Pubdate: Sun, 01 Dec 2013
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Jamie Doward


Latin American Nations Call for a Treatment Strategy, Not Prison Terms

Major international divisions over the global "war on drugs" have 
been revealed in a leaked draft of a UN document setting out the 
organisation's long-term strategy for combating illicit narcotics.

The draft, written in September and seen by the Observer, shows there 
are serious and entrenched divisions over the longstanding US-led 
policy promoting prohibition as an exclusive solution to the problem.

Instead a number of countries are pushing for the "war on drugs" to 
be seen in a different light, which places greater emphasis on 
treating drug consumption as a public health problem, rather than a 
criminal justice matter.

It is rare for such a document to leak. Normally only the final 
agreed version is published once all differences between UN member 
states have been removed.

The divisions highlighted in the draft are potentially important. The 
document will form the basis of a joint "highlevel" statement on 
drugs to be published in the spring, setting out the UN's thinking. 
This will then pave the way for a general assembly review, an event 
that occurs every 10 years, and, in 2016, will confirm the UN's 
position for the next decade. "The idea that there is a global 
consensus on drugs policy is fake," said Damon Barrett, deputy 
director of the charity Harm Reduction International. "The 
differences have been there for a long time, but you rarely get to 
see them. It all gets whittled down to the lowest common denominator, 
when all you see is agreement. But it's interesting to see now what 
they are arguing about."

The current review, taking place in Vienna at the UN Commission on 
Narcotic Drugs, comes after South American countries threw down the 
gauntlet to the US at this year's Organisation of American States 
summit meeting, when they argued that alternatives to prohibition 
must be considered.

Countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico have become 
increasingly critical of the UN's prohibition stance, claiming that 
maintaining the status quo plays into the hands of the cartels and 
paramilitary groups.

The draft reveals that Ecuador is pushing the UN to include a 
statement that recognises that the world needs to look beyond 
prohibition. Its submission claims there is "a need for more 
effective results in addressing the world drug problem" that will 
encourage "deliberations on different approaches that could be more 
efficient and effective".

Venezuela is pushing for the draft to include a new understanding of 
"the economic implications of the current dominating health and law 
enforcement approach in tackling the world drug problem", arguing 
that the current policy fails to recognise the "dynamics of the drug 
criminal market".

Experts said the level of disagreement showed fault lines were 
opening up in the globally agreed position on drug control. "Heavy 
reliance on law enforcement for controlling drugs is yielding a poor 
return on investment and leading to all kinds of terrible human 
rights abuses," said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open 
Society Global Drug Policy Program. "The withdrawal from the most 
repressive parts of the drug war has begun  locally, nationally and globally."

Attacking the status quo is not confined to South American countries, 
however. Norway wants the draft to pose "questions related to 
decriminalisation and a critical assessment of the approach 
represented by the so-called war on drugs". Switzerland wants the 
draft to recognise the consequences of the current policy on public 
health issues. It wants it to include the observation that member 
states "note with concern that consumption prevalence has not been 
reduced significantly and that the consumption of new psychoactive 
substances has increased in most regions of the world". It also wants 
the draft to "express concern that according to UNAids, the UN 
programme on HIV/ Aids, the global goal of reducing HIV infections 
among people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015 will not be reached, and 
that drug-related transmission is driving the expansion of the 
epidemic in many countries".

The EU is also pushing hard for the draft to emphasise the need for 
drug-dependence treatment and care options for offenders as an 
alternative to incarceration.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom