17may07-Learn by listening to UN drug experts

POSTSCRIPT / May 7, 2017 / Sunday
Learn by listening to UN drug experts
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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MALACAÑANG should just listen with an open mind to what United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard and other global experts have to say about the drug scourge and how to best overcome it.

Taking offense that Callamard participated in the two-day “Drug Issues, Different Perspectives” forum at the University of the Philippines will not serve any useful purpose – but listening to the experts might help save innocent Filipino lives and everybody’s equanimity.

The UN official simply stated a fact in her speech Friday that in April 2016, “The General Assembly… recognized explicitly that the ‘war on drugs’ — be it community based, national or global — does not work… that many harms associated with drugs are not caused by drugs, but by the negative impacts of badly thought-out drug policies.”

This observation has elicited spirited retorts from fans of President Rodrigo Duterte justifying his bloody drive that has seen thousands of suspected drug dealers and users gunned down by police raiders and motorbike-riding assassins.

A more positive response to offers of expert opinion is to explore in good faith how we — the administration, the citizens and non-government institutions — can best move forward, away from the drug menace that could engulf the country if mishandled.

That Callamard gave no prior notice to the administration of her coming was a minor detail explained by the fact that she was not in Manila on an official mission to investigate alleged human rights violations, but simply to participate in an academic forum.

The event was organized by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Anti-Death Penalty Task Force, the UP-Diliman Office of the Chancellor, and the UP College of Law Institute of Human Rights.

• Drug drive a ‘manufactured’ crisis?

ON FRIDAY, the conference also heard Dangerous Drugs Board chair Benjamin Reyes, Columbia University specialist Dr. Carl Hart, London School of Economics International Drug Policy Program director Dr. John Collins, and international human rights authorities.

Collins said the Philippine drug war feels “like a slightly manufactured crisis.” Asking “what was the necessity of the war on drugs?” he noted that “there’s a perception that this is at a crisis point, and there has to be severe action.”

But based on the data, he said, the Philippines is probably below average in terms of consumption rates. President Rodrigo Duterte places at four million the number of local drug users, although the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has a much lower figure.

The President said last September he would allow the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to come over to investigate, subject to a public debate and other conditions – which she rejected. Her arrival Thursday apparently caught Malacañang by surprise.

Callamard said in her keynote speech that in addressing the worldwide drug problem that affects 29 million people, the General Assembly “called for… a balanced, multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary approach (that) placed great emphasis on health, rights and justice.”

She described the Diliman forum as a venue “to learn from experts here and from abroad, those who have long considered, studied and analyzed drug policies, their impact and effectiveness.” (Policy-makers may want to review her entire speech at: http://tinyurl.com/ms3qrj2)

She cautioned: “Badly thought-out, ill-conceived drug policies can foster a regime of impunity infecting the whole justice sector and reaching into whole societies, invigorating the rule of violence rather than of law, eroding trust in public institutions, breeding fear and leading people to despair.

“These are the findings from research undertaken around the world,” she said. “Let me be clear: In none of the countries where the perverse consequences of ill-thought-out drug policies were reported did the drug problem disappear. In fact, the opposite happened.”

• Holistic approach favored to drug war

CALLAMARD said the UN assembly recognized that drug dependence is “a complex health disorder of a chronic and relapsing nature, whose social causes and consequences can be prevented and treated through… scientific evidence-based treatment, care and rehabilitation, including community-based programs.”

In their “Commitment to Effectively Addressing and Countering the World Drug Problem” last year, the governments at the UN did not commit to “the war on drugs” approach, but rather to one that is holistic and respectful of the total human person in society.

On human rights, Callamard said: “The rejection of human rights is predicated on a rejection of our common humanity. The rejects — those that do not fit in, are not welcome, are to be rejected, criminalized, punished, may differ from country to country, community to community, leader to leader — but rest assured they are all human.

“They may be migrants or refugees, they may be the poor or the very poor, the homeless, they are street children, indigenous people, political opponents or critics, they are the other… and they may be drug users or drug pushers.”

She continued: “We are here to take stock, to learn from experts here and from abroad, those who have long considered, studied and analyzed drug policies, their impact and effectiveness. And we are here to contribute ourselves to the implementation of the joint (UN) commitment by:

“Providing evidence and data to support evidence-based policies and strategies, collaborating and cooperating across different countries and diverse areas of expertise, listening to one another, respectfully, politely but engaging too in robust exchange.”

She extended the UN’s hand for “developing proposals with and for the government of the Philippines, other stakeholders, and the people of the Philippines, proposals on drug policies and responses that are effective and sustainable, taking into account the country’s specific situation, history and context, as well as its multiple assets and opportunities.”

(First published in The Philippine STAR of May 7, 2017)

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