Media Center

Press Release

OAS Held Roundtable on the Drug Problem in the Americas from a Human Rights Perspective

  November 12, 2013

The Organization of American States (OAS) today held its 54th Roundtable that focused on discussing the drug problem in the Americas from a human rights perspective at the hemispheric institution’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, said that the OAS report on “The Drug Problem in the Americas” ( Analytical Report and Scenarios Report) was presented on different occasions since its publication last May, but that it was never submitted for debate to an audience involved with human rights. “The report was commissioned by the Sixth Summit of the Heads of State of the Americas, based on the evidence that policies to eliminate drug trafficking in recent decades have failed to the point that, far from being reduced, it has expanded throughout the region and has become a threat to the integrity of states,” he said.

The OAS Secretary General said that while drug trafficking and use affects all the countries in the region, consumption, although higher in North America, is experiencing an increase in South America where in some regions cocaine-paste and crack use is a concern. “By contrast, its impact on the economy, security and democratic governance is greater in the countries of cultivation, production and transit located in the south and in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.”

In analyzing the problem from a human rights perspective, Secretary General Insulza said the insecurity caused by drug gangs’ activity “affects citizens in their physical integrity, as well as their material possessions, and society as a whole by generating corruption that weakens civil and state institutions and can affect the countries’ democratic governance.” In this regard, he added that “it is the lack of rule of law that best explains the high rate of violence by criminal organizations and the fact that they control territories and influence public decisions.”

The head of the OAS said that the state cannot abdicate its obligation to protect the life, the freedom and the welfare of its citizens, which are threatened by organized crime violence. “Criminal violence perpetrated by criminal gangs in our regions and districts of our countries violates the rights enumerated in Article 3 and 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which speak of life, security, and the liberty of persons.” In this regard, he also indicated that freedom of expression is being threatened “when in Latin America journalists are so often murdered and intimidated” and when “access to justice is affected because victims or witnesses who report crimes are subject to the revenge of gangs that remains unpunished.”

The OAS Secretary General said that the international conventions related to the issue of drugs make little reference to standards of justice based on human rights principles. “The 1961, 1971 and 1988 International Conventions on Drugs within the framework of the United Nations mention only once explicitly the need for basing criteria on the respect of human rights: Article 14 of the 1988 Convention on crop eradication,” he indicated. He added that “this omission also appears in national laws” and that in spite of the fact that many countries in the region have recognized that drug consumption and abuse must be treated as a health issue, “in these countries, it is possible to find drug users imprisoned for the sole reason of having drugs on them in order to consume them,” he added.

“The main message of our Report is that addressing the drug problem in an efficient manner requires a multi-pronged approach, great flexibility, an understanding of different realities and the belief that to be successful, it is necessary to maintain our countries’ unity recognizing the diversity of their specific situations,” Secretary General Insulza said. He added that greater flexibility could lead to accepting changes in national legislation or to fostering changes in international law.

“As to the United Nations conventions, changes will arise from the possibility that the current system of narcotic and psychotropic substances’ control becomes more flexible and allows countries to collectively explore drug policy options that take into account the needs, behaviors and traditions of each of them,” the OAS Secretary General concluded.

Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Emilio Álvarez Icaza, said that the drug problem in the region profoundly affects families and youth, especially those with fewer resources. "There is a problem with the options that some young people have in our counties when they have, as their future or development, poverty or migration, crime or drugs," he said, adding that "in some sectors of our countries it is the future that they are being offered, and that reality means a context of denial of rights.”

The IACHR Executive Secretary asserted that this lack of opportunities that large segments of youth in the Americas are faced with "is part of the challenges of democracies, because although we have progressed and have made many efforts to build a democratic spring the region, this does not mean we don’t run serious risks and that we don’t have situations of denial of rights.” “The number of people dying as a result of violence generated by drug trafficking deserves other kind of responses and, faced with this dilemma, we are forced not only to push the debate, but also to change a reality that is unacceptable," he said.

"Looking towards 2025"

The Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), Paul Simons, focused his presentation on the Scenarios Report and the methodology used to produce it. "We try to be very inclusive by incorporating many perspectives and emphasizing the multidimensional component of the subject. The scenarios were designed by a group of 47 representatives from governments, civil society, judges, police forces, health workers, youth, women and indigenous peoples, among others," he explained.

After a year of work, 75 interviews of high-level officials, including heads of state and former heads of state, two one-week meetings in Panama, and a starting point of 200 possible scenarios, the final four were selected. Three of them—"Together," “Pathways," and "Resilience"—describe different alternatives for the future depending on whether emphasis is placed on institutional strengthening, experimentation with legal amendments, or the ability to react to the problem from the community, and the fourth, "Disruption," warns of what might happen if there is no consensus in the short-term on a shared vision that allows for joint efforts in order to tackle the problem.

The goal when selecting and developing the Scenarios, said Simons, was "to look towards the future in 2025, with photographs from the world of drugs that were relevant, challenging, achievable, and clear. It was not necessarily to make predictions or preferred futures, but rather possible futures," he said.

For his part, Javier Sicilia, poet and leader of the Movement for Peace with Social Justice and Dignity, and whose son was murdered along with other youth in Mexico by drug traffickers in 2011, praised the OAS for addressing the issue of drug trafficking and for bringing it to discussion. "I speak about the victims such as my son Juan Francisco, who was not an addict but a sportsman, and for thousands like him who are losing their lives in this war, and—forgive the word—war is stupid, but this is the most stupid that I've ever seen in my life,” he asserted.

Sicilia said that "the prohibition of drugs is stupid," and that "the drug problem should be treated from the standpoint of public health.” He added that "weapons are a delicate issue, because drugs kill even if they may not kill, but if their use is well controlled, they will kill less. However, weapons kill because they are powerful, and they not only murder but are also used to force submission, to intimidate, to extort and to kidnap," he added. He noted that in the case of the United States, "this country has reversed the problem, because it condemns drugs and liberalizes weapons.”

The Director of the Human Rights Program of Global Exchange, Ted Lewis, indicated that the problem of drugs affects particularly the Latino and African-American communities in the United States, and he noted that violence stemming from the war against drugs worsened after the declaration of war made by the Government of Mexico in 2006. Lewis called for more flexibility while dealing with the problem and praised countries such as Uruguay, as well as the U.S. state of Colorado and the District of Columbia, which are testing other alternatives to legalize marijuana in order to take control of drug trafficking black market.

Héctor Sánchez, the Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), an organization that fights for the rights of Latinos in the Untied States, said that in this country, “there is a large exclusion of Latinos and African-Americans,” who have the highest incarceration rates for drug-related offenses. Sánchez said that Latinos have to assert their growing political weight in U.S. elections since their vote is key when electing the President of the United States. He also denounced the privatization of prisons in the United States and said that corporations lobby in Washington to stiffen penalties, which have a direct impact on the Latino community.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The B-roll of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-428/13