According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, decades of punitive strategies in many countries – including the Philippines – in dealing with the narcotics problem, have failed to prevent the consumption and spread of illegal drugs.
UN Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk called for transformative changes in drug policies to make sure such policies adhere to basic principles of human rights.
“From violent crime, to ruin and loss of life, to mass incarceration – the toll is unbearably heavy,” Turk said. “But if drugs destroy lives, the same can also be true of drug policies.”
He said a review of drug policies should have full participation of civil society – with input from people who use drugs – and all of relevant UN bodies, to ensure that drug policies are grounded in human rights, health, and development.
“I recent years we have seen some politicians directing hatred against people who use drugs; declaring ‘war’ against their own people because of drug-related criminality; militarizing drug law enforcement and, in a few cases, resorting to measures such as widespread extrajudicial killings,” Turk said.
“It is clear to many that the ‘war on drugs’ is not working. And a number of countries have led the way forward,” he added.
He explained the ‘war on drugs’ paradigm is also detrimental to public health, nothing that fear of arrest and widespread stigma around drug use prevent people who use drugs from accessing health care.
The rights chief called on nations to stop the war on drugs, “instead, let us focus on transformative change, crafting drug policies which are based on evidence, which put human rights at their center, which are gender sensitive and which ultimately improve the lives of millions of individuals affected,” he added.
Turk stated that police forces need to serve and protect everyone in society.
It is likely that it is the experiences of Filipinos, who have had to endure their government’s prosecution of a brutal drug war that lasted many years and taken thousands of lives, fueled much of any UN study that concluded that engaging in a war on drugs is not effective.
If our current government is willing to listen to the science, and has the will and ability to recalibrate how it intends to face the drug menace in a manner that is hopefully more effective and humane, it should be worth a shot.*