The VI Latin American Drug Policy Conference Begins!

UNODC: “We advocate for the abolition of punitive approaches, and we seek actions rooted in the right to health and human rights”

The Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),Aldo Lale-Demoz, stated the above at the opening ceremony of the VI Latin American Drug Policy Conference and I Caribbean Drug Policy Conference that takes place today and tomorrow in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

(Dominican Republic, October 5, 2016) More than 700 people attended the opening of the most important gathering of the Latin American drug policy reform movement. Officials, experts and broad sectors of civil society closely followed the presentation of the senior UNODC official, who spoke about the lessons learned and best practices arising from technical assistance programs carried out by agency and which forms the basis of its analysis regarding its 75 regional and national offices in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Aldo Lale-Demoz acknowledged that “the international community has made an important step in recent years to recognize that drug use and related complications – such as HIV, hepatitis C and drugs overdoses – are health issues. He noted that, “they must be addressed first by the public health system, since it is a problem that requires prevention, treatment and evidence-based care, where punishment, beyond violating human rights, has not yielded positive results; rather it tends to worsen the situation regarding addictions community peace and social cohesion “. “We advocate for the abolition of punitive approaches, driving and we seek actions rooted in the right to health and human rights,” he said.

Regarding criminal justice, he said that “entities engaged in law enforcement and criminal justice should focus primarily on combating more serious drug crimes and dismantle transnational criminal organizations. The criminalization of farmers engaged in illicit crops is neither effective nor fair. Farmers plant illicit crops due to poverty, exclusion, or coercion by illegal armed groups,”said the senior official. He also noted the commitment to “improve the availability and reasonable use of controlled drugs, as they are essential for the relief of pain related health conditions.”

Presidential Commitment to Women Incarcerated for Drug Offenses

An important promise was made by the Dominican Republic’s Minister of Women, Janet Camilo, who said that “in our country addressing the drug issue has been made only from a punishment basis. It’s like the Dominican Republic is not aware that we have to work from prevention.” The public applauded when she declared: “we aim that women accused of nonviolent drug offenses should not go to prison, since most do not pose a threat to society,” adding that, “reducing the female prison population is a priority for President of the Republic.”

“Do not leave anyone behind”

UNAIDS Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, César Núñez, called for a moment of reflection because “the world is failing to protect the health of people who use drugs, many of whom have been traumatized by violence, stigmatized and incarcerated.” For the official, the “Leave No One Behind” 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda “includes drug users”. He also highlighted the “work with civil society, including associations of people who use drugs.” Finally he said: “We have been working with various United Nations agencies so that the pillars of public health are incorporated into drug control policies”.

For his part, the Resident Coordinator of this UN body, Lorenzo Jimenez de Luis, said that “this conference is extremely relevant” and also noted that “while there is no consensus on drug policy, the Sustainable Development Goals are underwritten for the vast majority of the international community, and their axis have close ties to the drug issue, such as reducing poverty and achieving peace, which inherently requires a change in drug policy. ”

Health first

The representative of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS)Arazeli Azuara stressed that “the drug problem requires multidimensional, comprehensive and cross-cutting responses”. She also said that “one of the great unfinished business’ is a focused health and human rights approach.” “We will not be able to solve it without regional cooperation,” said the official.

Alma Morales, Representative of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO / WHO) put the emphasis on “ensuring access to controlled drugs and reducing the stigma that hinders access to treatment.” She also noted that her agency promotes a “public health approach, investing in scientific evidence and joint drug policy targets for human development”.

Continuing, Pablo Cymerman, Executive Coordinator of CONFEDROGAS and Director of Institutional Relations for the Intercambios Civil Association of Argentina, stressed that “the current drug control policy have only deepened exclusion and continue to reinforce the stigma, discrimination and abuses affecting people who use drugs.” He further stated that “the punitive approach has had devastating effects and failed to reduce substance use, while increasing levels of violence and organized crime have been strengthened”. “Governments are destined to give a disproportionate amount of resources to the repressive policies, to the detriment of direct efforts to improve the human condition.” “It is necessary to prioritize responses from a public health perspective rather than through the criminal justice system,” he said.

Meanwhile, Santo Rosario Ramirez, Director of the Center for Integral Orientation and Investigation (COIN), local organizer of the conference, noted that “policies based on repression are not delivering the expected results” and proposed the we “rethink drug policies to seek the welfare of human beings, and not fill the prisons with consumers. ”

Modify the drug law

Finally, Victor Terrero, Executive Director of the National Council for HIV and AIDS in Dominican Republic asked those present “not to discriminate against drug users” and stressed the need to “change the law 50-58 on Drugs and Controlled Substances” because “it criminalizes consumption, limiting harm reduction interventions for the prevention of HIV in drug users,” the official said.  “We remember today and every day that equality and non-discrimination, are key to achieving a just and equitable society, and to think and act with the conviction that we can be part of this transformation,” he said.