefer to fill this half hour with the voices of colleagues and friends working for reform, but the UNGASS is giving us an opening, and we need to be ready in order to take advantage of it. So, we're going to hear presentations from two nations that are leading the prohibitionists in the war on drugs: Singapore, and Russia.

We'll start with Russia. Russia's drug policies are more than merely ineffective and outdated, they're backward, utterly uninformed, based on ignorance and prejudice, ignoring all the science and all the evidence. Methadone and other substitution treatment is not allowed in Russia. Harm reduction such as syringe exchange is not allowed.

Russia was represented at the CND by the Victor Ivanov, head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, the FSKN. Here he is:

VICTOR IVANOV [simultaneous interpretation provided by UN]: Mister Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, on the eve of the forthcoming special session of the UN General Assembly on the global drug problem, I would like to draw your attention to our proposals on new measures and approaches for the anti-drug policy, which will allow us to drastically improve the existing global drug situation in our view.

First and foremost, I would like to clearly state our position in relation to the numerous appeals that we've had to legalize certain drugs, and that position is that any relaxation of the international drug control system will lead to tragic and disastrous consequences. The most vivid example of this is China. In the 19th and in the first half of the 20th century, in the absence of a ban on opium production, trafficking, and consumption, there was an outburst, or an upswing in drug addiction in China, whereas in the late 18th century, the Chinese population was unaware of the existence of opium and of course didn't use opium. By the end of the 19th century, the number of drug addicts had reached 25 million, or five percent of the Chinese population at that time, and the production of opium in Bengal had reached 40 tons. And this is five times greater than the total amount of opium produced in the world today.

Only the establishment of the international drug control system initiated following the Shanghai Opium Commission in 1909 enabled the process to be halted and reversed. Today, lifting the ban on selling whatever drug, will inevitably have the same result: an upswing in the production and use of the drug in question. Meanwhile, the anti-drug policy that was formulated over the past one hundred years, and is enshrined in the three UN drug control conventions requires substantial supplementation and reinforcement. The main drawback of the international community's drug strategy is the fact that the drug problem is perceived as primarily a problem of crime and of individual's health, though its essentially only its impact on the medical and social aspect of the problem is noted, while the main aspect, the devastating impact of drugs on national, regional, and global security, is completely left aside.

This has led to a fiasco in terms of drug measures and approaches, since the international community's uncoordinated actions is being countered by global transnational organized crime, which is capable at very short notice of moving from accumulating financial resources from drug trading to promoting political aims and transforming into an alternative source of political and geopolitical governance.

I would like to draw your special attention to the process itself, how things actually happen. We all know that there's a close relationship between terrorist organizations and the drug trade. However, there's a widespread erroneous perception that drugs are just an instrument of funding for terrorist organizations. In fact, the situation is quite the opposite. Terrorist organizations are an instrument for drug barons. They serve as hired labor, a kind of special task force for the drug mafia.

Drug barons deliberately allocate insignificant proportions of their revenue so five to ten percent of their total earnings to establish controlled terrorist organizations, so as to put pressure on legitimate national governments and to physically destroy their drug trafficking competitors. This is particularly obvious if we take a look at the Latin American countries in the western hemisphere, where the level of criminal violence, about a hundred thousand murders a year, has morphed into terrorism years ago. Just, the only thing is, that we have the absence of the policy attributes of Islamism that prevails in the eastern hemisphere. For example, the number of murders committed in El Salvador in June 2015 within 72 hours was twice as high as in the United Kingdom during a whole year, so is this really not terrorism?

Meanwhile, there's a clear media bias in the manner of coverage of individual instances of pseudo-ideological violence in the eastern hemisphere compared with how the few thousand times greater level of drug related violence in the western hemisphere is largely ignored. Long term and large scale drug production generates transnational and transcontinental drug trafficking that is financially comparable with the gross domestic product of certain transit countries. This brings them into a situation of growing violence that's very much akin to civil war. This situation is evident not only in Latin America but also in the Middle East and in western and eastern Africa, on the heroin and cocaine trafficking routes.

Drugs are the very lifeblood of transnational organized crime, which in turn is the main customer, so to speak, for terrorist acts, piracy, arms, and human trafficking, which forms a parallel authority and illicit economy that contributes to the weakening and disintegration of sovereign countries. So it's no wonder that the global order as a whole as well as individual countries are being systematically eroded and deliberately destroyed. In this respect, we need across the board to upgrade the status of the problem of drug production and transnational drug trafficking, putting it on the same plane as the problems of terrorism, piracy, and nuclear nonproliferation. Therefore it's necessary to specify in all relevant UN documents that large scale drug production, which is the source of transnational drug trafficking, is a threat to international peace and security, and thus to substantially supplement the existing system to counter drugs with new measures to be placed at the disposal of the United Nations Security Council.

For this reason, I would like to emphasize once again that our key task is to review the drug problem from the point of view of the threat it poses to security, and to enhance the range of measures that we are currently using. At the same time, our efforts must be focused on the two global centers of drug production in the world today: heroin in Afghanistan, and cocaine in Latin America. At the present time, these generate up to 50 percent of all proceeds of crime in the world. The new global drugs policy must be clearly stated. We must say no to global centers of production and no to drug trafficking and use.

Against transnational organized crime, which has formed and is controlling these two global centers, we must apply the same measures that we are applying to the leaders of terrorist organizations. Every year, more than a hundred thousand people die from using Afghan opiates and South American cocaine, so the people who have organized this process and are benefiting from it must be stopped at all costs. The position I've just stated is also presented in the new Russian-Italian report, titled International Security Enforcement For A Global Anti-Drug Policy, which was co-authored by the well known European politician Mister Franco Frattini, whose presentation will take place today in the World International Center. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Victor Ivanov, head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, speaking at the annual meeting of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which was held in mid-March in Vienna, Austria. This year's CND was significant because they were preparing for the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs which will be April 19th and 20th at UN headquarters in New York.

You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Now, let's hear another leader in the international drug war: Singapore. The phrase “Singapore Solution” has in recent years been applied to that country's economic growth yet it has a much different origin, a much different meaning. The so-called “Singapore Solution” is a phrase that comes from the 80s and 90s, and refers to that country's extremely harsh criminal justice system.

The German news website Deutsche Welle published a piece on Singapore in May of 2015, here's what they had to say, quote: “While Great Britain abolished the penalty of caning in 1948, however, many former colonies didn't. In Singapore, the cane has to be 120 centimeters long, 13 millimeters thick and extremely elastic. The person caning has been trained to induce as much pain as possible; a velocity of 160 kilometers per hour can be reached. Three strikes is generally all it takes to pierce the skin (which is moistened to avoid slivering), and scarring almost always ensues.” End quote.

You won't be surprised to learn that Amnesty International, among others, has described judicial caning as quote “a practice amounting to torture,” end quote.

So, now that we have some context, here is Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State in Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development.

DESMOND LEE: The world drug situation remains challenging. Every country is affected by the scourge of drugs, and Singapore is no exception, as a transport hub, as a transit point, as well as a market for illicit drugs. It may surprise many to know that opium was once legal in Singapore. This was in the early 1900s, when we were a British colony. It yields way too high. Opium consumption was linked to crime, violence, and the breakdown of the family unit. In 1946, opium was banned. But the harm suffered by opium addicts and inflicted on their families persisted well past our independence in 1965, and into the 1970s.

We had to take firm action to address this situation. Singapore therefore made a deliberate decision to tackle the drug problem: a sustained approach to tackling both drug supply and drug demand. This approach of harm prevention has allowed us to remain relatively drug free over the past few decades. In 2015, the number of drug abusers arrested comprised less than 0.1% of our population. All this would not have been possible without the robust international and regional framework to tackle this global threat.

Singapore and ASEAN therefore support the centrality and ideals of the three international drug conventions, which remain relevant as we tackle the challenges of drug control in the 21st century. Likewise, we pledge our support to the CND, which should remain the principal body for anti-drug policies and issues at the United Nations.

Several countries have called for the drug problem to be re-interpreted as a public health problem. I do not think anyone disputes that there is an important public health element to tackling the drug problem. But we do not and cannot see it purely as a public health or medical issue. In framing the drug problem, our concern is first and foremost about protecting Singaporeans and keeping Singapore safe and secure. If we do not tackle drug abuse firmly, and allow it to take root, there will be serious consequences. People who get tempted to try, and who become addicted to drugs, are robbed of the opportunity to live life to the fullest.

Families lose their livelihoods, relationships are destroyed, children suffer, and the wider community pays a hefty price in terms of crime. We have seen this in our country's recent history, and continue to see it in many places around the world today.

And this is why we persevere with our approach to maintain a drug free society for our people and our children. We are a city-state with no natural resources at all. But through the hard work and industry of our people, we have managed to achieve something over the last fifty years since our independence.

I shared earlier about our tough start as a young nation and our battle with the addiction to opium. Today, Singapore is ranked 11th on the 2015 UN Human Development Index. Our students perform well in international achievement tests, and we have been able to provide good-quality housing and affordable healthcare to our people. All this is possible because our top priority is providing a foundation of safety and security for our people to flourish.

Everyone in Singapore has the right to feel safe in their own homes. They should have the freedom to go anywhere in Singapore at any time of day or night. This safety and security underpins the development of our society and allows our children to grow up in an environment safe from drugs.

These are fundamental and precious rights that our people expect. Keeping Singapore free from the scourge of drugs is a critical aspect of that safety and security. What is our approach to tackling the drug issue? It comprises of the following: Targeted prevention, tough laws, robust and effective enforcement, upstream intervention for young abusers, rehabilitation and supervision to prevent relapse, and active engagement of families and the community to support reintegration of ex-abusers back into mainstream society.

Our drug control policies are underpinned not just by our philosophy of taking a tough approach to tackling drugs, but is supported by evidence and research. The harm reduction approach, with programs such as needle exchange or opiate substitution, is not relevant in our context. Our drug abuse situation is under control, and with little to no HIV infections from injecting drugs. Deaths from drug overdose are rare.

A study of overseas jurisdictions by leading sociologists in Singapore found that harm reduction programs do not address the collective harm to society caused by drug addiction. Such programs also do not recognize that drug abuse impairs the individual's ability to make rational choice. On the contrary, they risk enhancing the mental and physical harm that an abuser causes to himself and his family. This is why Singapore has not adopted the harm reduction approach. Instead, we believe in harm prevention, and choose to focus our efforts upstream, to ensure that drug abuse does not take root in our society, as well as focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of those who do abuse drugs, to help them lead drug free lives.

We also do not support calls for drug decriminalization or legalization. This is not applicable to societies that are relatively drug free. It is also contrary to the international drug conventions. Other countries have, in recent years, decriminalized or legalized the use of cannabis, both for medical as well as recreational purposes, and we will not do the same.

A literature review conducted by experts at our institute of mental health confirmed the harm and addictiveness of cannabis. There is some evidence that cannabis can be used for certain conditions, such as chronic pain as well as chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting. Even so, information on its long-term safety and efficacy is scarce. This is not our research. This is a comprehensive scan of the international body of medical research. These findings support the view that cannabis should remain an illicit drug. Even if cannabis needs to be administered for medical purposes, there are carefully established frameworks for the clinical prescription of controlled drugs. There is therefore no need to decriminalize or legalize the use of cannabis.

Nor is there a need to legitimize a profitable industry and lobby for highly addictive drugs, which can only fuel demand. We will be happy to share the findings of these studies with member countries.

Mister Chairman, I am here today not to ask you to adopt our policies, or make the same decisions that we have made. While they have worked for us, we recognize that the same approach might not work for every country. There is indeed no one size fits all approach to tackling the problem of drugs. Each country, each one of us, must address its own drug problem, taking into account the historical, political, economic, social and cultural contexts and norms of its society, and we respect every country's sovereign right and responsibility to choose the approach to tackling drugs that is best for them, and their citizens.

For us, the choice is clear. We want a drug free society, not a drug tolerant one. This approach has helped us to develop and to prosper, and has kept our families and our children safe. We also stand in solidarity with our ASEAN counterparts in our commitment to the regional vision of a Drug-Free ASEAN, so as to provide our people and communities, with a society free from drug abuse and its ill effects.

The 59th CND and the upcoming UNGASS 2016 are key milestones for us to forge a global drug consensus. As representatives of our people, we should carefully consider what would be best for our communities and for our children's future. While we should also recognize that how and whether we control the drug situation within our own borders, can have an impact on the drug situation in other countries.

Mister Chairman, I now deliver a statement agreed upon by the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, comprising Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, during the fourth ministerial meeting on drug matters held in October last year.

ASEAN shares the concern of many in this room on the world drug problem. It is evolving and nations need to work with one another to tackle -- Three international drug conventions. These conventions allow us to tackle the problem together in three ways. First, it enables a collective determination and response from all nations. Second, it builds and taps on the collective wisdom of all nations. Third, it provides a collective platform for all nations to discuss issues, like what we are doing here today. While we work collectively on such platforms, we also respect the sovereign -- to its individual needs based on the unique circumstances and norms of each society.

ASEAN remains steadfast in our dedication to the three international drug conventions as the cornerstone of all drug policies. We also pledge equal support to CND in its role as the principal body for all drug related policies and issues. ASEAN strongly supports this affirmation in the outcome document.

ASEAN had over the years put in our best efforts to implement the conventions. As a result, we -- our young of their future. These collective efforts must continue. We are acutely aware of the disastrous effects of drugs, not just on the abuser, and society at large, but also on national security and development. We are committed to suppress and eliminate the scourge of drugs to achieve the vision of a drug free ASEAN. To achieve this vision, ASEAN has continued to intensify its efforts to implement a comprehensive and balanced approach to tackling the drug problem. This approach recognizes that a wide spectrum of practice may contribute to the drug problem, such as insufficient family support for individuals, or a lack of enforcement efforts to reduce supply.

The overall outcome of our efforts is to protect the individuals and families from the danger -- education to protect our young and vulnerable, as well as rehabilitation and recovery efforts that incorporate scientific evidence based practices. To end the vicious cycle of drug abuse, we also actively engage the community and nongovernmental organizations to build support for the effective reintegration of individuals to society.

We have also undertaken efforts to tackle supply side problems, including taking a tough stance against drug traffickers, with equal importance and urgency. For instance, in ASEAN, we have -- joint operations and investigation to disrupt the network of regional drug syndicates. Effective laws have to be implemented in concert with an effective enforcement and criminal justice system. We are confident that with this comprehensive approach in both demand and supply reduction efforts, we will be able to realize the regional vision of a drug free ASEAN, to provide our people and communities with a society free from drug abuse, and the sharing of best practices. We remain grounded in our work, support the centrality of the international drug control conventions, and stand firm against drugs, including being resolute against calls to legalize controlled drugs.

We will participate actively in all the roundtable sessions, including at the plenary, with this respect, and humility. UNGASS reminds us of the responsibility entrusted to us by our countries and our people, to work comprehensively together to achieve a society free from drugs, the 2009 political declaration, and plan of action. In conclusion, the ASEAN group extends our best wishes and cooperation for this 59th CND, as well as a successful UNGASS in April ahead. Thank you, Mister Chairman.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development of Singapore. He addressed the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs in mid-March, representing Singapore as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

The CND meeting this year was largely devoted to preparations for the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs, which will be April 19th and 20th at UN Headquarters in New York.

And well, that's it for today. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts. For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.