Sunday, June 26, 2011
World Drug Day- - Why have drug policies failed?
June 26 is the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1987. Today United Nation’s Offices of Drug and Crime (UNODC), in the developing world mainly, will be encouraging celebrations to mark World Drug Day. There will be sponsored speeches, sponsored processions waving sponsored placards, shouting sponsored slogans. What is there to wave and shout? Cultivation, trafficking, processing of synthetic substitutes and abuse of narcotics is higher than ever before. Increasing millions of drug users have limited access to treatment services, a basic violation of the right to health or life and the traffickers are more pushy.
On this day the UNODC invites a select audience (in the west no one bothers) to congratulate itself on a job done well. There are more drug users now than earlier. Evidence from UNODC’s own statistics disprove this:
147.4 million (1998) and 160 million (2008) an increase of 8.5%
13.4 million (1998) and 17 million (2008) an increase of 27%
12.9 million (1998) and 17.35 million (2008) an increase of 34.5%
Then there are more than 100 mln synthetic drugs users that keep increasing every day. This day is a reminder that despite global strategies and policies, there are a growing number of drug users and traffickers.
The reason for this vast gap between hopes and performance is that the UN willfully blinds itself to reality couching its actions behind approvals by false prophets, puppet experts and committees that do what financially powerful countries want them to do.
Here is an example of how they deceive themselves. Antonio Costa, the former head of UNODC, in the 2008 World Drug Report’s Preface boasted that in 1909 there were more than 43000 (41,600 were produced in China- Source: Report of the International Opium Commission, Vol. I, 1909) tons of opium were produced and a hundred years later just about 8000, attributing this success to UNODC’s efforts. The truth is that it was the Government of the People’s Republic of China that cut the production to almost 5% by 1952. At that time China was not even a member of the UN, and yet with tongue firmly in cheek the UNODC takes credit. Consequently, in the 50s cultivation of illicit opium increased dramatically in the so called Golden Triangle.
The UNODC has a long history of misinterpreting facts, ignoring facts and shaping its policies on that of the US. It obliged the US by sending a docile team in March, 2001 that certified, after visiting one small corner of Achin in Nangarhar, that the brutal Taleban they had not cultivated opium in the Afghanistan under their control. The US wanted this certification to justify building a pipe line to carry gas from Turkmenistan through West Afghanistan. The real reason for this fall in production was that there was severe drought and the opium crop suffered proportionately. Only 180 tons or so was produced. About 8 mln suffered from hunger in 2000-1, but this reason was ignored. India’s own satellite surveys had shown that sowing of opium was as usual (Frontline 14-27, September, 2002). You play with the devil and every one suffers. Banking on this fake goodwill a Taleban delegation was taken to the US to meet leaders of the UN and the US.
The US started supporting narcotics trafficking in SE Asia from the 50s when CIA sponsored the Sea Supply Corporation and in the 60s Air America. They ferried narcotics, arms and cash for insurgents. It did not matter who they were financing as long as they were anti-communists. In The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia Alfred McCoy gives many disturbing facts and figures proving this unethical support. The same tactic was repeated in France when the CIA financed the Corsicans to bash French communists later exposed as The French Connection but glamourised in an American friendly film of the same name. Pierre Chouvy’s excellent expose of this nexus can be read in his gripping book called Opium: Uncovering the Politics of Opium. In Latin America the Contras were encouraged by the CIA to finance their hideous activities from cocaine.
In 1971 Nixon declared a War on Drugs, and soon this slogan was adopted by the UN, which provided the cloak for the US dagger. After Nixon’s grand declaration the US increased its support to narcotics trafficking as long as communists were being targeted. In SE Asia there was massive increase in opium cultivation that was tolerated by the US while as late as 2000-2 drug users were being killed in Thailand and small opium farmers in the Kachin State of Myanmar. A fact ignored by the UNODC while congratulating Thailand and Burma for a job well done. In Afghanistan of the 80s poppy cultivation was encouraged by the CIA, which was instrumental in getting most of the 80 or so DEA agents ejected from Pakistan so that the Mujahideen and the Taleban could drug finance their war against the Najibullah government of Afghanistan. In Nicaragua the US supported the Contras in their narcotics trafficking in the 80s. This is the double speak that comes naturally to the US. And the UNODC never opposed it.
The Special Session on Narcotics, which the UN had organized (UNGASS) in 1998, had claimed that the War on Drugs would be over successfully by 2015. The session in 2008 was more sober and refrained from making any predictions though it still used suspect data to express optimism.
This myopia of the UNODC is nothing new. Their War on Drugs started from 1961 when a group of so called experts articulated their fears in the Single Convention of the UN and proposed terrible punishments. These experts had declared that by 1985 there would be no coca chewing and no cannabis use (Article 49 (2) e & f) amongst many other similar laughable hopes. Coca chewing was a hasty senseless ban, and cannabis use has increased manifold. This and the other two Conventions with similar flaws the UNODC resists changing. In India, 1985 saw the emergence of the draconian NDPS Act, with the inception of which the legal use of morphine for pain alleviation came down the following year from 1 mg to .3 mg per head. As the risks of taking narcotics were high so were the prices, so was adulteration, so was needle sharing and thus so was HIV Aids.
The themes of the past ten World Drug Days have been health of the drug user ignoring the equally important trafficking component of the original idea. After all about 300 mln of the world’s 7 bln are addicted to some drug or the other. Yet health is far from UNODC’s actions. They have not yet been able to support decriminalization of drug users. Such a move will improve the health of millions of drug users the world over. This stubbornness of the UNODC towards change has forced several countries to make their own path with much more success in containing drug abuse and trafficking. UNODC still echoes only what the US thinks.. war, war, war. Despite UNODC’s insistence on health being their most urgent concern it took them more than 15 years to take the first hesitant steps in 2005 to encourage harm reduction programmes for drug users. Harm reduction means reducing the risks to the health of drug users by giving them unadulterated substitutes, access to clean needles and syringes, services for sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis and tuberculosis, pain and distress management, psycho social support and employment opportunities. As the US had objected to it, the UNODC too did not adopt it for long. After pressure from more progressive countries could not be ignored they began endorsing it tentatively.
India too has suffered from UNODC’s obtuse adherence to the Conventions. In 1971 or so a onetime exemption was given to the Government to provide subsidized opium for registered users. At that time there were about 300,000 or so. In 1999 less than a hundred were left. But the actual number of opiate users in 1999 was about 2 mln. It was suggested to the UNODC then that another exemption could be given so that all these users could be identified and given subsidized opium. This move would have helped in their rehabilitation as well as prevented diversion from licit cultivation. The UNODC disagreed. India now has 3 mln opiates and several thousands of illicit opium cultivation in 7 states, and India’s narcotics establishment does not have the will to go against a mere paper even though its own people are suffering and being exploited. Many other countries ignore the inconvenience of being signatories and go ahead and do what they think is best for their people. E.g. Portugal, Brazil, Netherlands etc et al.
On the 2nd of June an appeal to end the War on Drugs (WOD), organized by the Global Commission on Drugs and prepared by the prominent Trans National Institute of Amsterdam some twenty former heads of state and foreign policy chiefs of the UN, EU, US, Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland etc and the serving PM of Greece criticized WOD as a complete failure and favoured decriminalization and regulation of drugs. Users of narcotics should be offered education and treatment, rather than being incarcerated, they advised. And countries which insist on continuing a "law enforcement" approach to drug crime should focus resources on taking down high-level traffickers, rather than arresting street dealers. A positive sign even though some of these leaders did not express themselves as strenuously when they were in power. A surprise inclusion was a former Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Anan during whose tenure UNGASS 1998 reaffirmed its faith in WOD. The US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said the report was misguided. Head of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Ivanov said "The aim of the report is to distract attention and not to allow the international community to consolidate efforts in the fight against a drug threat". Conveniently forgetting that 50 years of doing just that has only worsened the mess. For the sake of the well being of 300 mln drug users it is to be hoped that people in power do not wait till after retirement to speak what they feel.
The world’s narcotics bureaucracy still insists that this is the only way! Now though less is heard of the term WOD the policy prevails. The UNODC adopted the philosophy of the War on Drugs as well as the phrase. For the US Government it was only a hypocritical slogan as they continued to collaborate with insurgents and drug gangs to drug finance their wars against communism. This cooperation with drug traffickers covered Asia, Europe and Latin America and spanned 4 decades.
In India basic rights for drug users is still missing. Complete absence of justice. The national health policy also has ignored the drug users. 10 mln drug users and half a million serious drug users require medical help fast, but many of them are in jail, hardly enough rehab centres and no one bothers. In 2003 I had met a heroin using male model from Tarn Taran. He told me that 20% of all the youth in the border villages of Punjab are addicted. Today more than 50% of the youth in all the villages from Pathankot to Abohar are taking Afghan heroin despite arrest rates having shot up by 35%.
The reason for the drugs to mushroom has been the US’s failure to contain its own drug users and traffickers and its support to drug trafficking all over the world to serve its immediate political ends, and the UNODC’s inability to oppose it.
The war on drugs slogan dutifully adopted by the UNODC in the 80s meant actually war on only the drug users. Not on the traffickers, who are conspicuously absent from every World Drug Day themes. Everywhere, India included, most of the people incarcerated, harassed and prosecuted have been and are drug users. Many countries are trying to humanize their laws but they have incurred the skepticism and wrath of the Western Block.
US, the country that introduced WOD to the UN, has a drug problem that is out of control despite total war on drug users. About 21,000 dead of drug over dose in 2008. 21 mln addicts several of the injecting users being as young as 12 years. Yet it presumes to dictate to the world how it ought to tackle their problem. The UNODC has no Country Office to help them, as it does in every developing nation. WOD meant incessant attacks on the weakest in their society. In California, with 170,000 prisoners (40% for minor drug crimes and most of them Black) more money is spent on incarceration than on education. In a May 2011 TNI essay “Education or Incarceration” Tom Reifer, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of San Diego wrote “With only 5% of the world’s population, the US now has 25% of the world’s prisoners; ..... One indication of fiscal priorities is that the average starting salaries of California correctional officers are higher than those of Assistant Professors at the University of California....” This is the pillar of democracy that guides the UN by the collar. Mainly because it is its largest funder. $3.9 bln in 2008. Of the $470 mln budget of the UNODC the US with about $90 mln is the single largest contributor.
The many experienced people who have worked, uninfluenced, for a long time with all kinds of narcotics problems, say that the most sensible policy is to treat drug abuse as an ailment and to completely decriminalize it. 50 years of severity has only served to worsen all statistics. Several countries from Europe and Latin America have bucked the pressure, cynicism, scorn and opposition of the US, UK and the UNODC. They have liberalized their laws for drug users. Switzerland in 1991 and Portugal in 2001 and Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina too have all made laws easier for drug users. Portugal’s has been a carefully recorded change. They found that the drug abuse has come down and police is making bigger cases against traffickers. Bolivian President Evo Morales fed up with the obtuseness of the UNODC to continue with the ban on coca chewing brought a wad last year to a Conference in Vienna on drugs and chewed it to show that in his country it was a traditional pick me up with no after effects. Their high altitude miners chew it every day. He has threatened to pull out of the UN if this ban is not lifted. Hardly anyone is as outspoken as Morales. I have not heard of any specialized drug organisstions or dissenting countries aggressively pursue a review of all the three Conventions, which ought to be upper most in all agendas.
With casuistry, misrepresentation and fudging of facts being the weapons of the UNODC can there be any progress?
There is an impressive array of experience, good sense, and talent providing good guidance towards a future course of action to contain the drugs problem. All seem to accept the fact that the UNODC is indispensable. Instead of combining their energies to reform the world’s largest NGO they keep taking pot shots at it without making a dent. They are like dhows armed with bows and arrows attacking a battle ship. They should instead take charge of the steering wheel. Reform is a word that is anathema to the UN system. The UN system lacks confidence to such an extent that they fear that even a mild reform is “thin edge of the wedge” and will bring their house down. That is why in the past two years a loose coalition of countries led by the US and branding themselves as “Friends of the Convention” has come up to articulate their fears of reform. This motley collection has more money than sense, and thus a darling of UNODC.
Why does the UN shy away from reform, which is long overdue? In the past 50 years there has been change everywhere but not in the UNODC.
Indispensible it is but certainly not infallible. The UNODC is a useful organisation to coordinate world’s actions in controlling drug use. It is the only arrangement that can bring together about 190 countries to discuss common drug issues. That it has not been successful in its main goal is because it is not transparent, democratic and impervious to the clout of its large donors. It has cynically ignored those well meaning countries that have made a successful path of their own, refusing to learn from them.
The movement against UNODC’s policies has also its ample share of nuts, who say that Enforcement is responsible for drug wars and gang warfare (Report by specialists and doctors from the University of British Columbia wrote in The International Journal of Drug Policy March, 2011), and some who say that addiction to drugs is a matter of right (Harm Reduction Conference, Liverpool 2010) etc! The foolish war on drugs has spawned a similar moronic reaction. The UNODC is also the only International organisation that has the capacity to have ascendancy over this kind of extremism, but because it has so many frailties it is unable to do so. Typically of such one sided shoddy research is the fact that no one from enforcement participated. Such demented thinking harms attempts to reform as these Liliputian Quixotes are easily brushed aside and discredit the entire movement.
It ought to be realized that the well entrenched narcotics establishment as well as the UNODC cannot be dislodged. It has to be rebuilt.