Home » Side event: “The war on drugs”, militarisation and states of emergency: Measures to address these critical human rights challenges

Side event: “The war on drugs”, militarisation and states of emergency: Measures to address these critical human rights challenges

Side event organised by the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales with the support of Colombia, Czechia, Paraguay, Switzerland, Uruguay, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization, the Centro de Estudios de Derecho Justicia y Seguridad, Elementa Derechos Humanos, the Federación Internacional por los Derechos Humanos, Harm Reduction International, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos, the Open Society Foundations, the Skoun Lebanese Addictions Centre, Students for Sensible Drug Policy International and the Washington Office on Latin America

Victoria Darraidou, CELS, Argentina. Hello, everyone. Good morning. Welcome to this side event, which is titled, The War on Drugs militarization of drug control measures to address these critical human rights challenges. My name is Victoria Darraidou. And it’s a pleasure to be here speaking on behalf of CELS. The report released by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights focused on addressing and countering drug challenges, reports on how militarised interventions have caused great harms to human rights in the Global South, and with a specific impact on low-income communities. The purpose of this space is twofold. One is to have a critical analysis of the militarised interventions, and the declaration of a state of emergency in the Global South, and consequently, to analyse and highlight the limits of prohibitionism to implement effective policies to deal with organised crime, violence and drug use-related harms. We will have 50 minutes of conversation. After the participation of the speakers, we hope to have room for a few questions and comments from the audience. Before I start with our speakers, I would like to mention that this panel is part of the CND side event programmes organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, linked with the report that I mentioned earlier. And I would like to especially thank the Office of the High Commissioner and IDPC for all of their support and for the initiative, and particularly Zaved Mahmood from OHCHR and Marie and Adria from IDPC. I also would like to thank the large group of co-sponsors who are supporting this panel. I’m not going to mention all of them because they are 17. But it’s important to say that we have countries, UN agencies and a very important group of civil society organisations supporting this panel that shows the relevance of these conversation. Now I am pleased to give the floor to first speaker, Ambika. She’s a human rights lawyer and activist from Sri Lanka, and she’s going to present the situation in Asia and Southeast Asia related with the militarised interventions, and also the role that international cooperation plays in the implementation of these kinds of measures.

Ambika Satkunanathan, Human rights activist, Sri Lanka. Thank you, Victoria. Good morning, everyone. I will also try to link what’s happening in the Global North to the militarization in the Global South. globally. Increasingly, we are seeing that states are linking the War on Terror with the war on drugs to an extent that both are now merging seamlessly into one, with militarization being the common thread linking both. For instance, in Sri Lanka, you see the seamless merger of the war on terror and on drugs. According to government rhetoric, the military, which they say successfully saved the country from the threat of terrorism, will also save the country from the threat of drugs. The normalisation and entrenchment of militarization is aided by the existence of permanent states of exception or what we call permanent states of emergency that have been created by declaring states of emergency and or enacting anti-terrorism laws that impinge on human rights. A militarised permanent state of emergency enables the state to easily construct hegemonic narratives in which certain social groups, usually ethno-religious communities, minorities, and drug users are labelled anti-national and threats to national security. The militarization of policing plays a critical role in this, and it takes place in two ways. States either use the military for policing and or they militarise the police who are trained in military tactics and thinking and are given military equipment. In Sri Lanka, the militarization of policing is also done through the president creating a permanent de facto state of emergency by calling out the armed forces to perform policing functions by issuing a Gazette every month. Instead of legally declaring a state of emergency which will require a parliamentary approval.

Militarization of policing often takes place in conjunction with the deliberate construction of a dominant security narrative that posits the military or militarised police as saviours and the only barrier between chaos and order. The police then deal with issues such as border control, counter terrorism, gang violence, drugs with what’s called a war mentality. The drug menace and the portrayal of the drug problem as a national security issue has long been used by governments to increase the involvement of the military in drug control. In Sri Lanka, for instance, they’re involved in treatment and even drug use prevention activities. Similarly, countering terrorism is a justification commonly used by states for militarising policing, which is then integrated into everyday police functions.

In South and Southeast Asia, the militarization of the War on Drugs has had devastating human rights impact. The UN Human Rights Committee has expressed concern, for instance, about the high rate of extrajudicial killings by police military and the rapid action battalion members in the war on drugs in Bangladesh, and Amnesty International said that it seen at least one death a day due to the war on drugs. In Sri Lanka, we have the military taking on drug treatment, drug control, and drug use prevention activities as well. A quick word on what’s been taking place in Sri Lanka during the last three months via an anti drug operation, as at 17 March, that is three months since it began. 72,850 persons have been arrested. 2,322 persons have been sent to compulsory drug treatment, and prisons are overcrowded by 205%. Yet, the amount of drugs seized is rather paltry in three months, and so many arrests only 29.4 kilogrammes of heroin and only 37.7 kilogrammes of meth amphetamine. Like in other countries, many violations have been reported during the operation in which poor communities are the main target, demonstrating that the war on drugs is a war on the poor. Persons who use drugs and persons from marginalised socio-economic groups who sell drugs or who sell drugs to buy drugs for their use are the ones who are being targeted. Hence, it’s a criminalization of poverty. At the same time, there’s been less than a handful of arrests of prosecution of persons engaging in large scale drug trafficking, raising questions about the protection these people enjoy and their proximity to political power.

My final point is on countries in which the police force has been heavily militarised in the Global North, such as the US, the United Kingdom and Australia which are exporting militarising police to the Global South. They do this through aid by training police and by donating military equipment, despite the fact that these initiatives enable human rights violations. For example, a 2021 audit by the US Office of the Inspector General found that many sensitive investigation units and better units set up by the DEA in Vietnam were operating outside of formal structures and without adequate oversight. The US aides militarization of policing by providing training to police of other countries at military bases. But in the State Department’s yearly foreign military training report, only the city where the training takes place is mentioned not the fact that it took place at a military base. Militarization is also enabled through training police and military together. For example, the Colombian police, where they received joint operation training from the US alongside members of the Colombian Army and Navy. Police in Indonesia, the Philippines and Nigeria similarly gained counterterrorism training alongside members of the country’s armed forces. In 2020 to 2021, 60% of the police training provided by the US was done by the Asia Pacific Institute for Security Studies, whose faculty is mostly military.

Just a few quick recommendations. One is general to member states as well as to the UN. One is that the OHCHR, the lead entity in the UN system on human rights, must be respected and strengthened. Of particular importance is the OHCHR’s duty to conduct human rights due diligence of UN agency programmes to ensure that they adhere to international human rights standard and the UN common position on drugs. The critical role of the UN resident coordinators in the country in the implementation of the UN common position on drug must be recognised because it can be a catalyst for and create a common platform for multi-agency coordinated action. And of course, during the UPR process, member states can issue recommendations related to specific countries that support civil society recommendations related to drug control and treatment issues. Thank you.

Victoria. Thank you Ambika, and we share the concern about the drastic operational militarised interventions in Sri Lanka, we call for the end of these kinds of interventions. And I think that it’s also very important to bring to the debate the role that the international cooperation plays in these measures. So now moving on with the conversation, we are going to introduce John Walsh. John is a director of the drug policy and the analysis of the Washington office for Latin America. John will focus on the Latin America scenario regarding militarised interventions, he’s going to analyse the failures of these interventions in our region. And he will also think of alternative measures to deal with the drug problems.

John Walsh, WOLA, United States of America. Thank you very much. It’s an honour to be part of this panel. So, the word ‘war’ is often deployed as a metaphor to indicate urgency and society wide mobilisation for cause. Think the war on poverty in the United States, for instance. But the war on drugs has never been just a metaphor. And Latin America has been one of the primary theatres in which this very real war has been waged. And like most wars, the primary casualties are civilians. So it’s crucial that the Office of the High Commissioner is shining a light on the problem of militarised drug control and human rights violations. From our point of view at WOLA, the history is very clear that drug prohibition and militarised enforcement are an especially toxic mix from that perspective of human rights. So there’s at least five dimensions that shape the dynamics of militarised drug control in Latin America in particular, to recognise before we talk about the perverse dynamics that prohibition itself creates.

First, internal security roles and missions for militaries are not a new development in Latin America. The Cold War in particular saw the rise of the national security state, with security forces focused on repressing the enemy within and giving rise to massive human rights violations. There’s a long history of uncertainty civilian control over the military, in part is a legacy of the Cold War but also predating that even where the armed forces do not intervene to depose civilian leaders and take power. Accountability to civilian authorities, including the administration of justice is incomplete at best. The Armed Forces’ own self-identification as guardians of national sovereignty tends to resonate with the public and civilian political leaders can be tempted to benefit from that popularity by involving the military in public security, including in drug control, especially when citizens are fearful and looking to the government for solutions. If drug enforcement comes to be seen as a political priority, and even a political imperative, to scrutiny and accountability for human rights abuses becomes even more difficult to achieve.

It’s also important to recognise as already mentioned, military roles in drug control are often promoted and funded by foreign governments. In Latin America, this has largely been a question of US military aid under the banner of the war on drugs. With the end of the Cold War, the drug threat became at least a partial replacement for anti-communism as a rationale for internal security missions in cooperation with US Southern Command and focus on the Indian region, most notably Plan Colombia. As has also been mentioned after 911 the drug war merged with the War on Terror. It’s also important to recognise that the aims and objectives of foreign governments and local militaries may not necessarily align. For example, the US and other governments in significant consumer markets typically fund enforcement with the aim of curbing supply. That has not been achieved, to say the least, over these many decades. Local militaries may be happy to receive foreign aid for many purposes, but may not share these goals. Preventing drugs from reaching other countries may, and I would argue should, take a backseat to immediate local needs. And of course, there are elements of security forces as well as politicians and local elites who may themselves become engaged in the illegal drug trade, which is one of the particularly dangerous aspects of putting the military on the frontlines of combating an illicit market.

So stepping to the dynamics created by prohibition itself. Our collective attempt at banning drug use and criminalising it makes as we know drug use more hazardous, while generating at the same time vast revenues that fuel organised crime and corruption worldwide. So while governments tend to describe enforcement as combating drug trafficking, the reality is that our underlying choice of a policy of prohibition has led to burgeoning illegal drug markets that continuously generate enormous profits for groups and individuals willing to act outside the law. The fact is that military and militarised enforcement is ill suited to respond to these lucrative illegal drug markets. And it leads to especially perverse outcomes. For instance, kingpin strategies to remove leaders of groups, leaders who are easily replaced and tends to prompt splintering into rival groups that promotes more bloodshed and conflict. We’ve seen this over and over again in country after country. So these consequences of enforcement in particular, militarised enforcement may not be intended, they may be unintended, but they’re entirely predictable at this point. There’s vast evidence. The bottom line is that civilians are the people caught in the crossfire. Even more so the lines blur as elements of security forces tasked with confronting illegal markets and illegal traffickers become complicit in the trade, making for very messy situations on the ground, that would be opaque under the best of circumstances, but given the blurred lines and lack of understanding of who’s who the violence becomes almost impossible to unravel. Add to that declarations of internal armed conflict, declarations that call upon international humanitarian law, not human rights law, to be the focus. We’ve seen how low that bar is, as far as preventing civilian casualties. So that’s another enormous concern.

So to conclude, I would say the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has already issued a number of extremely important recommendations. For instance, reserve drug law enforcement for civilian law enforcement agencies that are properly trained and equipped, resort to military force extraordinarily temporarily and when strictly necessary, in specific circumstances, ensure that financial and technical assistance provided for drug enforcement operations does not contribute to human rights violations. Of course, these are easier said than done. For example, under US foreign assistance, there’s something called the Leahy Law, that’s meant to provide oversight and accountability for forces that are implicated in human rights abuses. But these laws don’t implement themselves. They require political will. And they require constant information and pressure, especially from civil society familiar with what’s actually happening on the ground. I would add one more vast recommendation, and it’s also in the Office of the High Commissioner’s important report from last year: moving beyond the prohibition framework to legal regulation. It may seem sometimes impossible to imagine, and it may seem that the prohibition regime has put down such deep roots, which is true bureaucratically, with politically vested interest. At the same time, I think it’s very important to remember, this is a relatively recent creation. In my lifetime, in fact, the global prohibitionist drug regime has come to be this was a conscious and deliberate choice of governments more than half a century ago, under very different circumstances. I believe it was ill suited at the time is particularly ill suited. The evidence that’s accumulated and I think that as we look to the future, we need to be looking to the post prohibition scenario and recognise that one of the major harms that the drug war prohibition and criminalise militarised enforcement does is not just untold human casualties and the immense suffering unimaginable is the erosion of institutions, and even democracies, not just in Latin America, but around the world. So I think the Office of the High Commissioner shining this light on human rights is a clarion call to wake up. The evidence that the war on drugs has failed, is vast, and the probability that the harms that it causes are going to become worse, not better, is alarming. So thank you very much.

Victoria. Thank you very much, John Walsh for your presentation. It is important to also highlight how States persist with their militarised interventions. And just to mention, as an example, today, the new government of Argentina is adding the military forces to the security operations against drug traffic in our country. So that presents a scenario of the persistence of these measures, even though we have a lot of evidence of these failures. So thank you, John Walsh. And now we will continue with our next speaker. I’m delighted to introduce Helen Tigroudja who is a member of the Human Rights Committee, and she’s going to present her perspective with the lens of a human rights approach to these problems.

Hélène Tigroudja, Member, UN Human Rights Committee. Thank you very much, and thank you for having me. Indeed, I’m a member of the UN Human Rights Committee: the treaty body monitoring the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with 174 state parties. Actually, the panel is extremely well organised, because there is a huge consistency in what the previous panel was saying and what I’m going to say. So I’m going to be very short, because you put this extremely well. This rhetoric of war on drugs is extremely dangerous from the perspective of the Human Rights Committee, this use of military forces, military rhetoric, is a huge issue in terms of human rights. And you say these very well, it does not work. So what I’m going to explain very briefly, is also really in line with what was said in the in the Office of the High Commissioner report of 2023 on this need to change the rhetoric. It’s an extremely dangerous rhetoric when we talk about war on drugs, and dangerous for different reasons that have already been explained. It’s not appropriate. It’s misleading. It’s misguiding. States have to fully give up this rhetoric. One of the very big issue when states use this vocabulary of war, is indeed that drug users or drug traffickers are seen as enemies, which is in terms of human rights extremely difficult, because if you target these people as enemy, implicitly, the message that is sent is also that they do not deserve human rights. And the work of the official of the High Commissioner and other human rights organs, is to say that, no, on the contrary. Regardless of their behaviour, and so on, these people are human beings. And as such, they deserve human rights. So this this rhetoric, this metaphor, as John said, it is extremely dangerous at the outset from this very reason. And indeed, the parallel with terrorism is also very important because states use the same kind of rhetoric against terrorists and against drug users or drug traffickers. And it’s not only an issue from the Human Rights Committee perspective, and based on the states’ reviews, we lead, it’s not only an issue for drug users or drug traffickers, but for the whole population. And I’m just going to give you another view of the type of human rights violations we have seen in Global South countries, but not only. I would say it’s a universal problem. First, and it was said in the Office of the High Commissioner report, this includes excessive use of force, especially lethal force, so arbitrary killings, arbitrary deprivation of life. In many countries this also includes enforced disappearances because it’s used as a means to fight against drug trafficking, targeted killings in many countries. Also, it’s used as a as a means to fight against drug trafficking. We just had a wonderful side event on mass surveillance, we have also huge problem in many countries of mass surveillance, violation of privacy, and in many, many countries, also, mass surveillance is linked with racial profiling. So we have a mix of violations of human rights. Secret detention, incommunicado detention, also solitary confinement, decrease of judicial rights, and I would say, above all these, intersected discrimination.

In general, in many countries reviewed by the Human Rights Committee we see the use of this war on drugs or policy or fighting on drugs against people living in poverty, or people living in extreme poverty. So we have a vicious circle of criminalization of poor people, marginalised people. It’s extremely, extremely, extremely dangerous. Yesterday, I also heard in another panel another thing that is sometimes visible in some countries, including the US: the links between drug policy and counter terrorist legislation. Also, we see the use of counter drug legislation to target marginalised people, for instance, LGBT people. So some states do use this anti-drug legislation to target marginalised people or LGBT groups and minority groups. This is not an exhaustive list. But you understand the huge concern, again, in terms of violation of human rights. For the Human Rights Committee, and John say this also very well, the major concern is that, in general, for us, it’s not only technical vocabulary. When states do use this vocabulary of war, it has a meaning in legal terms, in terms of legal obligation. It means that states do consider that human rights treaties, human rights obligations do not apply anymore, and we should apply humanitarian law, which is, in general, very problematic because the protection is lower. The power of the military is broader, especially to target civilians, and, and so on and so forth. And this gives also the impression that there is legal vacuum, which is not the case. So it’s extremely important also to convey the message that when the state does use this vocabulary of war on drugs, it does not mean that there is a sort of shift of their legal obligations or the legal regime. When there is a so called War on Drugs, the state remains bound by their human rights obligations, and especially the treaties they have adopted, even if at the domestic level there is declaration of a state of emergency. So I will just finish with this. It’s extremely important to go back to this post-prohibition scenario, and to come back to this human rights paradigm when we talk about war on drugs as we did with the fight against terrorism. For me, it’s the parallel is extremely important. We had the same kind of trajectory, but we have also to go back to this human rights paradigm. Thank you very much.

Victoria. Thank you very much for your presentation. And I think that it’s super important to deepen the dialogue and showing the impact in terms of human rights, here in the scenario of the CND. We now have the presentation of Ingrid Garcia menace. She’s from a human rights organisation from Ecuador. She’s going to present a keynote to understand the current situation in Ecuador.

Ingrid Lizeth García Minda, INREDH, Ecuador. Good morning, everybody. It’s a real pleasure being here meeting all of you. I am Ingrid Garcia. I am the director of INREDH, 30 years experience NGO that works for the protection of human rights in Ecuador. On behalf of our NGO, it’s important to share the situation in Ecuador, in how we are living in a permanent state of exception of militarization that I must say it is considered as a legitimised process by social sectors. There are many reasons to explain why we are facing this current crisis, which is characterised by permanent violence generated by organised crime in the state. Today, I will talk about four key points to understand the Ecuadorian crisis.

Number one, the first is the changing model in the drug trafficking business. Nowadays, the implementation of the advanced technologies in bulk Payment Transfer has led to greater control by banks. Also, the implementation of security mechanisms in dollar bills, which are susceptible to long distance scanning controls, has led to the change in payment for drug trafficking transactions, which are no longer paid with money but with drugs. As a result, there are more drugs available in the national territory, an increase in the micro trafficking in the streets for territory because local people need to monetize the drugs they receive, and to do so they must expand to the domestic market.

The second key point is the implementation of the national rewards policy in the benefit of the police size 2015. With the support of the United States, incentives have been implemented for police officers for drugs, seizures, and the capture of drug traffickers. The more efficient the police were, the greater the incentive is with greater a false sense of security in some areas. However, in impoverished areas, it turned out into a system of constant suspicion. Furthermore, in prisons information began to the negotiated in exchange for privilege. Inside them, the control of prisons was transferred to organised crime groups. Finally, the prison became a centre of operation for the mafias and cartels and ceased to be a centre of social rehabilitation as they were intended to be.

The key point is dismantling of the state and institutions. Since the new government took power, investments in the state institution have been reduced, as well as social investment benefits, such as health, education and even security. This is also due to the agreements with the IMF. For example, the intelligence department was removed, as well as the lack of equipment such a bulletproof vests. The dismantling of the state institution led to the penetration of organised crime into the institution, as far as example in the year 2023, 12 cases were reported where police officers were accused of crimes. And this year 2024 military officers were apprehended for links with criminal activities.

Finally, the fourth point is the reduction of cocaine use. With the introduction of fentanyl from the United States, the demand for the cocaine was reduced. So local drugs cartels stopped receiving income. Because of this, they started new activities such as kidnapping, doing extortion bussiness for local business and people with greater economic capacity. suddenly, since 2019 59 states of exception have been declared, of the 59, 15 of them are related generalised violence, 7 of them are related of violence in prison. Most of the states of exception had a duration of 60 days enabling the military forces to patrol the streets in support of the police to make a Ecuadorian population feel safe. Of course, because of military militarization, we have numerous reports of human rights violence, such as torture, displacement and exile and uncommonly cruel and inhumane threats. Human rights organisations have denounced these facts, and there is a an official position by the President who denounced these denouncements as anti-patriotic, increasing the harassment of those who defend human rights. Despite the state of the militarization, kidnappings and extortions have tripled since the beginning of this year. Only killings have been reduced. All of these show the state’s failure in terms of reducing security and crime, and the lack of protection of citizens and the increased amount of violence in our country. Thank you so much.

Victoria. Thank you, Ingrid, for your presentation was super interesting. And I think that the case of Ecuador shows how, in a few years in the absence of coordinated state responses criminal organisations grows with an increase in the use of force, and how later on militarised responses from the state makes the conditions of the life of communities worse. So it’s important to follow the case of Ecuador. And now finally, we are delighted to introduce the Colombian Ambassador to Austria, Laura Gill, who will comment on the current policy that Colombia is implementing.

H.E. Ambassador Laura Gil, Colombia. Thank you so much. Allow me to express gratitude to CELS for this invitation and thanks to all delegations and civil society organisations that co-sponsored this event. But most of all, let me send a greeting to Colombian civil society organisations because they were our guiding light during the very difficult years we had to endure. So the truth commission in Colombia in its final report, identified drug trafficking as a factor of persistence of the armed conflict. And all the actors in the armed conflict were involved, and are involved, in drug trafficking. So drug trafficking is a factor that extended the conflict and the degradation of the war, and remains one of the major obstacles to peace in Colombia and to development in Colombia. And I will not tire of saying this: Colombia is tired. I will not die of saying this because we are tired of external recipes. For six decades, as President Petro said in his intervention before the plenary of the CND, Colombia was a poster child of the war against drugs. And this was imposed on us by the United States and was also the direct result of the prohibitionist focus that to this day prevails at the CND in Vienna, so let’s not lose sight of that.

So in the face of failure, my country opted for change. And the new policy on drugs is revolutionary. And revolution for us means common sense. We are making a revolution because we have returned to our senses. We are no longer willing to offer Colombians in sacrifice for someone else’s global policy. And we do believe in common and shared responsibility. As a matter of fact, that was a principle that came out of Colombia. We formulated it and proposed it to the world in the 1980s. But this common and shared responsibility has turned into a blaming game. I’ve produced because you consume, and I consume because you produce. We are committed to overcoming this finger-pointing by becoming the visible face of discontent with a global drugs regime that seems to have lost its moral compass. So domestically, we have moved forward. We have adopted a new national drug policy, a people-centred policy, which was drafted with the people in consultation with more than 274 organisations of civil society participated, 2,700 social leaders provided their inputs, and we put the right to life above everything else, because we believe people’s lives matter.

So our new drug policy has two main pillars: we call one oxygen, we call the other one asphyxia. The first pillar is aiming at the independence of the population from the economies of drugs, as well as avoiding the criminalization of peasants. We are no longer boards persecuting peasant communities in Colombia. Asphyxiation means that we continue making efforts for the dismantling and reducing the influence and capacity of criminal organisations that profit from drug trafficking. As a matter of fact, the number of seizures in Colombia has dramatically increased since this government took over. By placing the people at the centre of this section, we want to uphold the respect for human rights, the protection of the environment and the promotion of peace and justice. We want to protect vulnerable populations, rural and indigenous communities and we think we have a historical opportunity right now in addressing cross-cutting issues such as racial and indigenous justice, gender equality and youth rights.

But at the international level, our crusade is against hypocrisy and for pragmatism. So for over 30 years, every measure in political declarations, here in Vienna, says that the world drug phenomenon must be carried out in full conformity with all human rights and fundamental freedoms. So I get a lot of questions here, from delegations who say, why is there so much resistance to have, in full conformity with the drug conventions in CND official documents. And my response is, because of the same reason you don’t want International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and so on. If we were in a place where we all accept being in full conformity with the drug conventions, and the list of international human rights treaties that bind us as much as the conventions, Colombia will go with that. But we are not in a place where that’s acceptable. So we believe the report of the Human Rights Commission gives us an opportunity. 30 years ago, I was a grad student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. And I remember, I was already studying the lack of coordination, the lack of coherence between New York, Geneva, and Vienna. 30 years later, I come here as an Ambassador. And I find myself having to dispute arguments like human rights can only be discussed in Geneva. Here in Vienna, we discuss drugs. I’m quoting, I’m not exaggerating, these are direct quotes.

So Colombia is fully committed to one United Nations. Colombia is fully committed to human rights, and Columbia will support the High Commissioner for Human Rights to bring human rights into global drug policy. Now, what do we have here? We hear about flexibility of the conventions. And now, we see actually is lack of flexibility, a lot of rigidity. Canada gets blasted every single year for having regulated cannabis. So we are going to bring some honesty, to this conversation. This is what you get. There’s nothing else. I’m Frank, I’m direct. And I avoid diplomatic talk because I believe my country has no time to waste. We need a change. We need a try. Now, we need that right now. And I will work as much as I can to respond to the mandate that my president has given me and the mandate he has given me is to bring some change to Vienna. And I’ll tell you something, today, I’m wearing this. This is from a Colombian peasant and I expect to be the voice of Colombian peasant communities in Vienna, thank you.

Victoria. Thank you so much, for your words. And I think that also the role that Columbia is currently doing is super important example for the region and for all, and it shows how difficult it is for states to scale down the punitive focus, so I thank you. And now I think that we have very little time, but maybe we can have a comment or a question for the audience.

Question. Thank you very much. So important and timely event. I work with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to health, who is currently preparing a report that will be presented in Geneva, very close to Vienna, on harm reduction from a health perspective. She’s also planning to present another report to the General Assembly on harm reduction, from another perspective, more focus on conflict settings and other specific aspects and sustainable development. But she’s very committed to also engage with this mechanism and to bring harm reduction, and the health perspective to the Vienna discussions. Thank you.

Question. I would like to raise question for Mrs. Ambassador. Thank you very much for being here today. It was very, very clear what you were saying. I think the main problem, if you look at drug policy and human rights is what you just said, and that we have to look to the people on the ground, the communities and the Indigenous peoples, especially when you look at Colombia. Now we know that time is running is that we need action now. What will you do in two years? Is there anything that guarantees after Petro will possibly not be there anymore? How is Colombia going to safeguard what you’re saying here? Is there any kind of guarantees that you will continue on that very important route that you’re taking? Thank you.

Ambassador Laura Gil. Hi, there are no guarantees in democracy. But I will say the following. We need to institutionalise our policy in a way that results are visible. We believe that if people are empowered, and this new policy gives results, the people themselves will ask for this to continue. So that’s our commitment. We are committed to give them results, but I will tell you something else. After 60 years of failed policy, you know, we have a say in Spanish, which is: if you do this, and you get bad results doing one thing, are you gonna do this over and over? So we are trying something else. We are gonna adjust it as we go. And we need all the support we can get from the international community. We are in a fossil lifestyle environment here. Really, I’m not exaggerating, and we need all the support we can get. So that whatever we’re doing in Colombia can have sustainability. Thank you.

Question. Thank you so much for an amazing panel. This is also a question for the. Ambassador. I’ve heard that in Colombia, it’s been understood that the war on drugs is also a shopfront for a war on resources and a race for natural resources and extractivist industries. So my question is, how is the connection between securing strong climate governance in the region compatible with our current situation of prohibition? And what is the future trajectory, on those two issues?

Ambassador Laura Gil. Okay, we tried to get references to climate change in the outcome document to this end and we failed. My government is fully committed to energy transition. And we are actually changing the energy matrix in Colombia. We are trying to do it as fast as we can, but our exports depended mainly on the exports of coal and oil. So we need to replace those exports. We are doing this. We are increasing tourism, we are increasing exports on agriculture. But it’s as difficult as it is for everyone else. We are fully aware that our war was also war for resources. And the director of alternative development is here sitting on the first row – and I have to say he always says that the illegal economies in Colombia overlap. So you have drug dealers, you have illegal mining, and you have human trafficking, and you have a lot of intersection of illegal economies. And that’s what we want to dismantle. How was alternative development viewed for the past decades? We get the coca bush and we substituted it with another plant. That was basically what we used to do. And I’m quoting the director saying that what we need to do is basically to substitute economies to get rid of illegal economies, territory by territory and replace them with legal economies. And this is what we’re doing through trying to pixel the country into small pieces and go territory by territory.

Victoria. Thank you. As you said, it’s more important to follow this conversation in this scenario at the CND. Today, we have seen that topic is relevant for members of civil society, state representatives and UN officials who are drawing attention to the problem of the prohibitionist paradigm, and the inability to solve drug problems and the particular impact in the Global South. It is necessary to put this discussion in the framework of the international human rights law and think interventions that can really prevent the development of violence linked with drug trafficking, but with also other illegal activities, and to promote access of rights for the communities. For this purpose, it is essential to count on the commitment of international cooperation and to put in the the human rights perspective centre. So the different presentations let us know that illegal markets thrive when the states can’t guarantee the access to different rights for the community and try it out measures such as integration of the state of emergency instead of implementing effective policies to address drug trafficking, violence and a health approach to problematic drug use. I hope we can follow up these conversations with creative ideas to avoid prohibitionism. Thank you so much for being here today.

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