Side event: Drug control policies and the militarisation of security: Reflections on the experience in the americas

Organised by Conectas, the Brazilian Drug Policy Platform, the Washington Office on Latin America and the Centre for Legal and Social Studies.

Today we will be talking about how drug control policies and the militarisation of the Americas are related to each other. There are 2 specific moments related to this context: (1) last year, 18 organisations from the Latin America held a hearing at the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights [HR] on this topic with the topic being included at the session’s report, and (2) in the most report of OHCHR the topic of militarisation of security has been included as one of the concerns of current trends.

Luciana Pol/ CELS Argentina: In following the recommendations of OHCHR in regards to the HR component of the drug policy implementation [this] should not only be limited in addressing specific components but the UNGASS16 Outcome Document as a whole. In this case the operational recommendation on supply reduction related measures, effective law enforcement and responses to related crime have been very crucial in shaping the form of implementation of security policies in our region. In most of our jurisdictions the militarisation of public security is a common trend in clear relation to the anti-drug policy strategies. Some of this policy perspective are related to the anti-terrorist strategies and public security.

The trend of militarisation has 2 main components: (1) the use of armed forces in public security and (2) some institutional changes in the police forces that have pushed for further militarisation of the force in regards to weapons and practices. In fact, the entire criminal justice system has changed in some countries to address drug-related crimes redefining them as matters of national security. There are a series of indicators we analysed to assess the existence of the intensity of militarisation in our region:

  • the absence or the weakening of the legal framework that distinguishes the military from the police force activities (amplifying the faculty of the military forces, allowing them to intervene in certain circumstances). In some cases this law modification is related with the definition of the state of emergency. Apart from the vagueness of its use, we have also experienced a perpetual extension of the state of emergency in some areas allowing the long-standing presence of armed forces.
  • the institutionalisation of joint decision making spaces between military, police forces and civilians. The decision making and the conduction of public security should always be in the hands of civilians or police.
  • the exchange of the intelligence information between military and police forces and this is one of the standards that the [Interamerican] court felt to express its concerns. We should bear in mind the history of many of our countries in terms of their military dictatorship interventions.
  • the acquisition of heavy weaponry and equipment that are used by police operations i.e drug raids. In addition that binds with the role of international cooperation and the exports of weapons to our regions along with the fuelling the illegal gun markets. Also we have seen the training of the police forces by military personnel in many bilateral and multilateral programmes.

The main expression of these tendencies is the deployment of armed forces for national security activities in the streets which in cases relates to gun activities [and/or] drug trafficking groups, leading to an increased level of violence by the military and by the criminal group responses. We have also seen territorial interventions that carry different forms depending from whether they occur in rural areas i.e cultivating areas or a massive deployment of such forces in urban areas like in the cases of Brazil and Mexico. There is also the phenomenon of the militarisation of the board-area  like for instance at the North of Argentina in relation to drug trafficking. The consequences for HR have been vast and include the cases of extrajudicial executions and torture. It is important therefore to address the role of bilateral and multilateral collaboration in financial aid, the training of police and military personnel and on the mater of weapon acquisition. On our last analysis between the US and our countries’ collaboration we note 2 tendencies in terms of HR: (1) the progressive shift of funds that have been issued by the State Department to law enforcement and defence which directly connects the funds to our military (2) the reduction of the public scrutiny of these funds, of the content of the trainings and the general luck of accountability and evaluation [of these programmes].

Olga Guzman/ CMDPDH Mexico: There is a strong correlation between the increasing militarisation of public security and the HR violations. Over the last 10 years Mexico has been under the “inception of redeem” in relation to the War on Drugs. Despite that, our constitution strictly prohibits the use of military forces for public security tasks. Therefore one would expect a highly professionalised police force in charge of the security however, that is not the case for Mexico. That [situation originates] back in the 70es and 80es in which the military was found to commit arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings etc to mainly silence political opposition.

In 2006 the situation started becoming institutionalised in which the former president Calderon deployed more than 50.000 military on the streets; they main target was drug trafficking cartels and drugs. In the name of the War on Drugs we have been having increased numbers of HR violations. In our national institution of HR we analysed 204 recommendations from 2007-2017. Since then the national commission of HR has issued 790 recommendations of HR violations with 204 of them being in regards to torture and extrajudicial killings and for 148 of them the responsible institution was the army and the navy.

Our government was unwilling to recognise the continuation of the War on Drugs so we asked an independent university whether our situation amounts to a non-international arm conflict. According to international jurisprudence [the level of the] organisation and intensity [of their operations] define whether the situation makes it to a conflict. Upon results, the patterns of 7 out of 9 drug trafficking non-state actors in Mexico reach the regarded threshold so actually there is a non-international armed conflict occurring in Mexico which respectively the government refuses to acknowledge the situation which would request a constitution amendment. In that regard they continue to use the military forces without any constitutional amendment and on that they remain unaccountable for their actions. In our most recent development a new institution called “National Guard” was formed. It is considered a “polemic” institution mainly because they wanted to be subordinated to the military and they wanted to be composed by the military. A civil opposition managed to limit the institution’s life/work to another 5 years. At least there is a deadline.

Luciana Zaffalon/ PBPD Brazil: The Brazilian constitution established that armed force for the purpose of homeland defence but also to incorporate the public order and maintain the law and order among the nation. The president withholds the power to use the armed forces in the context of public security. In 2018 we had a military intervention in the state of Rio de Janeiro for the reason of violence in relation to drugs and organised crime. But in fact, Rio de Janeiro is far from being the worst state in this regard in Brazil. The truth is that it was a political act from our government that clearly put once again the military in the centre of political power in Brazil. When we look at the results of this operation we see that homicides and killings by the police remain extremely high, shootings have escalated, gangs -including militia- are fighting to gain control over several areas, fear among the residents, a sharp increase in deaths due to police intervention while the rate of crime is solving and the apprehension of illegal arms has diminished.

From February to September 2018, 457 police operations were reported involving the seizing of 520 weapons and when we compare the numbers of 2018 compared to 2017 we see that there has been a 35% increase in the people who are killed by the police. Characteristically when 2 people were arrested for the murder of Marieri (a HR activist) more than 170 weapons were seized from their flat. That did not occurred in a favela or in a poor region of Rio but at a neighbouring to our current president house. The so called War on Drugs, the War on Crime is actually a War on people.

We need to change the public security policies to orient them into protecting life and not to kill people.

The cities are a state of internal war and it’s too early to foresee what the consequences will be in the years to come in terms of trauma.

Zaved Mahmood/ OHCHR: I would like to mention a few points on how to progress the issue of HR within the militarisation context. Also I would like to thank the civil society and all other organisation for providing input and evidence that helps OHCHR tremendously. We are very concerned with the recent trends seen in many countries -not only in Latin America- on the militarisation of public security or engaging the military forces in to the drug control response. We have also noted that there are some legal and judiciary reform in building on a militarisation approach and providing power to the military and special forces and this is very alarming.

There are several various threats including the drug problem that may challenge the traditional law enforcement however when governments providing additional or extraordinary power to armed forces this must be regulated within the framework of the international HR law: this shoot to kill rederick must be questioned and addressed. With regards to the War on Drugs and the involvement of the military and other armed forces we have seen serious HR violations: extrajudicial killings which is arbitrary deprivation of life, then also enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention. We have seen a very large number of people been arrested or detent without any judicial oversight. In all these HR violations, if there is an element of an underlying system then [that] constitutes crimes against humanity. We need to look at this issue from a HR perspective as well as international human law perspective. Under the Rome constitute it is on the national government’s duty to investigate any possible crimes against humanity.

Addressing the impunity it is important the national authorities as well as other actors involved in these matters to act upon. MS have already committed with the UNGASS 2016 Outcome Document to tackling impunity in regards to HR. I urge the MS that were involved in these allegations to investigate – they have the obligation to do so under the Treaties – first at national level and then with the engagement of the international community. In addition I would like to address the General Comment #36 of OHCHR on the right to life: there is one very specific paragraph I would like to highlight. Under the international HR law when we are talking about life there is a specific response with the duty to protect against any violation including private institutions and non-state actors. “23. The duty to protect the right to life requires States parties to take special measures of protection towards persons in situation of vulnerability whose lives have been placed at particular risk because of specific threats [ ]”, and the militarisation and the War on Drugs relates to these threats. In addition, in this General Comment the committee specifically discussed the accountability, the investigation and prosecution. Last, I would like to mention the new treaty on arms trade. Within the Treaty there is a very specific responsibility of the governments to look at the HR consequences of their trade.

Q [general coordinator federal police/ Brazil]: (to Luciana Zaffalon/ PBPD Brazil) When you referred to the people [that suffer the war on drugs], which ones you meant?

A [Luciana Zaffalon/ PBPD Brazil]: I was referring to the ones living in the favelas, the poor people and the black people. The one’s who haven’t appeared in front of a judge.

– For me these are criminals! In Rio de Janeiro there are more criminal-people than police.

– Well, for one to be considered as a criminal first one needs to be judged.

– I am not judging. You are judging by saying the people are getting killed by police.

– I am talking of official data.

– I have data too. I am federal police. I am the general coordinator! How many policemen are killed by criminals?

– The judicial system has due procedures and it is an opportunity for all of us to participate in this debate.

Q [ ]: I am central America I would like to ask if anyone is thinking about the northern triangle and the impact of the War on Drugs, and how this [situation] is striving force migration to the US/Mexico border?

A [Olga Guzman/ CMDPDH Mexico]: In the coalition of the organisations before the hearing we had colleagues from the northern triangle and they addressed their experiences in particular which you can find them in the report. The link you made with migration is great because as I said earlier drug trafficking gets linked with threats to national security and for instance migration in not such a threat but a social phenomenon.

Q [Havier Garcia/ Peru]: In Peru we face the same problem of militarisation but actually what we need is more police, a police reform and we need to give them better resources. If we want to take a look at issues like drugs or environment, politicians want rapid responses and on the other hand the military is looking for a new role. In addition, the military are in search for further resources and overall are doing better lobbying than the police.

A [ ]: The relationship between armed forces and civilian forces is distorted. What we believe is that in the case of Mexico the military has been gaining a lot of powers and [political] control and not only in the public security realm but also in the political and public life. This is completely anti-democratic and if we start giving them more powers to them there is no way back. We are facing the problems of professional licensing and trying to reconcile as well the police forces with the citizens. There is a lack of trust due to corruption and so but that has to change.

A [ ]: Most of the Latin American countries did not engage in a true reform of their police forces after the dictatorships. So these forces not only have a past of HR violations but also have been using their professional status to promote corruption. Therefore the military come to urgently give a solution to that with the only exception that the corruption and the institutional problems too often are extended to the military. In all our countries there is a political effect on bringing the military on board for security tasks with that in most jurisdiction carry a strong electoral effect. So quite often the militarisation in not directly connect to criminal factors but internal dynamics that are playing very important role.

Q [National Secretary for Policy on Drugs/ Brazil]: Yes we have many issues in Brazil and many questions to balance but we also have very interesting initiatives taking place and I think it is important to mention that our Ministry of Justice initiated an anti-crime bill which is very focused on criminal assets to enhance the effectiveness in combating drugs, corruption and violent crimes.

A [Luciana Zaffalon/ PBPD Brazil]: The Ministry’s proposal in not from a HR perspective. I disagree.

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