05/10/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week: coverage of the UN General Assembly meeting to discuss global drug policy, with audio from Jamaican Justice Minister Mark Golding, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, and OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.

Audio file


MAY 10, 2015


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. And now, on with the show.

This week, the United Nations General Assembly held a day-long set of meetings to discuss global drug policy. The event was in preparation for the General Assembly's Special Session on Drugs that will be held in April of 2016.

Drug policy reformers, public health advocates, human rights groups, and other NGOs and representatives of civil society have been at work for more than a decade to convince the UN and its various subsidiary bodies to expand the discussion over global drug policy beyond the narrow confines of the current treaty structure.

The existing law-enforcement-focused prohibition model, which is promoted – arguably mandated – by the Single Convention and the other international drug control treaties has created international crises in public safety and public health. The process has been slow yet progress has been made. More and more nations have come to accept the need for serious change. Some countries have begun to defy the international drug control apparatus and are implementing harm reduction, decriminalization, and even legalization/regulation programs.

So, let's start our coverage of the General Assembly's recent meeting on drug policy with the opening statement by Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson from Sweden:

JAN ELIASSON: Mr. President of the General Assembly, Chair of the CND, Ambassador Srisamoot, ministers, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, I thank the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, for convening this timely thematic debate in preparation for the 2016 General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem.

Today’s meeting is an important opportunity to take stock on the road forward to UNGASS 2016. When we meet in April next year, we must be ready to challenge ourselves, to consolidate our approaches and integrate a range of perspectives on drug issues. Most important in my view is to listen carefully to each other and to engage in an open, constructive and comprehensive conversation.

Let us acknowledge that there are different facets and perspectives on the road and the challenges ahead of us. These facets and perspectives are as complex as they are significant.

First, we must acknowledge that the drug trade, in many cases, poses threats to peace and security at the national, regional and international levels. At the national level, the criminal networks which thrive on the drug trade are threats to strong, stable societies. Organized crime undermines institutions, feeds corruption and obstructs democratic governance.

Illicit drugs are now also a major source of funding for non-State armed groups. This despicable trade fuels violence and instability, and it threatens hard-won progress on peace, development, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

At the international level, the ever-stronger links between transnational organized crime, terrorism and extremist violence constitute a very serious new threat. From West Africa to Central Asia, we see how drug-trafficking jeopardizes peacebuilding efforts and bolsters terrorist groups. That is why tackling drugs and crime is part of the mandates of United Nations peace operations in countries such as Guinea-Bissau and Afghanistan.

While we tackle the security implications, let us recall and let us remember that the drug problem also encompasses countless individual struggles and human tragedies. The first three words of the United Nations Charter, “We the peoples”, remind us that we are first and foremost here to serve the peoples of this world. They all deserve to live a life in peace and dignity.

Those who use drugs face special barriers, burdens and traumas: health hazards and psychological strains; discrimination and stigmatization; and debilitating effects of serving lengthy prisons sentences for minor drug offences. Those involved in drug production often are vulnerable groups in isolated and conflict-affected areas. Such groups are prone to exploitation by crime syndicates and traffickers. They rarely see opportunities for alternative livelihoods.

Preventing drug use, treating drug dependence, providing health care and social protection, as well as supporting alternative livelihoods are essential aspects of a balanced drug control approach -- one that will allow us to fulfill our responsibility to serve all members of our societies.

Mr. President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, when we refer to intractable conflicts with mounting civilian casualties, we often say that the parties must realize, and I quote, "there is no military solution." I believe there is a parallel and an equivalent lesson for our work to contain the damaging impact of the drug trade. The so-called war on drugs is, in fact, in reality, on the ground and in the countries, a painstaking, laborious, often thankless and seemingly unending Sisyphean struggle. Sisyphus-like -- thank you.

The evidence is clear: around the world, we see that countries which integrate public health into drug control work achieve greater health effects and greater social benefits, while, at the same time, indeed improving rule of law and security.

Our priority must be to promote health-based responses which offer care for drug users. We must ensure access to essential controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes. We must adopt policies to prevent the spread of hepatitis, HIV, tuberculosis and other diseases.

And very importantly, we should pay special attention to the protection of young people. Specific measures are needed to prevent drug use among children and young people without criminalizing them. We must also develop policies that recognize the impact on children of drug use by parents and caregivers.

At the international level, the United Nations advocates a careful balancing of elements of an international policy on drugs. And we know, of course, of the three basic conventions and the role that they play.

Through increased focus on public health, prevention, treatment and care, as well as on economic, social and cultural effects and strategies, we can build a multi-sector approach founded on partnership and cooperation.

Such an approach should promote a close relationship between the institutional bodies of the drug control system and the scientific community. It should also drive work that is evidenced-based, drawing on robust analysis and research.

Mr. President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, in closing, in 2009, member states adopted the political declaration and plan of action on international cooperation towards an integrated and balanced strategy to counter the world drug problem. As we approach the ten-year review of the political declaration, UNGASS 2016 is a critical milestone and an opportunity to set the course ahead.

Next year, we must seize the opportunity for open, comprehensive and in-depth discussions. We must draw on perspectives from the full range of stakeholders, including civil society and young people. And we must set the course for national and international policies that respect human rights and strengthen the cohesion of societies.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs, whose Chair we have here today, has a crucial role to lead this preparatory process in an inclusive, open-minded and effective manner, and I urge Member States and all other stakeholders to continue to engage broadly in this process. `Today’s high-level event, Mr. President -- for which you should have much credit -- will deepen and inform these important discussions. I wish you every success in your very important work. I thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson speaking to the UN General Assembly in New York last week during thematic discussions on global drug policy. I'm Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts, and you are listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network.

Let's move on now to hear from some of the national delegates. The Jamaican Justice Minister, Mark Golding, was one of the first to present. Here he is:

MARK GOLDING: Mr. President, Mr. Deputy Secretary-General, colleague ministers, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to express my appreciation to the United Nations for arranging this important thematic debate as one of the preparatory events leading up to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem in 2016. This is of tremendous importance to delegations like mine, which unfortunately do not have a permanent presence in Vienna.

Today's discussions are significant, as we seek to create greater understanding and awareness of the challenges and opportunities that are presented to the world by drug use, drug abuse, drug trafficking, and the decades of international cooperation in the so-called war on drugs.

The geographic location of the Caribbean region, and our porous borders, have meant that the region has, for a long time, been used as a trans-shipment point for drugs, with the volumes involved being impacted by the relative availability of other routes such as through Central America. The Caribbean's coordination in this area falls under the Caricom Implementation Agency for Crime and Security, IMPACS, within the region's crime and security strategy. Nevertheless, security measures implemented to tackle the flow of illicit drugs are often insufficient to deal with the more sophisticated methods employed by traffickers.

Given these realities, we are seized with the importance of suppressing illegal international drug trafficking and illegal export of drugs, which is a national security priority for Jamaica, as we grapple with the corrosive implications of narco-trafficking for governance, law and order, health and socio-economic development.

Jamaica remains committed to strengthening programs to reduce supply and demand, while honoring our existing international obligations at all levels. However, our experiences over past decades have taught that the world drug problem has multi-faceted implications. We have come to realize that past approaches, encapsulated in the notion of the war on drugs, have not achieved their purpose of eradicating illegal production, trans-shipment, and distribution.

Indeed, by adopting an approach to the problem that is insufficiently rounded and holistic, we have, sadly facilitated the enrichment and strengthening of transnational organised crime; we have oppressed indigenous groups that have constitutional rights that must be respected; and we have alienated and criminalized youth populations. By the narrowness of our approaches, we have contributed to undermining sustainable development, democratic processes and the rule of law in many countries around the world.

It is now widely accepted that there needs to be a more holistic approach to this problem -- an approach that, in addition to effective law enforcement, also places priority on the other important elements of the problem, such as health and wellness, human rights, human development and safety, with the aim of reducing the negative effects on people's lives and the impact on vulnerable populations.

The opportunities for participation in the discourse in the lead-up to 2016 UNGASS provide a chance for engagement, early identification of the areas of advocacy and concern, and a qualitative assessment of the levels of support on common positions among like-minded countries. In this way, we are being enabled to shape the outcome of the UNGASS 2016.

Jamaica's position, therefore, is that UNGASS 2016 should not be a forum for rubber-stamping past agreements and approaches. Rather, it should be grasped as an opportunity to look with fresh eyes at the past actions, with a view to developing new approaches that are adaptable to our changing environments. This requires us to be frank and transparent in our discussions and our exchanges.

I will mention some of the outcomes that Jamaica would like to see emerging from UNGASS 2016. We are in favor of the establishment of an expert advisory group to review the UN drug-policy control architecture, its system-wide coherence, treaty inconsistencies and the legal tension of cannabis regulation in particular. We also consider that a Civil Society Task Force should be supported, to ensure meaningful participation in the UNGASS process. Jamaica also supports the coordination and participation of all UN entities in relation to the World Drug Problem going forward, as this will engender the more holistic approach to dealing with the issues that we consider necessary.

The UNGASS 2016 should clearly mandate the direction to be taken in promulgating the new plan of action on international cooperation towards an integrated and balanced strategy to counter the world drug problem. Ultimately, Jamaica would like to see the existing treaty regime afford greater autonomy to individual State parties in the design of their domestic policies and laws, especially in relation to cannabis. Our constitutional arrangements, and our social, cultural, and historic conditions and traditions, require us to be able to fashion our own rules in this regard, in the interests of social justice and a coherent and inclusive society.

Jamaica remains fully committed to cooperating with other States in the fight against narco-trafficking, and in the suppression of the illegal trans-shipment, illegal cultivation, and illegal export of drugs. We have strengthened our laws to tackle criminal organizations, money laundering, human trafficking, and other ills that form part of the world drug problem, and will continue to strengthen our law-enforcement capacity in these areas.

However, we feel that, in their domestic environments, state parties must be afforded the autonomy of how to deal with their own populations in relation to cannabis and other drugs, provided that this is done in a manner that duly respects and protects the legitimate interests of other nations. We look forward to the thought-provoking ideas and the distillation of the issues during this dialogue in efforts to address the challenges of the world drug problem. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Mark Golding, Minister of Justice for Jamaica, addressing the UN General Assembly in New York last week during their discussion of global drug policy. You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network, online at drugtruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Regional organizations were also represented at the General Assembly. Let's hear now from Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States:

JOSE MIGUEL INSULZA [TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH]: Ladies and gentlemen, delegates, I am pleased to be participating in this very important event. In the context of preparing the special session that will take place in 2016, as the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States of these past ten years I've had the opportunity to participate in very important discussions in the Americas dedicated to the problems of drugs. This is of very particular importance in our hemisphere.

As has been said, in 2013, all of the phases of trafficking, cultivation, the transformation and the sale to users are present in our countries, all the links in the chain, and often these phases occur in different countries, having said that. Therefore we need a regional approach. A regional approach that can be positive, even if the situations in the various countries are often quite different.

That's why we opted for an inter-American convention for drug control three decades ago already. This is a convention which has enabled us to set up strategies for our hemisphere that take into account the interests of all of our member states, in order to enable a policy to be based on very important elements, including public health and prevention, and have also enabled us to be able to review alternatives to incarceration, and apparently this has given us some very specific results in our situation, in our countries.

We're particularly proud of the work carried out in the Summit of the Americas in Cartegena in 2012. It was during this summit that the heads of state addressed their concerns for two particular problems: the growing consumption and use of drugs in their countries, which brings us to question the distinction between the producer and consumer countries, and also the connection between drugs and violence that exists. And the Colombian president committed himself to reporting clearly on these issues, and defining approaches.

There has been a very important multi-disciplinary process, and two-years after that report's publication, it is still having a positive effect. The main results of this report have been brought up here. Specifically, the need to modify this approach, which can no longer be purely repressive, and we also need to look at the issue of use of drugs. We also need to look closely and carefully at the issue of the criminalization of, and perhaps decriminalization of, the personal use of drugs.

It's difficult to say that we're going to look at the drug problem as a health issue and then say we're going to ignore the users as individuals. There's been increased incidence, where states are not able to find effective solutions and to implement such solutions, and we need a flexible approach which can take into account the different realities that occur in our hemisphere.

There's a fundamental importance of money that finances criminality. The conclusions of this report are that all countries, and all stakeholders in this process, are earning a lot of money, but that most of this money remains in the countries of drug use, and therefore the more developed countries.

Then we met in Antigua and Guatemala, and the deputy minister of foreign affairs at this event mentioned that this meeting made several contributions which are still very useful, and will be very useful for the special session in 2016. We're calling once again for a new review of the traditional approach, basing ourselves on key scientific elements. We need to strengthen the international health system, which also includes treatment and social rehabilitation. We need to promote alternatives to incarceration. We need to reform the sentencing system.

Our report emphasized that, in the Americas, more than one third of the persons imprisoned are imprisoned for drug-related acts. But we'll come back to this issue in the event organized by Colombia as a side event during lunch. We're working with member states in order to analyze the incidence of new policies that have been developed in the countries of the Americas. We have mentioned certain examples, specifically in Latin American countries, for marijuana and cannabis.

We also need to recuperate the funds that have been seized, we need to increase international cooperation, we need to promote exchanges of information, and finally, Mr. President, we need a new action plan.

We hope that the document that was submitted some time ago to the President of the General Assembly, as well as to the permanent representatives of missions in Vienna, would be useful, and will make a specific contribution to the 2016 special session. We truly hope that this will happen, and that it will be taken into account in the various decisions taken.

We are convinced that the drugs are bad. They are damaging for all of us, for the health of our citizens. We are also convinced that the methods used up to now to combat drugs have also been bad. There are more people who have died in the war on drugs than due to drugs themselves. This doesn't mean that we need to be permissive towards drugs. It means we need to think about how to reduce significantly the number of people who are in prison because of drugs. We need to think about possibilities for alternative sentences, and as has been repeated several times here already, we need to adopt an approach that is based on human rights.

We want to thank Colombia for having run the working group, which presented the document I've referred to already. I am certain that this meeting and the General Assembly Special Session would not have been possible without the contributions of many people in civil society. I can assure you that our country will contribute in a proactive way to this work by posing its own proposals and others during this special session.

We do not want to re-examine the texts that already exist, however we need to recognize that the conventions, for example, don't say anything about drug use. Therefore it's very important to talk about decriminalization, alternative sentencing, reduction of sentences, preventive techniques. All of this is very possible in the context of the current existing conventions, and I hope it will be possible. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, addressing the UN General Assembly during its discussion of global drug policy. These discussions were part of the run-up to next year's UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. We'll have more from that meeting in our next show.

For now, that's all the time we have. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DEAN BECKER: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, 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 Policy Studies.