Human Rights Groups Push for an End to the War on Drugs

Drug policy reform took center stage this week at a summit of the Americas with unprecedented support from human rights groups.

As several Latin American leaders focused the Organization of American States General Assembly on new possibilities for international drug control, civil society groups raised their voices as well, in favor of drug policies with a greater focus on health and human rights.

Delegates arriving to the summit received a letter from more than 50 organizations working on human rights and drug policy that called on “governments to strengthen their commitments on human rights in regards to drug policies and, accordingly, to discuss and rethink existing initiatives.”

The letter adds, “[P]rohibitionist policies and the war on drugs have intensified violent conflicts in the region, as they have created a huge illegal market controlled by complex criminal organizations.”

Shortly after, Human Rights Watch called on governments in the Americas to remove criminal penalties for personal use of drugs in order to engage problematic drug users in health services and to avoid harming people with criminal records.

A statement from Human Rights Watch, read, “Governments should also take steps to reduce the human rights costs of current drug production and distribution policies… Among the steps should be reforming law enforcement practices and exploring alternatives for legal regulation that would reduce the power of violent criminal groups.”

This was followed by an Avaaz petition that called on members of the Organization of American States “to allow individual countries to experiment with new strategies for curbing drug violence and crime.”

As of this writing, the petition has attracted more than 190,000 supporters

The summit, under the theme, “A comprehensive policy against the world drug problem in the Americas,” comes after the Organization of American States’ historic review of drug policy, which envisioned alternatives to prohibition, including experiments with legal market regulation or reform of the UN drug conventions.

It is hoped that this report will provide a framework for future international discussions on reform.

In a recent op-ed, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos wrote, “The time has come to discuss new approaches to dealing with the problems of drugs in the Americas. After four decades of a hard-fought ‘war on drugs’ the situation remains—in spite of progress in some areas—terribly and frustratingly stuck, with continued high levels of addiction, incarceration, and violence.”

The urgency of reform has never been clearer. Research from human rights groups and the supporting documents for last month’s drug policy review, documented the terrible consequences of current drug policies, including overcrowded prisons, health crises, and insecurity.

A study by Dejusticia, as part of the Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derechos found that penalties in seven Latin American countries have increased 521 percent since 1950. This is driving a catastrophic epidemic of mass incarceration in the region.

In addition, the drug trade creates immense financial rewards for organized criminal groups and drives violence in the region. A report on Colombia noted that activities associated with drug production cost between 4,600 and 7,000 lives each year, or up to 40 percent of the 17,700 homicides recorded in 2010.

The ongoing casualties of existing drug policy remind us how much more there is to do be done. At the same time, the pace of change and the volume of the debate reflect that momentum is clearly moving toward reform. 

8 Comments

The US Reagan administration created the MS13 and gang warfare by incarcerating them here in the US as "illegals" even though they had never lived in a Central American country. All they knew was America & English. They were dumped in CA and had to join the only family they knew- the MS13 and their rival gangs.

This War On Drugs is truly a crime against humanity. Only the criminal elite benefit. Do you want to see what one small issue with this outrageously stupid government action is causing? Click here: http://oneoldvet.com/?p=44788#comment-5105 but only if you have a strong stomach. Things like this are happening every DAY!! And after you watch that go here: http://www.avaaz.org/en/for_the_first_time_in_history/?vc Sign this petition to help end the War On Drugs.

Sadly, we can't place all responsibility on RayGun. Gang members must resign. An excellent PBS program called The Interrupters showed how adults can help kids quit gangs. I ask Mexican Americans (in Spanish) if anyone in Mexico uses marijuana, they laugh. We grow about half of our own and get some from Canadian basements. The world gets cocaine from Central and South America. Heroin goes from Afghanistan, grown by the Taliban in fields irrigated by American built infrastructure, through Moscow to Europe and beyond.

Thanks April, I look forward to watching that. It sounds interesting.

Drug abuse has been the greatest problem to developing countries. There should be collective responsibility in supporting such developing countries to come out of this problem Inadequate resources in such countries has made it difficult to stop drug abuse among the citizens especially the unemployed youth.. Let us join hands in eradicating drug abuse globally.

Thanks Bishop, This is definitely a team effort. In addition to focusing on prevention (which is indeed important) I'd say we should also work together to improve treatment options and make sure that a variety of services are available to people in a supportive policy environment. If we get this combination right, we may actually be able to make a huge difference. As you say, this getting this right is certainly a collective responsibility! Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

Like with many other issues, role and involvement of the government could be quite harmful. Like a loose canon on a ship that is firing on its own people.

x2! Well put!

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