September 13th, 2016
Former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and businessman and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson—all members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy—have written an open letter to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy was established in 2011 and comprises several prominent former heads of state, including former presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland, and other heavyweight international leaders. It favors harm reduction strategies and decriminalization, and was highly critical of the failure of this year’s UNGASS drug policy summit in New York to produce meaningful change.
Here is the full text of their letter to Duterte:
The Global Commission on Drug Policy was born from the recognition that the prohibitionist and repressive “war on drugs,” which has persisted for the past 50 years, has failed. Drugs have always existed and have existed everywhere, and it is illusory to believe that their use can be eradicated completely, particularly through violent methods.
Indeed, four members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy were heads of state (Brazil, Mexico, Poland and Portugal) when the United Nations approved in 1998 a 10-year strategy to create drug-free societies. Ten years later, however, drugs produced, trafficked and consumed were more available than when the decision was taken—and that upward trend has continued since. We now admit that a war on drugs will always prove unable to prevent drug supply and use in the long term, leading only to more pain and suffering.
For example, the levels of supply of “shabu,” of particular concern in your country, appear to be equally high in Thailand and Malaysia as in the Philippines, despite repressive policies. In contrast, countries as diverse as New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, Uruguay, Bolivia, Portugal, the Czech Republic, and West African nations are now considering and even implementing alternatives, including laws regulating the use, possession and/or production of drugs, with marked success in harm and crime reduction. Even the military regime in Thailand has recognized its failure to reduce drug trafficking, calling it “an unwinnable war.”
Mr. President, we believe that your current strategy also constitutes an unwinnable war, at a terrible cost to your population. It is not a question of choosing between human rights and the safety of your people, as you have claimed, but the means employed to address crime must not result in further crimes against individuals whose conduct often causes very little harm. We acknowledge that your people are concerned with high crime and corrupt institutions; there is little evidence to show, however, that drugs represent the root of the widespread corruption and insecurity which your countrymen are concerned about.
Repressive and punitive actions, based on the inhumane idea of sacrificing the lives of some to enhance the lives of the majority, are not only ineffective but also undermine the social fabric of your communities, with serious negative consequences: innocent victims killed on mere suspicion, orphaned children, fear of law enforcement and arbitrary justice even among law-abiding citizens, increased HIV transmission rates, and prison overcrowding.
An effective drug policy is far more complex than you portray it, and should include investments in drug prevention and treatment, harm reduction, public health, socioeconomic development, criminal justice reform, as well as in security. These measures will help address the root causes of drug use and trafficking, and not only respect the needs and rights of all individuals but will also be far more effective long-term than the brutal approach which you currently favor.