U.N. development chief flags failings of "war on drugs"

MEXICO CITY Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:57am GMT

U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark speaks during a meeting of Resident Coordinators and Resident Representatives of the U.N. in the Middle East and North Africa, in Rabat March 30, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark speaks during a meeting of Resident Coordinators and Resident Representatives of the U.N. in the Middle East and North Africa, in Rabat March 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - There is increasing evidence that the war on drugs has failed, with criminalization often creating more problems than it solves, said Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Program.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's presentation of the UNDP's 2013 Human Development Report, Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister, said Latin American leaders should be encouraged to develop different policies to tackle the drug scourge.

"I've been a health minister in my past and there's no doubt that the health position would be to treat the issue of drugs as primarily a health and social issue rather than a criminalized issue," Clark told Reuters in an interview.

"Once you criminalize, you put very big stakes around. Of course, our world has proceeded on the basis that criminalization is the approach," she added.

Clark did not prescribe remedies to the Latin American governments but said they should "act on evidence," noting that she favoured treating drugs as a public health problem.

In recent years, many Latin American governments have begun to openly challenge the 40-year orthodoxy of the U.S.-led "war on drugs" that seeks to stamp out the cultivation and distribution of drugs like marijuana and cocaine.

Clark declined to comment on the responsibilities the United States should shoulder in any new drug policy and advised Latin American governments against adopting an "us-and-them" stance when dealing with the United States and consumer countries.

UNDP spokeswoman Christina LoNigro later said in a statement that Clark had not criticized the U.S. policy on the so-called war on drugs.

"She was speaking about the negative effects the drug trade has had on development in some Latin American countries in the context of the Human Development Report," she added.


Frustrated by ceaseless bloodshed and a perception that the United States has not done enough to curb its own drug consumption, many leaders in the region are now speaking openly about the possibility of legalizing drugs.

In Mexico, more than 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since the start of 2007.

Supported by the United States, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who left office in December, launched a military offensive on drug gangs soon after taking office in late 2006. Rather than quelling the violence, killings rose and Calderon gradually moved away from his hardline stance.

At the U.N. General Assembly in September, Calderon and the leaders of Colombia and Guatemala - traditionally three of the most reliable U.S. partners on drug control - called on world governments to explore new alternatives to the problem.

In Latin America and other regions, calls are growing for new thinking on how to combat the trade in illicit drugs and the resulting bloodshed, Clark noted.

They have said "that the approach being followed has failed so we need a fresh set of eyes on this as well. And I think the debate going on at the regional level is a very, very useful one," Clark said, referring to Latin America.

The latest UNDP report argues that growing prosperity in the traditionally poor global south is driving gains in human development there. As a result, it said, "stronger voices from the south are demanding more representative frameworks of international governance."

Among those demands are growing calls to redraw the battle lines of the "war on drugs."

"To deal with drugs as a one-dimensional, law-and-order issue is to miss the point," Clark said. She stopped short of calling for outright legalization, but said the focus should be on keeping illegal profits out of criminal hands.

"We have waves of violent crime sustained by drug trade, so we have to take the money out of drugs," she said.

One of the arguments for legalizing drugs is that it would take away a key source of revenue for traffickers.

"The countries in the region that have been ravaged by the armed violence associated with drug cartels are starting to think laterally about a broad range of approaches and they should be encouraged to do that," said Clark.

"They should act on evidence," she added.

(Editing by Dave Graham and Todd Eastham)

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Comments (1)
GartValenc81 wrote:
As far as drugs are concerned, we need to ask ourselves, what sort of “view of the world” or more generally, what sort of moral code is consistent with the prohibition regime and the War on Drugs policies?

When Prohibition was trumpeted as the panacea to society ‘oldest vice’, its goal was to allow us to live in a drug-free world. Well, fifty years later we are still waiting for the utopia to materialise. Meanwhile, all Prohibition and the War on Drugs have delivered is utter dystopia: massive incarceration, corruption, destruction of democratic institutions, thousands upon thousands of killings, intimidation and execution of journalists, judges, politicians and anybody brave enough to question the corrupting and murderous practices of the drug trafficking gangs that control the US$320,000 millions the illegal drug market generates in revenue every year, that’s right, EVERY YEAR.

What sort of moral code encourages a government to support Prohibition, a regime whose “positive” results (i.e. cessation of consumption and elimination of supply) are negligible, whereas its negative effects are of such extent that people with a different moral code, or at least a more consistent one, would not hesitate to consider them a price too high to pay, were them the result of any other policy but the War on Drugs.

What sort of moral code makes a government believe that is right to wage a war with such appalling consequences: almost 50,000 killings in the past five years in Mexico alone, people sentenced to death in Asia and the Middle East, systematic violation of human rights, extrajudicial killings, … and the list goes on and on and on.

There is no doubt in my mind that should such levels of criminal acts be happening as a result of policies other than the War on Drugs, people with a different moral code, or at least a more consistent one, would be condemning them as crimes against humanity!

Gart Valenc
twitter: @gartvalenc

Mar 15, 2013 6:22pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
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