LESSONS FROM VIENNA
months ago, in April, a special meeting took place of the UN Commission on
Narcotic Drugs to evaluate global drug policies. Ministers gathered in
a decade aggregate coca cultivation in the Andean region, the main pro ducer in
the world, declined to 173,000 hectares. This is a major achievement in the
international against illicit drugs and related crime,” said Mr. Antonio Maria
things happened over the years in
from the dubious claims of successes, the mid-term evaluation at the UN in
Such smokescreens are not convincing. A mid-term review restricted to descriptions of local or temporary fluctuations in the illicit market and to a process-oriented evaluation of implemented measures leads to a distorted picture of virtual progress. To argue –as has been the pattern for the past 40 years– that the answer should be to simply increase law enforcement, judicial cooperation and eradication efforts, are no longer credible. If evaluation is meant for learning lessons and improving policy effectiveness, it cannot escape an assessment of the impact on global drug trends and of the costs and collateral damage inflicted by the control measures. Genuine evaluation can lead to inconvenient conclusions and therefore presupposes a political willingness to question the validity of existing policies. As the chairman of the UK Home Affairs Select Committee on drugs, Chris Mullin, concluded last year:
"Attempts to combat illegal drugs by means of law enforcement have proved so manifestly unsuccessful that it is difficult to argue for the status quo."
On supply reduction side, there is an astonishing lack of sound argumentation about the consequences and impact of policy interventions on the illicit market. The general assumption seems to be that eradication and interdiction operations contribute to achieving the aim of supply reduction simply because they are meant to do so. Market responses, displacement of production and counter-measures by criminal groups involved are well known phenomena, but rarely taken into account when judging the impact of policy interventions. Very basic questions are rarely posed. For example, if price developments are a useful indicator of drug availability, there are no data on the basis of which one could argue that eradication efforts and the many seizures of shipments have ever reduced the availability on the consumption markets. Wholesale and retail prices show a downward trend while purity is rising, which means there is no shortage on the market.
UN drug policy making is a consensus-driven machinery. The declarations are not the result of a rational analysis of facts, but based on political compromises. Behind the apparent unanimity of the outcomes of the Vienna meeting, lies a longstanding conflict between nations desperately trying to maintain the status quo of a prohibition regime rooted in ‘zero tolerance’, and those recognising its failure, illusion and hollow rhetoric who are opting for a more rational, pragmatic and humane approach, the trend with its centre of gravity in Europe, Canada and Australia. It is evident that there is a growing divergence, a polarisation. At the UN level this has led to an impasse which can only be broken by means of a genuine evaluation of the adopted strategies, goals and targets with an open mind towards future policy directions.
There are four priority issues where the impasse at the UN level urgently needs to be broken: the introduction of harm reduction in the UN drugs debate, an accommodation of the cannabis decriminalisation trend, the opening up of room for manoeuvre on supply side, and an initiative aiming to revise the UN drug control conventions.
1. Harm reduction in the UN drugs debate
The moment has arrived for a breakthrough for the harm reduction or risk reduction concept. At the very least it should become a normal and accepted part of the debate on the UN level. In the Action Plan adopted in 1999 to implement the UNGASS Guiding Principles on Demand Reduction, countries committed themselves to offer “the full spectrum of services, including reducing the adverse health and social consequences of drug abuse”. The Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS adopted at the UNGASS of June 2001, specifically calls on nations to ensure, by 2005, expanded access to clean needles and to promote “harm reduction efforts related to drug use”.
of considerable national differences, there is an irreversible trend across
2. Cannabis decriminalisation
There is also a growing recognition of the need to distinguish between recreational use and problematic use and a shift in policy focus accordingly, concentrating policy efforts on the relatively small group of problematic users. Only a minor percentage of recreational users develop problematic patterns of consumption. Especially for massively consumed substances like cannabis and XTC those percentages are so low that the world should stop fooling itself by putting them in the same category as heroin.
inclusion of cannabis in the 1961 Convention was a mistake from the very start
and including it again in the elimination target for 2008 is simply absurd.
Cultivation takes place everywhere, no-one has a clue about global production
and consumption figures anyway, more than a hundred million people use it
regularly for recreational purposes without creating major problems. There’s a
clear policy trend towards decriminalisation across
These policy developments of Harm Reduction and cannabis decriminalisation taken together should lead to a change in climate at the level of UNODC, CND and INCB, the core triangle of the UN drug control machinery that so far has consistently rejected the use of these terms in the policy debate. This is in contrast to agencies like WHO, UNAIDS and UNDP that are already using the harm/risk reduction concept as a matter of course. Thus, the issue of UN system-wide consistency is also at stake here.
3. Room for manoeuvre on supply side
demand side, the tendency towards more pragmatic drug policies is gaining
ground. On the production side, however, there has been an escalation in
repressive approaches over the last decade. Desperate attempts to show
results in terms of counting hectares. Supply reduction efforts have created
great harms to individuals and to society at large, filling up prisons,
intensifying internal conflicts, increasing corruption, human rights
violations, destruction of livelihoods and environmental degradation. The
ongoing intensification of chemical spraying of crops in
All this takes place without producing convincing evidence that these harmful measures are in any way successful in what they are intended to do: to reduce the availability of drugs for consumption. All combined supply reduction efforts thus far – eradication, Alternative Development, interdiction – have failed in terms of global impact.
to open space for pragmatic policies towards illicit cultivation. More
flexibility in the negotiations with coca farmer unions in
The absence of latitude also hinders attempts in Alternative Development strategies, to justify more realistic gradual reduction schemes, adjusted to the slow pace of demand reduction and appropriate to the slow pace of securing alternative livelihoods. In the Alternative Development debate now in the context of the reconstruction in Afghanistan, the drugs issue is increasingly regarded as a cross-cutting issue, for which balanced responses have to be designed that take into account policy considerations in the areas of development, human rights, conflict resolution and prevention, etc. To enable balanced decision-making, however, there has to be room for manoeuvre. The mandatory character of the UN conventions leave no such room for manoeuvre regarding the cultivation of drug-linked crops.
The thematic evaluation of Alternative Development called for last year by the CND, could serve to explore options in the direction of pragmatic policies. The Resolution (CND 45/14) calls for "a rigorous and comprehensive thematic evaluation, for determining best practices in alternative development by assessing the impact of alternative development on both human development indicators and drug control objectives and by addressing the key development issues of poverty reduction, gender, environmental sustainability and conflict resolution". The same resolution by the way already recognised that "despite great efforts undertaken by many Member States to implement the Action Plan and despite the measures taken to reduce or eliminate illicit drug crops, the world supply of and demand for illicit drugs have remained at almost the same levels".
4. A revision of the drug control conventions
Greek Foreign Minister Papandreou has proposed to undertake "a thorough evaluation of the international drug treaties. We must verify their effectiveness, shortcomings must be brought into the open and proposals must be tabled to find new ways for formulating and applying drug policies". Countries need to have more leeway for experimentation and pragmatic approaches than the conventions now allow for. There is a growing tension between practice and theory, which should be addressed by adjusting the conventions to the requirements of practical policy, not the other way around.
Consensus on new approaches will not be found easily on the UN level. But European countries have sound reasons to be assertive about their achievements with pragmatic approaches, and to demand adjustments to the global legal framework that enable them to continue on the path they've democratically chosen for. The limits of latitude allowed under the conventions are being reached, as the INCB again points out in a rather nasty way in its report released last week. But, as the 1997 UN World Drug Report said: “Laws – and even the international Conventions – are not written in stone; they can be changed when the democratic will of nations so wishes it.”
To break the current impasse
political alliances have to be constructed. No country can withstand the
point always brought forward at the multilateral level from Latin American
side, is ‘co-responsibility’ interpreted as more money for Alternative
Development from the developed countries, critique on the US unilateral
certification mechanism, demanding more attention to the demand side, money
laundering, chemical precursors and synthetic drugs. In principle these are all
valid points, since the drug control system has long been biased placing the
burden on cultivation in Southern countries. And clearly the lobby on these
issues from countries like
The difficulty is how this North-South divide has affected the other divide, between tolerance and pragmatism. The Southern voice is rooted in a plea for funding combined with the accusation of hypocrisy. Basically arguing that Northern countries should not only compensate them for the income losses –for farmers and the national economy- but also should apply similar levels of repression to the part of the problem they are responsible for (demand, money laundering, precursors). Since the South feels indeed unduly pressured to not only extradite major traffickers, but also send their military to fight farmers and destroy livelihoods, they request the North not only to put controls on banks and chemical industry, but also to put their consumers in prison. In fact, Southern countries have aligned themselves at the UN level largely on the side of ‘zero tolerance’. Any leniency in terms of Harm Reduction or cannabis decriminalisation in European countries or Canada, is fiercely attacked from the side of African, Asian and also Latin American countries.
perverted interpretation of so called ‘co-responsibility’ and ‘balanced
approach’ has to be overcome. Alliances have to be constructed rooted in
pragmatic approaches and in solidarity with the victims of this War on Drugs on
both sides of the spectrum, be they in the North or in the South, consumers or
producers. The concepts of ‘co-responsibility’ and a ‘balanced approach’
between demand and supply sides have to be redefined. If countries here in
Latin America want to challenge the War on Drugs forced upon them, if they want
more leeway to negotiate with farmers, if they want to end forced eradication,
they will need to build a bridge with those countries in the North
experimenting with less repressive approaches, countries like Canada, the
Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, etc. Only if such a coalition of
like-minded countries could be brought together, and act in a coordinated
manner to explore more pragmatica drug policies for both the demand and the
supply sides, the UN level might become a useful forum. Only then, a stronger
political alliance can enforce a more open-minded debate about current
anti-drug strategies and challenge the
The inclusion of the drugs issue in the agenda of the World Social Forum process can play an important role in redefining the concept of co-responsibility, and defining a common agenda for such a like-minded coalition. By bringing together people from around the world and from the different ends of the spectrum, and by making linkages between drug policies and other social issues, like human, social and cultural rights, marginalisation and exclusion, the importance of survival economies, the impacts of neoliberal globalisation, conflict resolution and prevention, etc. Finally, an worldwide alliance of this nature can help to build pressure to push for the mentioned priority issues at the UN level, call for an an independent global evaluation of the current drug control system and put forward recommendations for a more just, more effective and more humane drug policy.
©2003 Mama Coca. Please share this information and help us to circulate it quoting Mama Coca.