War on Drugs versus Rights

New School in New York hosts an evening discussion on the intersectionality of international drug policies, human rights, and indigenous rights

Around the world, every day, people are suffering because of the War on Drugs. From the Philippines where Duterte’s bloody war has resulted in an estimated 27,000 extra judicial killings, to the Russian Government’s ban on harm reduction interventions, such as opiate substitute prescribing, resulting in 1 in 100 of the adult population being HIV positive, to the racial disparities in the policing of drugs that occurs in countries across the world – all in the name of eliminating the use, supply and production of controlled drugs. These abuses are just some of the horrors of prohibition and what is clear is that the current international control of drugs under the United Nations is in direct conflict with human rights obligations that the same system demands, rightly, that countries uphold. 

On Wednesday 16 October the Julien J. Studley Graduate Programs in International Affairs (GPIA) at The New School in New York  will host a panel of international experts who will explore the damage that drug prohibition has caused in countries and communities across the Globe. Professor of International Affairs and Program Director Sakiko Fukuda-Parr will open the panel welcoming the return of the Dialogues on Global Drug Series to the New School.

The panel, moderated by Kasia Malinowska, Director of Global Drug Policy Program at the Open Society Foundation, will discuss the human rights implications of the War on Drugs. Julie Hannah, one of the speakers at the event, is the Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy at Essex University in the United Kingdom. She also played a leading role in the development of  the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy which was launched at this year’s Commission of Narcotic Drugs in Vienna and which was co-sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, UNAIDS, and the World Health Organisation. Julie Hannah stated that:

“For more than a decade, the debates around the failures of prohibition have been sharpened by applying a human rights framework for scrutiny.  The human rights costs are visible, palpable, and now much more widely emphasised by governments and civil society actors alike.  What has been lacking is concrete guidance to what a human rights approach to drug policy might look like.  Spanning the entire market chain and touching on the full spectrum of rights, the Guidelines provide the needed content and contours to what are often very abstract principles of what States should and should not do.”

A human rights approach is central to dismantling the current prohibition framework and intersects with a multitude of protected rights as enshrined in International treaties. One of the speakers, Benjamin De Loenen, who founded the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research & Service (ICEERS), will explore his work with indigenous communities and their traditional use of psychoactive plants for cultural and religious purposes. Benjamin will explore the human rights basis for the use of such plants in society and how the rights of indigenous people are undermined by the current legal framework.

Beyond the issues faced by indigenous populations there are communities across the Globe engaged in the illicit drugs economy. John Collins, the Executive Director of the London School of Economics (LSE) International Drug Policy Unit, and Fellow of the LSE US Centre, will be discussing the experiences of communities in the borderlands of Myanmar, Afghanistan and Colombia as part of his current research. John will also be exploring the broader political economy of international drug control, as well as the evolving dynamics on national and international policy reforms. As John Collins highlights:

“With the failures of militarized and repressive policies widely evident and, in academic discourses at least, widely accepted, policy analyses need to refocus on new approaches beyond a simplistic “war on drugs”. Multilateralism is fragmenting across the globe and more complex responses to market and policy externalities are widely viewed as an increasing moral imperative in many spheres. Drug policy is a clear example of this. Whereas policies were traditionally designed and dictated in a global north context and exported to the global south, we need a more responsive system, based on local needs and exigencies rather than the too often prefabricated and ideological policy constructs of the past. I am extremely excited to see these kinds of important discussions being fostered by the New School.”        

One of the primary features of this event is the role of academic institutions in the analysis and development of drug policy. As highlighted, both the University of Essex and LSE have established centres and programs dedicated to researching the impact of drug policy and its alternatives, the New School joins a growing number of respected institutions who are exploring this fundamentally important policy area.

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, on behalf of the faculty in Graduate Programs in International Affairs, commented “We are delighted to be co-hosting the Dialogues on Global Drug Policy series, and particularly this event. At the Studley Programs in International Affairs, applying the human rights lens to urgent social challenges of the day is a consistent theme in the curriculum. We offer courses in diverse areas — human rights and health, human rights and documentary film making, human rights and global fashion —and others.” This spring, the New School will continue to expand its diverse curriculum, offering students The New School’s first course on Global Drug Policy.

As Kasia Malinowska puts it:

“I am excited for the New School to be part of a larger network of academic institutions taking up drug policy. Taking into its multidimensional nature, international relations, public health, human security and rights, criminal justice, as well as social work. It’s a perfect theme to be explored by young people”.

So if you are in New York on Wednesday 16th October and want to learn more or get involved in the discussions then join the panel at the New School, Starr Foundation Hall UL102 University Center 63 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003 at 6.30pm – it is open to all and its free!

When: 16th October 2019 at 6.30pm (EST)

Where: New School, Starr Foundation Hall UL102 University Center 63 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003

To book tickets go to https://bit.ly/2p0UjYW