Side event: The OAS report on drug control: A tool for the debate

In 2012, Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala called for a debate on drug control in the AMericas. As a result, a study was conducted by the OAS. In June 2013, the report was presented at the OAS General Assembly. The report includes invaluable data on drugs and production, trafficking and consumption, and also includes a series of scenarios.
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Paul Simons, CICAD
This is a good opportunity to present the report in other parts of the world. This is important for people who want to learn more about our part of the hemisphere. We work on multi-level institution and capacity building, we strengthen research and evidence. Our guiding principles and documents are our drug strategy and plan of action. These are adopted by consensus. They include issues on human rights, vulnerable groups, gender, etc. It focuses on the importance of public health, civil society involvement, etc. The report was put together as a result of our mandate set out in Cartagena. There was a private meeting among heads of state, when they focused on two concerns – increased consumption and health problems, and violence. As a result, they agreed by consensus to ask the OAS General Secretariat to analyse current drug policies on what worked and didn’t work, and make suggestions on what could be done differently. But they did not want to be bound by the recommendations. There are conclusions and findings, but no recommendations per se. The purpose was to establish a baseline on what drug policies could look like in the future.

Two interconnected reports were produced, an analytical report (technical study of drug policies and options to improve policies and implementation) and a scenarios report (for 2025). The report included an open process involving scientists, academics, NGOs, experts, government, etc. We had funding from governments in the region. There were some issues with use of various languages, issues with regards to words being used (decriminalisation, depenalisation, etc.). The 6 studies conducted were thematic: drugs and development, drugs and public health, drugs and security, drug production, economics of the trade and legal and regulatory alternatives. The process was managed by Insulza, who has considerable experience on the issue. We raised the issue of decriminalisation of personal use and alternatives to incarceration. The report promotes a flexible approach which captures the flexibilities of the different realities in the hemisphere.

The scenarios were constructed by  large team of experts with a wealth of experience. We held two seminars in Panama to put together stories about the future which should be relevant, challenging, and realistic. They were not supposed to reflect bias on what the future should look like. The scenarios are also not mutually exclusive. The first scenario focuses on strengthening state institutions. The second scenario focused on regulatory regimes, to explore new options to criminalisation to reduce harms. The third scenario focuses on grass-roots efforts to tackle the drug problem and tackle violence. The final scenario is that there are unbearable costs associated with drug control and that we should give up and allow drug trafficking to take place. Some principles were across all scenarios – institutional strengthening, health and community, and flexible and differentiated approches to legal and regulatory changes that are evidence-based.

The next steps included the dissemination of the reports through various events: Declaration of Antigua in June 2013, presentations at national and international level, Ministers of Security, etc.

HE Luis Alfonso de Alba, Ambassador of Mexico. The reports are extremely useful to us. It is also important to recognise that the whole process started out of frustration. We needed more data, and different sets of ways forward. And this is what we need in the lead up to 2016. It is a good example of what needs to be done for UNGASS. It is a tool that highlights what could be done. We all agree that the issue remains a global issue. The normative framework is very important. Flexibility is crucial, but we will not implement unilateral actions. It is also important to recognise that this affects all countries, there is no exception. And there are new trends that make it difficult to differentiate between production and trafficking countries. One of the main findings for consumption is that we need to consider it as a health issue. We need to consider prevention in a wider perspective, we must focus on society as a whole. Linkages between traffickers and organised crime are also important to take into account. A special session of the OAS will be taking place in September to analyse how to carry out the findings and conclusions of the reports. We must focus on 2016 UNGASS. The problem is a global one and we will need to work all together to address the issue.

HE Miguel Samper, Colombian Vice-Ministry of Criminal Policy and Restorative Justice. The OAS process is a useful precedent. Now we need to know what we actually want to do with these reports. We need to build a proper vision of what drug policy must be. The drug problem is different in each country and the response will be different: rule of law, strengthening institutions, human rights. Colombia will start ten forums where two documents will be discussed – the reports and the report from the advisory commission on drugs that we created 1 year 1/2 ago. These forums will have the participation of international experts, national experts and civil society, universities, private sector, congressmen, etc. We will build a national procedure of what should be drug policy in our country to have a more coherent position.

Milton Romani, Uruguayan Ambassador. I congratulate the authors of these pieces of work. The OAS reports are a first step in the debate that has already started in Latin America and the entire hemisphere. The most important thing is that we are breaking with the unique vision on drug policy. With an ample spirit to consult various positions during the process, we had an open and frank debate on what could be done. At UNGASS 2016, we should have a frank dialogue. We used a fantastic methodology, and could include more countries in the process. What we cannot accept is the last scenario where countries would just give up on drug control, where violence prevails as a result of the drug war, where human rights are not respected, and where there is an asymmetric way that harms have affected the various countries of the region. This does not imply that we are not cooperating in the fight against organised crime or illicit trafficking – but there is no one way for all. We need strategies that abide by the culture, history, institutional fabric, etc. of all countries, and all of this should happen within international cooperation and the principle of shared responsibility. To get to these public policies the OAS reports are an important tool we should be using.

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