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iDEFEND renews call for an end to the war on drugs, citing IDPC report

The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) report on the global failure to address illegal drugs cited the gruesome results of drug wars waged around the world:

  • A 145 per cent increase in drug-related deaths over the last decade, totaling a harrowing 450,000 deaths per year in 2015.

  • At least 3,940 people executed for a drug offence over the last decade, with 33 jurisdictions retaining the death penalty for drug offences in violation of international standards.

  • Around 27,000 extrajudicial killings in drug crackdowns in the Philippines.

  • More than 71,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2017 alone.

  • A global pain epidemic, resulting from restrictions in access to controlled medicines, which have left 75 per cent of the world’s population without proper access to pain relief.

  • Mass incarceration fuelled by the criminalization of people who use drugs – with 1 in 5 prisoners incarcerated for drug offences, mostly for possession for personal use.

In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) agrees with IDPC that the decade-long UN Drug Policy has not been successful and even made situations worse. This is because most States have not pursued a policy anchored on a strategy that is evidence-based, integrated, balanced and sustainable. 

Despite overwhelming evidence that unproductive and devastating hard-lined, prohibitionist, criminalization, supply reduction-centered and purely or largely law enforcement approach failed,  most states obstinately continued to employ, and in many cases, even intensified its implementation which has only led to the ‘professionalization’ of the drug trade (made the drug trade more efficient), made substances more impure, potent and deadly, led to illicit drugs flooding the market, as has happened in the Philippines, where President Duterte said it has now become a multi-billion peso industry. Illegal drugs have further proliferated and become more accessible.

This ineffective path has had severe impacts and grave consequences on human beings and society, with human rights groups saying the Philippines has become a country of grieving and angry orphans. Systematic human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings are often perpetrated with enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment as well as mass incarceration of suspected drug offenders.

The 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs- Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem and UNGASS 2016 already puts forward strategies which should have replaced the ‘War on Drugs’, and these are methods which have been proven to actually work based on good practice. This is the compassionate, evidence-based, integrated, balanced, human rights anchored and public health centered approach which have been proven effective in bringing down pervasive drug dependency and supply in various contexts around the world. At the heart of this strategy is decriminalizing drug dependency and shielding drug users and dependents from any harm/violence which the law enforcement side of the integrated policy may cause.

The Philippines is far from considering that approach. It remains the world’s ‘exhibit A’ on the failure of the ‘War on Drugs’ because of its consequences- how it has brutalized and dehumanized impoverished Filipinos, how it has made human life extremely cheap, how it gave rise to corruption and sexual exploitation, and its central role in the resurgence of dictatorship and the near-demise of democracy in the country.

Not only has the Duterte administration completely negated its international human rights obligations, it has done the complete opposite of undertaking its duties under the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) 2016 outcome document by establishing a permission structure for mass murder which made the prohibitive and punitive Philippine drug policy much more violent and deadlier.

On February 2017, the former President of Colombia, in an OP-ED in the New York Times advised Duterte and others implementing the War on Drugs that the use of force will not solve the drug problem and that they should learn from Colombia’s experience. Similar caution has come from Thailand which has seen the killing of more than 3,000 drug suspects in early 2000. Negating these warnings as well as those from many others including local actors such as iDEFEND, the situation in the Philippines now mirrors the ramifications of the Colombia War on Drugs, and is nowhere near solving it.

President Duterte has shielded law enforcers from prosecution as proven by the very few cases being filed in courts. He has promised amnesty to any law enforcement agent who will be convicted of a crime in pursuance of the war on drugs, thus providing them a license to become more violent and predisposed to shortcuts, and the mobilization of death squads has raised the level of impunity to an unprecedented level. An environment in blatant disregard for the rule of law, and where due process is regularly circumvented has affected human security in the region, with Indonesia and Bangladesh considering a similar approach.

The consequences of the Philippines’ drug war are a multi-fold human rights calamity: the erosion of democratic institutions, the chipping away of the justice system, the damage to civic behaviour and collective sociopathy among Filipinos, the disintegration of human rights culture and the erosion of the sense of accountability of even the most decent and law abiding police officers, the rolling back of the human rights education work gains by human rights organizations and the Commission on Human Rights for the past 32 years. From this cornerstone policy emerged the worst vilification of human rights defenders and distortion of human rights principles.

As early as August 2016, iDEFEND proposed 3 main recommendations for the Duterte administration:

  1. Abandon the hard-lined, violent and law-enforcement only approach and put into motion an evidence-based, integrated, balanced, human rights & public health centered response to the drug issue. This should include the decriminalization of drug dependency.

  2. Radical reforms in the expensive, inoperable and anti-poor Criminal Justice System so that justice can flow here (with safeguards and checks and balances) instead of “the streets”.

  3. Address the root cause by investing in a life of dignity for all and address the poverty inducing socio-economic system. This is with recognition of the premise that the root cause of drug use/dependency and crime prevalence is widespread abject poverty, that there is a direct relationship between the decrease of crime and drug dependency and the rise of a standard of living. In the Philippines, there is a huge market of beaten down, impoverished individuals predisposed to being exploited into a life of crime and drug dependency.

iDEFEND has been monitoring the Duterte government’s patterns of action for the past two years and can now confidently conclude empirically that the War on Drugs in the Philippines is a sham war. This War on Drugs is a Duterte tool to consolidate and advance the President’s authoritarian agenda. He has politically weaponized the drug war by doing sample ‘narco politician assassinations’ and judicial harassment of political opponents to beat the opposition and the entire bureaucracy into silence, submission and subservience/obedience.

iDEFEND hopes that the 62nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2019 will be a venue for States to review the devastating consequences of allowing the global war on drugs to continue by subjecting the Philippine situation under its sharp lens.

iDEFEND supports the call of IDPC for a comprehensive overhaul of the global drug policy approach.