World dignitaries call time on 'war on drugs'

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is among former and current world leaders who have called for a cessation of the ‘war on drugs’, which they describe in a new report as “futile”.

The call came from the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), founded by former leaders of Latin American producer and transit nations, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil. These, like Burma, have seen the conflict over drugs cost tens of thousands of lives and fund multiple wars, what the report calls the “devastating consequences” of the global prohibition on drugs.

On release of the report in New York, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who chairs the GCDP, told a press conference that the call is “not peace instead of war; it’s a more intelligent way to fight … the use of drugs”, adding: “Stop the war on drugs and let’s be more constructive in trying to reduce consumption”.

The report claims that current drugs policy “has resulted in obvious anomalies like the flawed categorisation of cannabis, coca leaf and MDMA [used to make ecstasy]”.

But among the most striking supporters of the call is the group’s honorary chair, George P Shultz, who served under former US President Richard Nixon, the man who originated the term “war on drugs”. He joins former Colombian president Cesar Gavira and former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, as well as Cardoso, the three founding members of the Commission.

Under Nixon and successive US regimes, Burma’s government was recipient to military aid to combat the country’s flourishing drugs trade which until the mid-1990s was the world’s leading supplier of heroin until it was surpassed by Afghanistan.

As a signatory to the report, British billionaire Richard Branson noted: “The war on drugs has increased drug usage, it’s filled our jails, it’s cost millions of taxpayer dollars and it’s fuelled organised crime”.

There have been numerous calls for a global approach to narcotics policies that take into account the victims in producer nations, Cardoso said. “In Europe it’s easy to treat the question as just a health problem… In Latin America it’s not just a health problem, it’s also a problem of gangs and… violence and the control of local power by drug lords, so it’s more complicated.”

As a result the report calls on governments to experiment with different models of legal regulation and for governments to cease criminalising drug users who do no harm to others.

The report further recommends that governments “replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights”.

Burma is today one of Asia’s leading producers of methamphetamines and the world’s second biggest producer of heroin.

Despite repeated statements and a pledged commitment from various Burmese and foreign governments, accusations of collusion in the drugs trade by the Burmese have persisted, whilst US intelligence agency, the CIA, was implicated in the drugs trade in northern Burma, according to US historian Al McCoy’s book, ‘The Politics of Heroin in South East Asia’.

The scale of the problem of Burma’s methamphetamine industry and the failure of regional governments to combat it was highlighted by recent UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) statistics which show a threefold increase in seizures between 2008 and 2009. Jane’s Intelligence magazine further estimates that in some areas of Thailand, which shares a long and porous border with Burma, up to 70 percent of military conscripts test positive for methamphetamine.

Growing poppies for opium in Burma is said by the UNODC to employ some 800,000 people, mainly in the north of the country.

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