UN Conventions and likely reforms


Thank you Mr Chairman,

I think I will deliver my speech in English not only because you gave me the floor in English, but also because the English language is the working language of the International Anti-prohibitionist League and I understand that Italian, at least for the next few years, might not be the language of anti-prohibition.

What we heard yesterday from Daniele Cappezzone and I think what we are going to hear later on from Rita Bernardini is that in Italy, if you want to counter current drugs law, you have to speak with your body or with the language of non-violence rather than the Language that Dante used to write his Inferno, because there is not necessarily a fair environment to propose anti-prohibitionist views and/or to establish a dialogue with the Institutions.

The Italian Government has issued a very strong position on drugs which once again is based on the propaganda that is usually used when people or Governments, I should say, but also non-governmental organisations use when they address the drugs issue.

At least until the end of the month, I am the President of the General Council of the TRP and, up to last night, I am also the Executive Director or Secretary General of the International Anti-prohibitionist League.

I will try to explain to the conference how the two organisations are linked.

One thing that we decided to do last night was to propose an amendment to the current statute to make the IAL a constituent body of the TRP.

Therefore, there would be a formal representation of the IAL within the TRP which will influence the activities of the TRP, but the IAL will also be influenced, guided, consulted by the TRP and its Board Members.

As some of you may know, the TRP is an evolution of an Italian Political Party which until the end of the 1980s was also an electoral party.

In 88-89, the organisation decided to remain a political party but to withdraw from the electoral scene.

It became a non-governmental organisation.

What does this mean? I guess it means that there are groups that have nothing to do with governments even if at one time they received money from them.

So, there is not necessarily a clear distinction between governmental and non-governmental organisations, but I believe that what in other languages is an "association" or "una associazione", in English becomes a non-governmental organisation.

In 1995 this non-governmental organisation, or NGO, received a formal affiliation with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

That is called Consultative Status.

This formal affiliation allows an NGO to be present within the UN system in different buildings. I should say that entering the UN is the main privilege that is given to NGOs Members but also a time to address Committees, Commissions, Working Groups, Preparatory Bodies or informal discussions to prepare meetings, conferences, etc.

Using the privilege to enter the UN building, the TRP has allowed representatives of oppressed groups from all over the world to be present where discussions on human rights were held, in particular in Geneva at the Commission of Human Rights and the Sub-commission of Human Rights.

We have given the floor to representatives from Tibet, from Kosovo, from other groups living in China under great pressure, if not real persecution, like Uyghurs from Eastern Turkestan or the Falun Gong.

We have been working with ethnic minorities from all over the world, with oppressed groups like women in Afghanistan and in other countries where the Sharia Law is applied, but also with indigenous people from South East Asia. In particular, I am thinking of the group called "the Montagnards" who live between Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

We have presented the systematic violations of human rights before the international community and also at the Geneva Convention. We have also linked these violations of human rights to the drugs question in Vienna, where the Commission on the Narcotic Drugs meets.

We have done this in the case of Burma, where a military junta has been ruling the country illegally, or not legitimately, for at least eleven or twelve years.

We have done this in the case of Afghanistan, where the international community was establishing contacts, not formal contacts, but a working relationship with the Taliban regime and that have also exposed the role that Pino Arlacchi has played in those contacts.

Telling the world that the Talibans were not only illegitimate representatives of the Afghan people but were also imposing a very conservative reading of the Koran, a very violent form of the Sharia excluding women from public life as well as cracking down on any voice of dissent.

Emma Bonino, as some of you may know, who is member of the TRP and from 1994 to 1999 was also a Member of the European Commission, went to Afghanistan and was arrested by the Talibans once she was actually delivering humanitarian aid.

An arrest that triggered a lot of public debate, not necessarily political debate but an arrest that initiated the process not to give the Talibans formal representation within the UN and to help the previous Afghani Government to retain its seat at the General Assembly for that reason.

Emma Bonino, once back in Europe, launched the campaign to block the recognition of the Talibans, and she was successful. It took a long time. She tried to reach out to all other international officials who, at that time, were women: the High Commissioner for Refugees was a woman, the High Commissioner for Human Rights was a woman, other Members of the European Commission were women.

Unfortunately, none of them signed the circulated petition but in public endorsed the text and the final results was that the Talibans were not recognised

The TRP has been working on the promotion of civil and political rights, the enforcement of democracy and/or the democratisation process trying to mainstream drugs related issues in that kind of action.

I think that what we heard yesterday and also right now are views that approach the drugs question not from an ideological perspective, but in a very pragmatic way.

We have heard from the Institutions, the European Union and Commission and also the Observatory, that International Bodies would like to evaluate current drugs policies and drugs laws on the basis of data or figures.

I would like to remind you that we are talking about an illegal substance and illegal environment so all data that we can gather have a certain degree, a high degree of uncertainty because we don't know whether it is easy to study something that people don't want to tell you that they are doing, cultivating, selling and consuming.

We have to treat these figures cum granu salis, with a grain of salt, because it is not necessarily true that figures that might be available with the most progressive and/or conservative readings of these data are the real ones.

When it comes to discussing the data that they have and that they have often hidden, or that other independent groups, think tanks or other organisations provide them, having a very illiberal or not liberal approach, they don't want to be fed with information that they don't like.

They don't want to be ready to open a real debate to evaluate, according to different parameters, the data given to them.

Some of you may know that in 1997 a very good UN document was produced, that is the World Drugs Report. That report was 320 pages long.

It contained a lot of figures, statistics and data, but also a survey of the alternative approach to the drugs question.

The same year Pino Arlacchi became the Executive Director of the UN Drugs Control Programme. He was supposed to issue the World Drugs Report in 1999: he postponed the publication of the document until 2000, claiming editorial problems. If you see the "2000 UN World Drugs Report", it is 150 pages long, half what it was three years before.

The part of the study that it is missing is the data and also a survey of current policies and/or law reforms that are happening or have been happening all over the world.

And why is that?

Because in 1998 Pino Arlacchi himself was the leader of the renewed war on drugs, even if the current lingo within the UN was not the war on drugs, but drugs as a disease we finally had to cure, like cancer... we have to study, to spend lots of money to develop ways to address that problem and in the end we may be able to find solutions to that disease.

We heard yesterday that some documents were presented in New York in 1998, no new laws or treaties were adopted on that occasion but a solemn political declaration under the slogan "Drug-free world - we can do it".

A ten-year deadline to get rid of all drugs all over the world.

Marco Cappato and I were working in New York at the TRP office in those days and in 1997 we decided to participate in some of the preparatory meetings in Vienna before the convening of the Special Section of the General Assembly.

We started to read all the documents that member states (but I am not sure if really member states or the UNDCP Secretariat were drafting for their eventual submission to the meetings or the drugs forum in June 1998) and we prepared a reading or rather a counter-reading of those documents, something that we put on the table there, that can also be retrieved on the Radical Party website, at www.radicalparty.org.

It is a comparison between what the UN and UN Member States, because they eventually adopted that declaration, were saying and what on the other hand should have been said because in 1998 we already had a disastrous situation with drugs.

In the early 1990s, there was an increase in the production, trafficking, and consumption of traditional drugs but there was also an increase in the invention of new drugs.

We heard earlier from professor Radulovic that there are also some new substances that are not only in Yugoslavia and in Europe, but in other regions of the world, in South East Asia, in Latin America and in some regions of Africa as well.

Many drugs have been invented in the 1990s: of course, given that there is not always co-evidence by the UN Convention, they do not appear in UN studies, but they do exist and Daniele Cappezzone told us that in Italy they have weeks for any issue and we are waiting for the ecstasy (MDMA) week pretty soon, but you know they are present and they are expanding in the market.

The document that we presented or that we tried to present, I should say, and then I will explain why, emphasised many aspects. I will not go through the document in detail because it is quite a long one, but it stressed how regimes were cracking down on people, as professor Radulovic reminded us, for the sake of prohibition.

Prohibition allows governments to impose a police state in different areas, to impose a lot of state sponsored presence in different environments and lot of state control in different environments.

They may be drugs related, but not necessarily drugs related.

If you have a political dissident within the country who is heard talking about drugs he or she may become a target of drugs prohibition.

If you have people who travel around the world or go often to regions where drugs are produced or where we know that there is a lot of traffic, like the Caribbean, well, you never know, the police might open an investigation on these individuals’ activity and you can be sure that they will find that he or she might have a gram of marijuana or hashish in their pockets.

We tried to present our views inside the UN but we were not allowed to do so because Pino Arlacchi decided a couple of weeks before the meeting in Vienna not to allow the presence of NGOs inside the building in New York.

There is an official version and an unofficial version.

The official version is that given the sensitive subject, it would have been a problem to have enough security to take care of NGOs.

There are no more than 17 or 18 NGOs that deal with drugs, I think. Nothing compared to the usual EU forums where you see a thousand NGOs from all over the world.

So it would have created a problem.

Head of States, Prime Ministers and also experts from all over the world decided not to allow NGOs to debate within the UN.

So we were moved across the street, but on the other side of the street in a building where usually NGOs have their office.

The unofficial version that we heard couple of weeks later is that Pino Arlacchi was afraid that Members of the TRP would distribute marijuana inside the UN as they had done previously in the streets of Rome, in the campaign during the late 1990s.

Given that this would have been a great embarrassment to him and to the UN, it was prevented by prohibiting the access of all NGOs to the building.

Nevertheless, we and the Ambassador and friend Van der Tas, who was there with us, were allowed to address the Committee at that point.

Five statements were made on behalf of several groups and the TRP and Marco Cappato delivered a statement criticising the failure of drugs prohibition and the so-called war on drugs.

On that day, a very clear and powerful letter was published in the New York Times and was signed by scores of decision makers, opinion leaders and activists at the very highest level of the International Anti-prohibitionist Movements.

The letter addressed Secretary General Kofi Annan, asking him to be receptive to other approaches, or at least to be ready to open a debate on the failures of the war on drugs.

There is a dispute about whether Kofi Annan responded to the letter: some people, like myself, said, "Yes ,he did," others said, "He never replied," but the end of the story is that the dialogue was never initiated.

After four years, we are here to revive this effort to open a dialogue, or at least to open a debate if not necessarily within the UN then in other environments that can have an impact on the UN on the drugs question.

And here I move from the TRP to the IAL.

Over the last 4 or 5 months right after the TRP Congress in Geneva we decided to make anti-prohibition one of the priorities of the TRP, and we have started to think about the best way to use the study that Gianfranco Dell'Alba mentioned this morning and that was issued in 1994 concerning the UN Convention on Drugs.

But most of all, the best way to equip those who are in the position to do something with some tools to do it, to open a debate on concrete things and proposals in order to achieve a concrete goal, which is the method that the TRP has always used.

You try to find an objective, preferably an achievable objective, not peace on earth (everybody wants it but how you achieve it is a different story) but a concrete objective, as well as method of work and partners to carry out those activities.

Of course we thought about the International Anti-prohibitionist League, which has been dormant for long time, because the name was more or less known and it has already prepared some good reports and studies.

We also thought about a parliamentary side of the effort.

This is why Marco Cappato, other Members of the European Parliament and Chris Davis, in particular, who was here with us yesterday, decided to revive this informal network of Members of Parliament that is called "Parliamentarians for Anti-prohibitionist Action".

In order to follow up all the declarations on the prohibitionist but also the anti-prohibitionist side that have been made since the UN Special Session on Drugs, we had to work with different actors in different regions of the world to stir a public debate on drugs and go to the core problems which can be summarised with a very short slogan - the one I learned from Maurizio Turco when I was a listener of Radio Radicale: "Drugs are dangerous because they are illegal".

That is the problem.

It is true, and I believe that this is not an ideological approach because we have evidence that there has not been a decrease of any kind of activity or aspect related to drugs, that we should target those documents that make these drugs illegal: the three UN Conventions on Narcotic and Psychotropic substances of 1961, 1971 and 1988.

The problem is why to target a UN document rather then national laws?

Because we have seen, Radicals in particular have experienced it in Italy, that every time you try to push for a more radical, more liberal or more progressive reform at national level, you have the State or the Institutions of that country that say that they have already ratified the UN Convention, and thus cannot do that because otherwise it would be a violation of the UN document.

This, for instance, was the case in 1995 and 1997 when the Italian Constitutional Court deemed unconstitutional a proposal for a referendum that at that time the Lista Pannella proposed twice to legalise the personal use of cannabis.

If it is good to have national movements trying to relax laws, decriminalise laws, and implement as many drugs reduction projects as possible, without this international side it might be possible that at the end of the day nothing major happens.

You have people who are allowed to receive drugs under medical prescription or can smoke marijuana in some places, but you will never have the same kind of standards in the same countries, in the same regions or in the same federations of countries or in a group like the European Union.

So why it is good to equip the national working groups?

Daniele Cappezzone told us about what is going on in Italy. We have also heard what is going on in other countries, and it is possible that later on today we will hear what is happening in other parts of the world.

We have our friend from the US, who I think will tell as about national legalisation of medical marijuana or at least all the problems they are having with those movements.

What I would like to emphasise is that those reforms have all gone through the public process, which was a referendum proposal and vote.

Also in Italy, we said yesterday, in 1993 soft drugs or no drugs, cannabis derivatives were in a way decriminalised through a popular referendum.

In Italy to have a valid vote to reach the quorum, you need 50% of the electorate, which is a lot of people, more than 20 million people, and 55% of those who bothered to vote voted in favour of decriminalising drugs.

In other words 7 million people in Italy decided to go in the right direction, I would say, to agree with those who where calling for a relaxation of drugs laws, as the Radicals were doing in the early 1990s in Italy.

National movements, national activities are fine, but at the same time we have to start a debate. This is the only thing we can do at this point within the international forum

How we can do that is something on which we have worked over this summer.

We have not found a formula that we know is going to work, but at least we wanted to give it a shot.

This is why we want to revive the IAL and convince some of Members of the PAA, the Parliamentarians for Anti-prohibitionist Action here.

This is why we asked some friends, like Joao de Meneizes Ferreira, who spoke yesterday, as TRP members to reach out to their constituency in their country to present the proposal and to also initiate a dialogue with legislators, decision makers, however you want to call them, to open a debate on the UN Conventions on drugs.

What we heard yesterday I think is very encouraging and I hope that all of you who leave this room tonight and have contacts within your national parliament should try to establish contacts with those Members of Parliament who you believe might be interested in this issue in order to generate more support on this idea and initiate a debate at a national level, to eventually move it to an international level and arrive at Vienna with some countries singing a different kind of tune rather then the usual chorus that we have had within the UN forum.

How we help this debate?

I think that this is an important part of the work that the IAL has being doing and tomorrow I will go through the preparation of some scientific documents.

Carla Rossi, who could not be with us yesterday and today because of health reasons, and to whom we send our best wishes and regards, "Ciao Carla", is working on a project, something that we should call a World Drugs Counterpart, where we actually expose the naked truth about prohibition with data regarding not only pilot projects on national experiments of alternative approaches to the drugs question, but also statistics about the amount of money that is spent to implement prohibitionist laws in different parts of the world, as well as the impact that prohibition has on HIV or on specific groups, like women in some countries, not necessarily in Afghanistan.

There are studies that demonstrate that women are becoming victims of prohibition more than men.

There is an increase in the number of women suffering from prohibition.

That document should be ready, hopefully, by the end of January, and will be circulated in different forms.

We will start from the European Parliament and then we will move to the diplomatic representations in the various offices in the UN where they deal with drugs.

We will also send it to eminent personalities and experts that we want to involve in a different kind of exercise through an international appeal.

Something along the line of the letter that was published in the New York Times in 1998, perhaps with some extra data and signed by different people.

To open the famous, or infamous debate about the effectiveness of the UN Convention on Drugs we will have to launch some activities at the Parliamentary level, and I hope they will be in a position to join us in these activities.

We will prepare drafts with them and some Members of the PAA, some Parliamentary Resolutions and Motions.

We will also convene meetings in different parts of the world.

The first one that we are going to have and that will address prohibitionist and anti-prohibitionist proposals is the Congress of the TRP in Tirana.

I encourage you to log on the web site once again at www.radicalparty.org where you will find several documents on drugs that Marco Cappato and I have prepared - I think that you have also received them by email.

We will be delighted to hear your comments, criticisms, and opinions about these documents in order to help us to evolve in a certain direction rather than in another.

Another meeting that we are planning together with David Borden, who has been elected as a member of the Board of the IAL, is in Mexico, in Merida, and is going to happen in February.

Of course, there will be the Vienna meeting that will have to be targeted, if not with a counter-meeting inside the UN, which is going to be tough, then through a series of public gatherings and events all over Europe close to April, and then possibly once again publicise in the newspaper the appeal and the parliamentary movements that we started.

We will see what we are able to do.

We would like you to join us in this effort because alone we cannot do it.

We believe that we can succeed because we are not driven by ideology but by a pragmatic approach which is based on experience, and all of you here have personal or an organisational experience in the drugs field.

After April we will have two more stops that we want to take into consideration.

One is the Third Committee of the UN in New York, which is the body where the international community debates drugs-related issues.

After that there is the Economic and Social Council, which will meet next year in Geneva until the end of July. It is the body that also governs the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and is the one that might figure the convening of the diplomatic convention to review the UN Conventions.

I have spoken for quite a long time and I apologise for that, but I wanted to share with you what the TRP, on one hand, and the IAL, on the other, have been doing and intend to do for the next few months.

Then we will reassess, at some point next year, to see where we are and what we have been able to achieve.

My request to participants in this conference is to be as receptive as possible to this proposal, but also at the same time to be proactive in suggesting what at national or regional level can be done in different parts of the world, because we often issue this call for unity and collaboration but we rarely achieve them.

We have great opportunities for next year at the April 2003 Assessment Conference within the UN, and we have to take this opportunity to re-launch the movement.

It might be a long-term commitment, but we have to start somewhere, I think.

What we have done yesterday and this morning and what we have been doing for the last two days is a good start.

We know that other groups intend to organise other kinds of conferences.

We have to establish a way to work together, because the final objective is not the liberalisation of drugs, as we often hear, but the legalisation of drugs in order to regulate the problem and find possible solutions.

Thank you very much for your attention, and once again I apologise for the lengthy intervention.

Marco Perduca, President of the General Council of the TRP, Secretary of the IAL

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