Pubdate: Tue, 09 Jun 1998
Source: Inter Press Service


UNITED NATIONS, (June 9) IPS - A former U.N. Secretary-General has joined an
international coalition of some 500 academics, scientists and political
leaders in urging the world body to call off its "failed and futile"
anti-drug policies.

"We appeal to you to initiate a truly open and honest dialogue regarding the
future of global drug control policies -- one in which fear, prejudice and
punitive prohibitions yield to common sense, science, public health and
human rights," says the coalition, that now includes former U.N. chief
Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru.

A letter to current U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, says that, much as it
is deeply concerned about the threat of drugs to children, it is dismayed
that the United Nations has not shown any willingness to ask and address
tough questions about the success or failure of its efforts against drugs.

The letter, whose signatories include Nobel Laureate and ex-Costa Rican
president Oscar Arias, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and U.S.
Senators Alan Cranston and Claireborne Pell, was released yesterday to
coincide with the opening of a three-day U.N. summit meeting on the World
Drug Problem.

The letter says that the world's $400-billion-a-year drug trade has only
empowered organized criminals, corrupted governments at all levels, eroded
internal security, stimulated violence, and distorted both economic markets
and moral values.

"These are the consequences not of drug use per se, but of decades of failed
and futile drug war policies," the letter adds.

The coalition argues that the rise in drug consumption should be tackled on
the level of a public health problem than a law enforcement problem.
"Realistic proposals to reduce drug-related crimes, disease and death are
abandoned in favor of rhetorical proposals to create drug-free societies,"
the letter notes.

Ethan Nadelmann of the Lindesmith Center, a research institute studying drug
policies, said the letter represents tremendous progress in the struggle for
reforming drug policy.

"Just 10 years ago, anyone who raised these issues was dismissed out of hand
and falsely accused of promoting drug use. Today we stand with presidents,
prime ministers, law enforcement officials and Nobel laureates on the side
of open debate and public health," he said.

The Washington-based Human Rights Watch said the 185-member U.N. General
Assembly should affirm unequivocally the international community's
determination that human rights must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of
counter-narcotic goals.

"The record of human rights violations committed by states in the name of
drug control should be cause for grave concern to the international
community," the human rights organization said.

Human Rights Watch said its research has found that many anti-drug tactics
trample rights of life, liberty and privacy, the right to fair trial and the
right to be free of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
"Such human rights violations are either authorized by national law or,
although unlawful, constitute a common practice committed with impunity by
state agents," it added.

The rights organization singled out China where "thousands of people are
executed each year for drug offenses", often following trials that are
"notoriously lacking in due process protections for the accused."

Drug offenders also face the death penalty in China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq,
Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Vietnam and the United
States. The quantities of drugs that trigger death sentences can be small,
Human Rights Watch said. In Vietnam, for example, selling as little as one
hundred grams of drugs can be punished with death and in Singapore, the sale
of a mere half an ounce of heroin or 500 grams of marijuana carries a
mandatory death sentence.

Human Rights Watch says it does not challenge any state's decision to use
the criminal law in its efforts to curtail drug abuse and trafficking. "To
an extent far greater than other drug control policies, however, the use of
the criminal law and sanctions implicates - and hence is subject to -
important human rights constraints."

Ken Bluestone, of the London-based Catholic Institute for International
Relations, says that his organization is demanding that all UNDCP anti-drug
programmes be monitored effectively and evaluated against the criteria of
respect for human rights, good governance, environmental protection and
women's rights. "To be successful, these process should facilitate the
participation of civil society groups, especially those representing poor
small-scale farmers," he said.

Asked about increased participation by non-governmental organizations in
formulating anti-drug policies, Pino Arlacchi, head of the U.N.
International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), told reporters that any such
decision should be take by member states.

"We are open to all ideas. We are not holding a monopoly on anything," he added.

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Checked-by: Melodi Cornett