11/21/18 Craig Mokhiber

Century of Lies
Craig Mokhiber

This week on Century, Beyond 2019: the future of drug policies and lessons learned, with audio from Craig Mokhiber from the UN's Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights; Simone Monesabian, director of the New York Office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; and Dominique Favre, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN.

Audio file



NOVEMBER 21, 2018

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.

On November Nineteenth, the International Peace Institute together with the International Drug Policy Consortium and the Social Science Research Council co-hosted a policy forum event entitled Beyond 2019: The Future of Drug Policy and the Lessons Learned.

They were there to discuss the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and its upcoming Sixty-Second Session, which will be held in March of 2019. At that time they'll be reviewing progress towards goals of eliminating or reducing cultivation, production, trafficking, and use of illegal controlled substances.

Back in 2009, the UN adopted something called the Political Declaration and Plan of Action Towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem. That political declaration set 2019 as the target date for the elimination or significant reduction of all this illegal drug activity.

Now, anyone who's paying attention knows that they've failed. We not only have more production of cocaine, more production of heroin, more production of a lot of other drugs, now, than we did back in 2009, we also have new psychoactive substances that are becoming available and more widely trafficked, and some of them are extremely dangerous. The problem is worse in nations which cling to outdated prohibitionist models.

Today we're going to hear some of the voices from that Beyond 2019. First up, Craig Mokhiber. He's the director of the New York office of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

JIMENA LEIVA ROESCH: Next, we turn to Mister Craig Mokhiber, director of the New York Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Craig, linking drug policies with human rights has been a complex task, to say the least. What are your views for the next decade of action on the world drug problem?

CRAIG MOKHIBER: Thank you very much, Chair. To say the least, indeed, it has been a complex task and I think one in which we have failed, miserably, to make those necessary linkages.

You know, there's a time, with a lot of diplomats in the room, and we say hello to you all, excellencies, but I'm going to with that dispense with the diplomatic nuance that usually accompanies conversations here around the United Nations in New York, to say that the so-called war on drugs and all of its cousins, various approaches based upon prohibition, have been an unmitigated catastrophe for human rights all around the planet.

This has been called one of those situations where the cure is far more deadly than the disease, and I think that's been proven to be true. Literally as we're speaking, people are being cut down in the streets simply for suspicion of being involved with drugs. People are being abducted and disappeared and tortured and abused in mandatory treatment facilities around the world, and millions, millions, are languishing in prisons for nonviolent drug offenses.

Disproportionately, those people are poor and minorities in the countries in which they have been arrested, and they and their families and their dependents are cast into a spiral of hopelessness that continues often across generations. Many are denied their right to healthcare, and, when you add to this the knowledge, as the data shows us, that prison actually increases the risk of spreading of tuberculosis and HIV, other infectious diseases, and actually increases drug abuse, you have to ask yourself how we got on this road?

And even without prison, criminalization leads to stigmatization that affects a broad range of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. There is clear evidence now of how human rights have been entirely ignored in the dominant approach to drug policy.

Detention and prison, for example, are supposed to be extreme measures under international human rights law, because they have such a direct impact on a broad range of internationally guaranteed human rights, liberty and security of the person being the most obvious right which is compromised, but a whole range of others, and that's why the international human rights regime says that this is supposed to be exceptional.

It's supposed to be meet very high tests before you decide to lock somebody up as a solution, of reasonableness, of proportionately, of non-discrimination, and of necessity. Necessity, which is an easy one to break because there are non-custodial measures and non-criminal approaches to all of these questions.

Discrimination clearly violated in this approach as well. Ethnic minorities are disproportionately targeted by drug laws and by drug law enforcement. Whole communities and multiple generations have been affected in this way. Here in New York City, African Americans use drugs at about the same rate as other communities, white Americans, if you call them that, but they're eleven times more likely to be prosecuted for drug offenses, to give you an example of how discrimination plays into this.

Women are imprisoned for drug crimes more than for any other category of crimes, and children are still being locked up and denied harm reduction treatment in spite of the prohibition of these kind of approaches in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every country in the world except for one [note: that one holdout is the United States].

And of course, we know that drug penalties are often disproportionate. Small-scale street corner sellers often get longer sentences than convicted murderers in some countries. There are so-called three strike laws, where offenders with no history of violence or crimes against persons or property end up locked up for 25 years or more. And many low-level offenders are given life imprisonment without parole.

And even now, in the twenty-first century, human beings are being put to death through capital punishment merely for drug offenses. In the meantime, we know that the impact on indigenous peoples who are denied the use of their traditional plants for medical and cultural purposes, on small farmers who are denied alternative incomes and livelihoods, and on urban youth who are denied alternative income due to institutionalized racism and then targeted for abuse and arrest and detention and dehumanization under drug laws.

But on top of all of this is the problem of the diversion of public resources. Trillions of dollars across the globe have been diverted away from addressing the root causes of drug abuse, the root causes of production, of distribution, of consumption. Those root causes, like discrimination, like the denial of economic and social rights, work, and housing, and healthcare, and social security.

Instead of funding those root causes of drug abuse, the money has gone into a failed policy approach. But the dominant approach is also at the same time, as we have heard from other speakers, self-defeating. It actually fuels the business model of criminal organizations, creates perverse incentives for private prison companies, for militarization of police and security forces, and thanks to blind prohibition over many, many decades now, drug lords and criminal organizations now rival the power of states in some areas.

And here's the most remarkable thing: none of this has resulted in reducing supply or demand for drugs. Judged against its own objectives it has been an unmitigated failure, and yet, it continues. It makes you think of the first law of holes. The first law of holes says, when you're digging, and you're in a hole, and you don't know how to get out, the first thing you do is stop digging.

We need a real shift in policy.

So it's time for a fundamental change, not mitigation, not balance, but an entirely new approach, based on the twin pillars of good policy. On the first hand, evidence, of what's really happening and what actually works, and secondly, values, like human rights and equality, international law, public health.

We need to do this, I think, to break down the concrete silos that have been built up between the drug control program at the international level on the one hand and the human rights program and health programs on the other.

We need to have a good, honest look at the three principle drug control treaties to see how we can imagine implementation or revision in accordance with human rights obligations.

We need to identify and address all of the human rights risks that are associated with these enforcement approaches to drugs, and then we need to flip the script.

We need to entirely reverse the paradigm and take prohibition and enforcement out of the center of the paradigm, and to replace it with human rights, public health, and evidence based policies. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Craig Mokhiber. He's the director of the New York office of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He was speaking at an event on November Nineteenth called Beyond 2019: The Future of Drug Policies and the Lessons Learned.

Now, lets hear from Dominique Favre, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations.

DOMINIQUE FAVRE: Thank you very much. Thank you very much for this organization, and thanks to all of you for being here. It is really an important moment, first of all, to have all your three organizations here, so numerous people and to try have a dialogue and a discussion on what's comes beyond 2019, ahead of all what is expecting us in Vienna next year.

More than two years have passed since the General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, debated here in New York on various aspects of drug policy. UNGASS was a crucial step in making drug policy shift towards a greater focus on health and human rights. We are delighted to observe that this new direction appears now to be an integral part of all reflections in this area.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mister António Guterres, has highlighted this new approach most notably during his speech at the opening of the thirty-seventh session of the Human Rights Council.

He said, and I quote, "Outdated law enforcement-only approaches to drug control have fueled violence and human rights abuses and failed to decrease illicit drug use and supply."

I couldn't agree more with him. This fact was also brilliantly pointed out in the recent report Taking Stock: A Decade of Drug Policy issued by the International Drug Policy Consortium.

An open and constructive dialogue on drug policy has taken place between states since the last UNGASS. I'm thinking at the series of international intersessional meetings organized and facilitated by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Those meetings helped member states to present and compare the different approaches, and measures are already undertaken, with a view to applying the practical recommendations set forth in the UNGASS outcome document.

As you know, since the Nineties, Switzerland has been taking a four pronged approach that combines prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and law enforcement. Open drug scenes in our country have now disappeared, and this approach has enabled us to come up with innovative methods to reduce the health and social harms for drug users.

It also marked the beginning of a new era whereby drug addiction was seen as an illness. Following the UNGASS outcome document advocating for drug policies based on health and human rights, Switzerland's developed a new national strategy on addiction, 2017-2024.

This new strategy focuses in particular on the quality of life and health. Those topics are at the heart of the different activities, such as counseling, targeted treatment, and special consideration for vulnerable groups, laid out in the strategy.

This approach to drug policy also means reflecting at the international level on the issue of access to medicine. We cannot condone that thousands of people are forced to suffer pain without any type of relief, including palliative care, although efficient and inexpensive treatments are available.

To get back to a positive note, another aspect I would like to highlight is the creation by UNODC of an expert working group tasked with improving the collection of statistical data on illicit drugs. In this context, let me commend the excellent report called Aligning Agendas, presented by the IPI, where it is explained how important it is to link data collection on drugs to the SDG Agenda.

Indeed, only reliable and comparable data on all dimensions concerning the world drug problem can ensure that effective policies are put in place.

This includes if approach should guide us as we prepare for next year's ministerial debate, when we will take stock of the commitments made in 2009 and consider the path beyond March 2019. That is why it is essential to continue such open and constructive dialogue between states, UN entities, academia, and the civil society.

This is also why I particularly thank you all for the organization of and for your participation at this event. Thank you very much.

DOUG MCVAY: That was His Excellency Dominique Favre, Deputy Permanent Representative, the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations. He was speaking at an event called Beyond 2019: The Future of Drug Policies and the Lessons Learned.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host, Doug McVay.

Be sure to catch all the programming on the Drug Truth Network, including our daily 420 News Reports and of course the flagship show of the network, Cultural Baggage. This week, Dean brings you more from the Harm Reduction [Coalition] conference, and some classic programming.

Now let's get back to that Beyond 2019 event, Beyond 2019: The Future of Drug Policies and the Lessons Learned. We're now going to hear a bit from Simone Monesabian. She's the director of the New York office of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

SIMONE MONESABIAN: As my brother Craig mentioned, I think that we all agree in the UN Secretariat that the approach must be a human rights, public health, and evidence based approach.

And I think that these are things that the Global Commission has been calling for and IDPC have also been calling for, and I'm glad to see that there's enough of a focus on that, though the problem of course is that there -- the words are not met by actions.

And, I think that we need to understand a little bit where we really stand in New York. I like our opening speaker's explanation that it also matters what happens here, not just what happens in Vienna.

And so I've been really following closely what's been going on for the last three months, not only in the last two years since the UNGASS document was agreed to by consensus, but just since September 24.

So we saw, on the Twenty-Fourth of September, 131 countries sign President Trump's global compact on the drug control -- on, global call on drug control -- on the world drug problem.

And, by signing that compact, all of these 131 countries during this summit said they would do the following four things, and I think it's important to understand what they all committed to do.

One is to reduce demand for illicit drugs. Two is to expand treatment efforts. Three is to strengthen international cooperation across judicial, law enforcement, and health sectors. And four is to cut off the supply of illicit drugs by stopping their production, whether through cultivation or manufacture, and flows across border.

They also went further than that. They said that all of their national action plans would be based on these four priorities. And they added that they believed that they -- of, on the relevance of the three drug control conventions, and reaffirmed the primacy of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Right?

This is what 130 [sic: 131] in New York, not in Vienna, agreed to do. And so we have to understand that, when we talk about how to go about changing the paradigm.

But it wasn't only on September Twenty-Fourth that we saw this. On October Fourth, which is when the Third Committee of the General Assembly has the annual item on drug control and crime prevention, and about seventy countries spoke, or 60 or 70, I don't remember exactly, which also goes to show you that a lot of them didn't speak. Right?

What did they say? Well, the EU said, in terms of what happens in Vienna next year, in March, we don't want to see any new outcome document, we don't want to see anything other than implementation of the UNGASS document. Right?
What did the African Group said [sic]? We want to make sure that drug control within the three conventions is the focus.

And the ASEAN said, we want to continue our zero tolerance policy. Right?

So that's here in New York, again, not in Vienna, just last month. And it was very interesting to me what Colombia highlighted, and I'm just going to read one line from what they said. They said that on the Nineteenth of -- as of the Nineteenth of September 2018, the armed forces of Colombia eradicated 37,000 hectares of illicit crops in addition to 26,219 hectares that were voluntarily eradicated. Right?

So they felt necessary to highlight this, in October, which is interesting. And then what did we see happen this morning, in the Third Committee of the General Assembly? Mexico every year has an omnibus drugs resolution that is adapted by consensus. We've seen recently in some of the other resolutions this year things going to a vote in the Third Committee, which we haven't seen in the past, but this resolution has always been by consensus.

And four new things were proposed by Mexico in the zero draft that did not make it into the final draft that was adopted this morning. One was a reference to harm reduction. The member states who agreed on this resolution by consensus, as their bible as to how to deal with drugs, drug control, drug prevention, no to the harm reduction reference.

What else did they say no to? No to the reference to decriminalization. No to further oversight by the President of the General Assembly or the General Assembly in terms of follow-up. And finally, no to this, and Mexico would -- suggested that UNODC be invited to compile all drug policy reforms and innovative programs recently implemented, including regulation. And again, this was not agreed to by the member states.

Not the UN agencies, by the member states.

So, really, in terms of what Craig and myself and Niman from UNAIDS who I see in the audience, are constrained with doing is following what the member states have put before us. That is quite different than some of the things my friends in IDPC and the Global Commission are saying, but also where there is similarity I think there's a lot more to do in terms of proportionality of criminal justice responses, in terms of health, in terms of access to pain medication, and in terms of a human rights based approach.

I think that there is a lot of consensus on that, that we can really focus on instead of the polarized views on drugs that were in these four paragraphs.

Now of course UNODC has been working on harm reduction, whether you call it harm reduction or not, longer than any other UN agency, and I remember in 2006, I can say this now because it's a long time ago, we were sitting with one of the drug czars, and I won't say of what country, our USG, and our USG was being told by this drug czar, you cannot have a publication on harm reduction anymore. It's just outrageous, and we'll pull our funding if you do this again.

And I remember our USG saying at the time, well, I don't want the blood of people on my hands. Pull your money, then. And we called that country's bluff, and they didn't pull the money out. [sic: that country was the United States, the drug czar at the time was John Walters]

But, this is what we're faced with here. And so let me just say that what we're going to see in March probably is going to be a reaffirmation, and you say this in your IDPC introduction, Madame Clark, we're going to see a reaffirmation of the UNGASS 2016 document, and what we hope we don't see, which is what Ms. Clark said, and I agree with totally, is a backlash, and there is danger for that if we're not careful.

And so that is a great concern, and some of the things that Craig talked about showed that already is a little bit of a backlash in terms of death penalty now being applied in countries that may have had it on the books but weren't actively applying, and who are very proud to apply it instead of quietly applying it, as they may have in the past in other countries.

So what has UNODC been doing under this framework, or this prevailing sentiment of member states who feel this way both in New York and in Vienna, right? Because in the past people thought, well, maybe it's different in Vienna, they're in their own cocoon there, they don't see the reality of broader politics, but we see in New York things are the same, here.

So we've been working to support member states in terms of helping them with focusing on health and human rights based approach, sustainable development, and rule of law approach, providing technical assistance, and in particular assistance in collecting data in a reliable and science -- scientific evidence based way, something that we find quite lacking, data being collected, be it for compulsory treatment, which is something we don't want to see, or treatment in general, or deaths related to drugs, directly or indirectly. We don't see good figures on that.

One of the things that we've been doing is increasing our collaboration with other UN agencies, particularly something very important that we've just released with WHO on treatment and care for people with drug use disorders in contact with the criminal justice systems and alternatives to conviction or punishment.

This is becoming increasingly more well received by member states who may not have been as familiar with this as we would have liked, and so, that has been quite useful.

As we reported in the 2018 World Drug Report, production of different drug types has reached record levels. Our colleagues have said that already, and nevertheless, the number of problem drug users, around 31 million, while increasing with the global population, has not risen in step with production.

The number of deaths due to drug use, both directly as a result of overdoses and indirectly as attributable to HIV and other diseases is considerable, and is a preventable tragedy. We say that the increase has been 7.2 percent increase since -- between 2010 and 2016, in terms of drug deaths that are directly or indirectly the cause of -- be it overdose, which would be directly, or indirectly, maybe, because somebody has died from HIV AIDS while they initially got -- contracted the AIDS from needle injection.

We give a figure of 7.2 percent increase, and I see that in the IDPC report the figure that they give is a 145 percent increase. I know that there's been some discussion with IDPC to talk about how they are putting that figure together and they're reviewing it, but I think you also have to be very careful about how you pick these figures.

Are you looking at figures of -- from 2005 to 2011, are you looking at figures from 2010 to 2016, and are you looking at figures of all deaths, are you looking at figures of just those that are directly from drugs, and more importantly, if you're saying there is an increase and the population has also increased, is there really a percentage increase?

Is it just that the number of people in the world, deaths in general, and births in general, have increased, and so too would the number of people who die from drugs, without there being an actual percentage increase.

The other thing that I wanted to say is that right now, there are undeniable challenges, and no matter how much we advocate together with one voice in the UN system for more to be done on access to medications, for more to be done in terms of helping people in prisons and women in particular, who not only, you said women, they're put into prisons or jails, it's more often than not drugs.

But even worse than that figure is the fact that when women are put in jail, the consequences that they suffer are far more dangerous than men, be it because of stigma, be it because family networks disintegrate because people may support a man put in prison and they will not do so with women, but also, when women are put into incarcerative circumstances, they are 35 percent more likely to be -- 35 percent of all women are put in prison because of drugs while only 19 percent of all men are put in prison because of drugs.

So that is an area where we want to see some more work done in terms of the adverse consequences on women.

I've two minutes left, so let me just see what else I want mention. Death penalty. Here we have a very interesting situation, where Craig's good office, on behalf of the Secretary-General, every five years produces an excellent report on the abolition of the drug -- of the death penalty, and I will trade my report with yours, if you allow me to do so, and every five years, UNODC, on behalf of the Secretary-General, produces a report on how to minimize the use of the death penalty, use it in only the most serious cases if you're going to use it in conformity with the ICCPR, and to have due process around using it.

But, be it Craig or myself, we are both against the death penalty. That is the Secretary-General's view and all UN agencies' views, but there is something to be said, in addition to blanket condemnations, which we all are for, for quiet diplomacy. To talk to some of these member states quietly, and get them to, if not remove the death penalty from their books, which we all would like to see, not to implement it.

And we have been successful with some member states in the last couple of years in that, and I won't mention which member states but I think all of you know.

At the end of the day, what I really would like to say, that engagement and targeted pressure can work. Sometimes with quiet diplomacy, sometimes with strong condemnations, but we need both. And the impact of the drug problem is not the same around the world. Risk and regulation mean one thing in Canada or California and another thing in Kabul.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Simone Monesabian. She's director of the New York office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. She was speaking there at the event Beyond 2019: The Future of Drug Policies and the Lessons Learned.

For now, that's it. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're 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.

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We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, 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.