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OAS Secretary General Says Debate on Drugs in the Region Hinges on Four Issues: Security, Alternative Sanctions, a Public Health Approach and Judicial Cooperation

  December 12, 2013

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, said today that, starting from the basis of the Drug Report prepared by the hemispheric institution and the discussion it has sparked in the region, the debate should hinge on four issues: security, alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders, the application of a public health approach, and regional judicial cooperation in tackling the drug trafficking economy.

In his presentation today during the second day of the 54th Regular Session of the OAS Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) in Bogotá, Colombia, the OAS leader recalled that the “Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas” (Analytical Report and Scenarios Report) was presented in May just before the 53rd Regular Session of CICAD in Washington; and since then the report has been discussed in various forums and presented to various heads of state and other senior officials in the region, as well as European governments and other international forums. "I hope that this debate will allow us, after 40 years of doing the same thing, to introduce changes in our policies and actions to help us improve our ability to address the problem," he said.

In his analysis of the first conclusions of the debate, the Secretary General stressed that "there are four issues which generate the most interest among experts, policy makers and civil society," which indicates the specific aspects that should be further discussed in the immediate future.


The first focus of attention, said the leader of the hemispheric Organization, "is how to propose and promote new models of security for the region," and recalled that the Report suggests that the insecurity caused by gang activity or drug "cartels" affects citizens in their physical integrity and their heritage as well as society as a whole, creating corruption that undermines civil and state institutions and affects democratic governance.

“It is the lack of rule of law, therefore, which best explains the high rates of violence by criminal organizations and the fact that they dominate territories and influence public decisions. For the same reason, this is where the emphasis should be to eradicate, or at least drastically reduce the insecurity that affects citizens. Strengthening security, therefore, is a primary task for all countries in the Hemisphere and a great challenge for all of our member countries," he said.

Alternatives to incarceration

The OAS leader noted that the second focus of the debate relates to alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders and a review of the proportionality of sentences for crimes related to drugs, an aspect that is associated with "one of the issues that has drawn perhaps the most attention from the Report: our contention that the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use should be considered as part of the basis of any public health strategy." "We set forth very clearly that the addict suffers from a chronic illness and should not be punished for the addiction, but has the right to adequate medical treatment. And we clarified that the measures that restrict freedom are antagonistic to this approach, and should only be used when the addict's life is at risk or when his behavior poses a risk to society," he added.

The Secretary General noted that the region has 3.6 million prisoners, of which nearly 2 million are incarcerated for drug offenses, and he mentioned in particular the case of women's prisons in South America, where about 70 percent of those arrested are there for nonviolent cases of micro-trafficking. "The majority come from socially marginalized and vulnerable communities, and are often migrants or members of indigenous populations. Similarly, many prisons have very high levels of overcrowding, where prisoners are victims of sexual abuse, extortion and bullying," he said and added that, “all this has high social costs in the medium and long term: the destruction of the social fabric; the weakening of families of prisoners and, therefore, the generational reproduction of criminal behavior, the criminal learning in prisons and the growing financial burden of the prison system, among other factors."

A public health issue

The third major theme that has emerged from the open dialogue produced by the Report deals with the application of a public health approach to drug policy, and the use of scientific evidence in its formulation, monitoring and evaluation. In this regard, the OAS Secretary General said that this starting point is essential to finding a comprehensive policy to the drug problem, and it is also essential to devote more resources and programs in order to succeed.

"This approach includes promoting healthy lifestyles, protecting users with measures to limit the availability of psychoactive substances, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and social integration. The fundamental change in this area lies in the consideration of the user as a victim, a chronic addict and not a criminal or a drug trafficking accomplice," he said, while stressing the contributions in this area made by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and CICAD, through a joint work plan.

Judicial Cooperation

The fourth aspect that Secretary General Insulza highlighted as a conclusion of the ongoing debate in the Hemisphere is linked to the drug economy and the possibilities of strengthening regional judicial cooperation in both combating money laundering and the administration of confiscated property. In this regard, the Secretary General announced that the CICAD group of experts on money laundering will present tomorrow a series of recommendations to member states that are focused on strengthening the capacity of the authorities responsible for combating these crimes.

The OAS Secretary General stated that in this area, his "greatest aspiration is that the efforts of CICAD and any other contributions that may be made will form the basis of a hemispheric work plan in this area."

In his address, the head of the multilateral Organization mentioned that the first major forum in which the report was discussed was the OAS General Assembly, held in Guatemala in June, where "the 34 member countries of our Organization approved the Declaration of Antigua Guatemala called "For a Comprehensive Policy Against the World Drug Problem in the Americas”. The Secretary General himself presented the Report to heads of state or senior officials from Colombia, Uruguay, Guatemala, the United States, El Salvador, Chile and Bolivia, and also at the subregional level to Caribbean heads of state, through CARICOM and Central American heads of state, through SICA. He also stressed the interest expressed on the subject by many world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly held in September. "At that time I was able to hold bilateral meetings at which the main topic was the Report, the Declaration of Antigua Guatemala and the upcoming United Nations Special Assembly on drugs," he added.

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Reference: E-482/13