Pubdate: Sun, 17 Apr 2016
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Juan Manuel Santos


Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, argues that his 
country's narco-related violent history illustrates exactly why a 
global rethink on prohibition should be the key discussion at this 
week's UN general assembly special session on drugs

How does one explain to a Colombian peasant in a rural community in 
the south-west of the country that he will be prosecuted under 
criminal charges for growing marijuana plants, while a young 
entrepreneur in Colorado finds his or her legal recreational 
marijuana business booming?

This is perhaps the most glaring paradox in the global debate over 
the "war on drugs". A war that on most counts shows little progress 
if contrasted with the amount of time, blood and treasure invested by 
so many nations with a view to dismantling a business that remains as 
strong and active as it was half a century ago.

During this period, Colombia has lost many of its best political 
leaders, policemen and soldiers, judges and prosecutors, in a 
relentless war against drug barons and their violent criminal 
organisations. Significant achievements have been made in terms of 
dismantling drug cartels, bringing to justice one drug kingpin after 
another, limiting their power, reducing the marijuana, coca and poppy 
cultivation, as well as the production of cocaine and heroin. But our 
gains have become other countries' losses. Drug traffickers adapt and 
change, making progress reversible.

Starting tomorrow, the United Nations is to hold a special session of 
its general assembly to address these issues, and Colombia will be 
there to present its view forcefully, at a crucial juncture in the 
country's history.

In this context, Colombia is close to reaching an agreement to end 
the 60-year armed conflict with Farc, the world's longest-running 
guerilla insurgency  an agreement that is of special relevance to 
this discourse on the war on drugs. In post-conflict Colombia, Farc 
will change roles, from being an obstacle for effective action 
against drugs to a key ally of the government in contributing to 
illicit crops substitution, provision of information of routes and 
production facilities and de-mining efforts to facilitate eradication 
of coca production. That in itself is a game changer.

We have done much, but this cannot be an effort by one country alone. 
Vested with the moral authority of leading the nation that has 
carried the heaviest burden in the global war on drugs, I can tell 
you without hesitation that the time has come for the world to 
transit into a different approach in its drug policy.

This is not a call for legalisation of drugs. It is a call for 
recognition that between total war and legalisation there exists a 
broad range of options worth exploring if we want to take better care 
of drug consumers, protect our youth from drug abuse, collaborate to 
continue combating organised crime and provide alternative economic 
means to illegal crop farmers and vulnerable communities.

Colombia has played a leading role in promoting a regional and global 
debate in the hope that it will ultimately bring the international 
community closer to a broad consensus on this new approach.

After an interview with this newspaper in 2011 outlining our 
position, our first milestone was achieved in 2012 during the Summit 
of the Americas in Cartagena, where the heads of state of the western 
hemisphere agreed to establish a mandate for the Organisation of 
American States (OAS) to produce a report on options for refocusing 
the regional approach on drugs control. In 2013 the OAS concluded the 
analysis and presented its report to the region. Since then, the 
report has been debated all across the Americas and has influenced 
public policy changes and adjustments in various countries, including Colombia.

During an extraordinary assembly of the OAS in September 2014 in 
Guatemala, the hemisphere approved a joint resolution that marked the 
beginning of a new phase in the regional approach to counter the 
challenges posed by the world drug problem.

This regional consensus provided momentum to the process, but we know 
that in order to achieve the best possible results we need to move 
into a global consensus. That is why the UN summit presents a golden 
opportunity to bring the international community behind this new approach.

Colombia and an important number of countries from the five 
continents have taken the lead in the road to the summit, known as 
Ungass 2016, with a proposal around four fundamental elements, four 
issues that need urgent attention if progress is to be made.

The first is to frame policy on drugs with a context of human rights, 
which stops victimising the victims of drug abuse. A policy to 
confront the world drug problem must include the provisions of the 
international human rights conventions along with the drug control 
conventions. Both sets of legal instruments share an ultimate goal, 
which is preserving the "health and wellbeing of humanity". Under 
this principle, we expect to progress in preventing the 
stigmatisation of drug users, abolishing the death penalty for 
drug-related offences and obligatory treatments for drug abusers, 
among other measures.

The second is to achieve autonomy and flexibility under the current 
conventions. Without reforming or replacing the existing 
international drug control conventions, it should be possible to 
guarantee enough national autonomy for interpretation and flexibility 
to adopt national policies that take into account local realities and 
challenges - such as ours in Colombia, and other countries with their 
own situations and priorities.

Although they occur outside the international conventions, controlled 
experiments in regulating the drug markets should continue to 
develop, and be monitored by UN agencies, towards further discussion 
at the next summit following this next week, the 2019 Ungass.

Third, we need a transition from a purely repressive response towards 
a more comprehensive approach. We need to introduce a public health 
framework to the treatment of drug consumption focusing on 
prevention, attention, rehabilitation and re-socialisation of drug 
abusers. We must adopt alternatives to prison for drug-related 
offences, depending on the severity of the offence, and prioritising 
an effective rehabilitation and re-socialisation of offenders. We 
need to provide social and economic alternatives to small growers of 
illegal crops and other vulnerable communities in order to create the 
necessary conditions to bring them back to legality.

Fourth and last, we must persist in combating transnational organised 
crime. The implementation of the previous three elements should not 
affect national action and international co-operation in the effort 
to counter criminal rings associated with the illegal drugs business. 
On the contrary, all nations should increase their efforts and 
strengthen international co-operation initiatives to make this task a 
more effective one. Colombia will continue to offer its expertise and 
capabilities in combating these criminal enterprises to any country 
in the world that can benefit from our hard-earned experience.

No other nation has had to endure the terrible effects of the world 
drug problem in such magnitude and over such extended period of time 
as Colombia. The international community can rest assured that, when 
we call for a new approach, we are not giving up on confronting the 
problem; we are moved by the aim of finding a more effective, lasting 
and human solution.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom