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Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was president of Brazil from 1995-2003, speaking at an event on June 2, 2015. (Photo: Chatham House/flickr/cc

War on Drugs 'Is an Unmitigated Disaster': Former Latin American Heads of State

Former leaders write in op-ed that solution must include decriminalization and promote 'the health and welfare of humanity'

Andrea Germanos

"The 'war on drugs' is an unmitigated disaster."

That's the resounding judgement of three former Latin American heads of state who write in an op-ed published Friday in the Los Angeles Times that the best way to approach the problem is one that puts health and human rights first.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico, describe how an upcoming special session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS) on global drug policy already appears to be a missed, historic opportunity.

A draft declaration crafted to be adopted by UNGA members at the April 19 meet ignores the "comprehensive failure of the current drug control system to reduce supply or demand" and "perpetuates the criminalization of producers and consumers."

Further, the group behind the declaration, the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs, refused input during the negotiation process from stakeholders and experts including civil society groups, the three men charge, rendering negotiations "neither transparent nor inclusive."

A better solution for member states to pursue, they write, is one "that actually promotes the health and welfare of humanity," stops "the criminalization and incarceration of drug users," and ends the "medieval practice" of death penalty for drug-related crimes.

The World Health Organization must also be allowed "to review the scheduling system of drugs on the basis of science, not ideology." In addition, governments must control and regulate drugs, they write, and point to successes that approach brought to Portugal and Uruguay.

Cardoso is also the chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), a five-year old group whose members include former UN head Kofi Annan, other former heads of state, human rights experts, and renowned authors, which has previously described the failures of the war on drugs.

The GCDP, whose members also include Gaviria and Zedillo, issued a statement Friday outlining the same concerns regarding the "disappointing" process leading up to the special session.

The "opportunity to achieve more humane and effective drug policy [at the upcoming UNGASS] is at risk," the statement reads, adding that the outcome document has "no recognition of the failures of the present system to reduce supply and demand."

But hope is still possible from the meeting, it states, "if heads of state lay the foundations for a more effective global drug control system that puts peoples' lives and dignity first."

As Ivan Šimonović, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, put it last month: "People do not lose their human rights because they use drugs."

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