Colombia’s President will call for a complete overhaul of international drug policy including decriminalization at a United Nations Assembly on Drugs in New York on Wednesday.
President Juan Manuel Santos will present a four-point plan to world leaders at the first UN summit on drugs in 18 years demanding “a more effective, lasting and human solution” to the fight against drugs.
Santos believes that Colombia’s imminent peace deal with the left-wing FARC who funded their armed campaign against the state with profits from drug-trafficking puts them in a position to the direct the discourse on drug policy.
The president will demand on Wednesday that international colleagues reform their approaches add to the efforts of the South American country.
According to Santos, “Colombia is close to reaching an agreement to end the 60-year armed conflict with the FARC [guerrilla group], an agreement which is of special relevance to this discourse on the ‘war on drugs’.”
Santos believes that the drug trafficking Marxist guerrillas who were bitter enemies of the state for decades could now become allies in reducing the number of illicit crops in Colombia due to his governments’ change in approach.
“In post-conflict Colombia, FARC will change from being an obstacle for effective action against drugs to a key ally of the government in contributing to illicit crops substitution, provision of information on routes and production facilities and de-mining efforts to facilitate eradication of coca production. That in itself is a game changer.”
Santos has long been a proponent of radically changing the global approach in the struggle against drug-trafficking.
In 2011, he urged that “a new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking.”
His proposals ahead of the UN summit center on four main areas of reform: a halt to the victimization of drug users; flexibility for individual countries to shape anti-drug policy for their specific needs; the establishment of a public health forum to treat drug consumption; and increased efforts to combat transnational crime.
Santos is demanding that the international community step up their efforts and embrace a new approach to reverse a failing anti-drug policy.
“We have done much,” he says, “but this cannot be an effort by one country alone. Vested with the moral authority of leading the nation that has carried the heaviest burden in the global war on drugs, I say I can tell you without hesitation, that the time has come for the world to transit into a different approach in its drug policy.”
The proposals of Santos call of radical change in the global mindset in relation to drug policy.
His first point asks the international community to place the drug prevention policy in the context of the promotion of human rights.
He requests that leaders “frame policy on drugs with a context of human rights, which stops victimizing the victims of drug abuse”.
“Under this principle,” he says, “we expect to progress in preventing stigmatization against drug users, abolishing death penalty for drug related offences and obligatory treatments for drug abusers, among other measures.”
His second argument follows this point as he argues that a “one size fits all” approach has been failing claiming that policy should be flexible and adjustable depending on the context of the individual country.
This loosening of international conventions could pave the way for the relaxation of laws on punishment for use and possession while still being subject to international supervision.
These adjustments which “occur outside the international conventions, controlled experiments in regulating the drug markets should continue to develop, and be monitored by UN agencies.”
Thirdly, Santos outlined a proposal to move from repressive treatment of the drug crisis and move towards a public health framework to provide for treatment and rehabilitation.
“We need a transition from a purely repressive response to introduce a public health framework to the treatment of drug consumption focusing on prevention, attention, rehabilitation and socialization of drug abusers,” he said.
Additionally he called for “alternative measures to prison” through “social and economic alternatives” that will “create the necessary conditions to bring them back to legality.”
The final argument of the Colombian President’s four-point plan highlighted the need for firm action by member states in combating transnational crime.
He said that states must “persist in combating transnational organised crime” while claiming that a lot can be learned from Colombia’s devastating history of drug-related violence.
Colombia, “will continue to offer its expertise and capabilities in combating these criminal enterprises to any country in the world that can benefit from our hard-earned experience,” he said.
In the lead up to Wednesday’s UN summit in New York three former Latin American presidents also urged the international community to accept that the anti-drug policy has been an “unmitigated disaster” and approach the meeting with an open mind for change.
Former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico spoke of their mistakes while in power in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.
“Outdated drug policies around the world have resulted in soaring drug-related violence, overstretched criminal justice systems, runaway corruption and mangled democratic institutions,” they wrote.
These sentiments were echoed by former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan last Friday.
“Drugs are dangerous, but current narcotics policies are an even bigger threat,” he said in a statement. “This is because punishment is given a greater priority than health and human rights. Prohibition has had virtually no impact on the supply of or demand for illicit drugs.”
Despite this, the UN has blocked the majority of member states and various health and human rights groups from participating in the forum which has already been criticized.