Monday, March 14, 2016

Civil society groups criticize UNGASS process (March 14, 2016)

The time has come for a broader international debate on alternatives to the current global drug policy. But ahead of the U.N.'s historic General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the "world drug problem" next month, civil society organizations have criticized ongoing discussions aimed at drafting the session's outcome document. They rely too heavily on an outdated law-and-order approach that emphasizes criminal justice and prohibition, reports the Associated Press.

Preparation talks are relying too heavily on traditional methods of fighting drug trafficking and related crimes. Instead they should be focusing on on alternative approaches to fighting the problem, including decriminalization, abolishing capital punishment for drug-related offenses and a focus on treatment, according to the Global Commission on Drug Policy coordinator, Ilona Szabo de Carvalho.

"Since it began in late 2015, the deliberations in Vienna have been neither transparent nor inclusive," said the commission in a statement last week. The group criticizes lack of transparency and space for the voices of civil society, concerned UN agencies, and the majority of UN member states to be heard.
While the document nods at human rights and public health concerns, it offers few solutions to address them. 

A group of 189 NGOs from around the world, including the Transnational Institute, have similar criticisms, saying the final document reflects denial more than diplomacy.

"The UNGASS process has failed to recognize the lack of progress achieved by international drug control over the past 50 years – substances under international control are more widely available and affordable than ever. It has failed to acknowledge the damage caused by current approaches: systemic human rights abuses, and continued use of the death penalty for drug offenses; exacerbation of HIV and hepatitis C transmission; intolerably inadequate access to controlled drugs for medical purposes; 187,000 avoidable drug-related deaths each year; violence, corruption and killings perpetuated by criminal drug markets; systemic stigmatization of people who use drugs; destruction of subsistence farmers' livelihoods by forced crop eradication; and billions of dollars of public money wasted on drug policies that demonstrably do not work."

In a similar vein, three former Latin American presidents, members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times last Friday. "The 'war on drugs' is an unmitigated disaster," write Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Cesar Gaviria, and Ernesto Zedillo. 

Criticizing the lack of acknowledgement of the "comprehensive failure of the current drug control system to reduce supply or demand," they point to innovative policy experiments around the world.

This includes Portugal, which decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001, a move that significantly benefited crime reduction and public health and Switzerland, where the national health plan now supports heroin-assisted treatment and maintenance doses for addicts in order to reduce harm to users.

In the Americas most countries are taking (baby) steps towards decriminalizing consumption of some drugs. And of course, there is Uruguay, which in 2013, passed a groundbreaking cannabis law with human rights as a central focus of the strategy.

News Briefs
  • After years of "deliberate, cautious" implementation of Uruguay's cannabis law, the first seeds for the legal pot market are finally in the ground and citizens will likely be able to purchase the substance around the country by the end of the year, reports Geoff Ramsey at WOLA. "Some have been critical of the Uruguayan government due to the slow rollout of the law since its passage, but the reality is that authorities there have consistently prioritized getting a legal cannabis market right over setting it up quickly." The piece has details on how the two companies who won contracts to grow cannabis for commercial purposes are operating and how the system will work in general. 
  • Protests were reported across Brazil, as hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered to demonstrate against government corruption and calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. It's the fifth such protest over the past year, and it seems the number of protesters was higher than before, reports the Washington Post. The movement against the governing Workers' Party regained momentum this month after prosecutors investigating widespread corruption at state-oil company Petrobras targeted former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, notes the New York Times.  
  • According to Datafolha there were more than 500,000 people on Sao Paulo's central Paulista Avenue — surpassing the historic protests demanding democracy at the end of military rule in 1984. That's more than double the amount at the previous biggest demonstration in March of last year. Police and organizer estimates were even higher. Nonetheless, despite the increased numbers, protesters are still an "elite" of the population, notes Folha de S. Paulo.
  • Yet, a point for concern for the government, some of the major protests were in former Workers Party strongholds in the north-east, according to the Guardian. (See last Monday's post.) Protestors hoped a massive turnout would push federal lawmakers to impeach Rousseff on charges that she manipulated public accounts to mask a growing budget deficit—an allegation she denies, reports the Wall Street Journal. This week lower house Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who is himself under investigation for corruption, is expected to form a commission this week to begin impeachment proceedings, reports the Associated Press. Rousseff has vowed not to step down however, and could have enough congressional support to avoid impeachment, notes the WSJ.
  • Rousseff might be further complicated by a potential break with the nation’s largest party, the PMDB, which is mulling leaving the ruling coalition it has formed a part of since 2011, reports the Wall Street Journal. At a convention on Saturday the party leadership decided to wait 30 days before leaving the alliance with the PT. 
  • In Venezuela anti and pro government demonstrators marched in Caracas on Saturday, though the gatherings remained peaceful, unlike similar protests two years ago, reports the Wall Street Journal. The opposition called for the liberation of detained politicians, who they consider political prisoners. The opposition MUD coalition called for a "negotiated exit" for President Nicolás Maduro, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See last Wednesday's post.)
  • The publisher of a prominent provincial newspaper in Venezuela, Correo de Caroni, was sentenced to four years in prison for defamation in the coverage of corruption at a state mining company. The newspaper's assets were also frozen and the court ordered the paper to stop covering the government-owned iron miner Ferrominera Orinoco, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See March 2's briefs on how countries in the Americas use criminal defamation laws to suppress freedom of expression.)
  • One of the top finishers in Haiti's much questioned presidential election, says he'll give the provisional government until March 24 to publish an electoral calendar. Afterwards Jovenel Moïse, the former President Michel Martelly's handpicked successor who came in first in elections accused of rampant fraud, will hit the streets stay there. Run-off elections will theoretically be held April 24, reports the Miami Herald.
  • In a New York Times op-ed the nephew of murdered Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres, Silvio Carrillo, denounces a campaign of "information obfuscation" by the Honduran government and police. "Much more international pressure can and should be leveled at the Honduran government — for an independent international investigation to uncover not just the triggermen, but also the highest-ranking authors of this attack and so many other killings of activists." (See March 4's post.)
  • Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer criticizes U.S. President Barack Obama's upcoming Cuba trip as "premature, poorly planned and wrong." In particular he focuses on the exhibition baseball game he will attend with Cuban President Raul Castro. He quotes Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas department of the Human Rights Watch, who says such a warm embrace "will make Cubans wonder whether Obama is sincere when he talks about defending human rights in Cuba."
  • In his address in Havana later this month, Obama will invoke "the ingenuity and success" of Cuban-American exiles, according to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, reports the Miami Herald. The key White House aide was trying to reassure anxious or angry exiles ahead of the trip.
  • Swarms of American prospectors who have traveled to Cuba over the past 15 months seeking business deals have found that the two countries have very different visions of economic engagement, reports the New York Times. The result so far has been few of the concrete business deals that would signal normalization between the two countries. (See Friday's post.) That being said, at least three major U.S. corporations are pushing to complete deals to do business, according to the Wall Street Journal. AT&T, Starwood Hotels and Mariott International are expected to announce agreements with Cuban government-run entities.
  • Ten months into his five year term, OAS head Luis Almagro has used his position to accuse the Venezuelan government of trying to rig last year's National Assembly elections and has been heartened by the ire he attracted from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. In an interview with the Miami Herald he details how he is seeking to revive an organization that is facing increasing competition from regional bodies in Latin America and decreasing impact. 
  • A corruption fighting initiative in Mexico could be the country's first legal initiative proposed directly by the people. The bill seeks to force all public servants to make three documents public: a detailed description of their assets and net worth, a list of their private interests and their tax returns. The initiative, dubbed "3-out-of-3," also contains other measures to improve accountability in government, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Vice reports on allegations of torture and mistreatment at a female prison in Morelos. The privately run Centro Federal de Readaptación Social (Cefereso) número 16 CPS Femenil Morelos was incorporated into the federal system last year. Relatives report beatings, threats, psychological mistreatment and denial of food, medication and inadequate prison conditions.
  • At least nine suspected criminals died in a shootout with security forces in Mexican border city of Reynosa in Tamaulipas state, reports the Associated Press.

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