Some brutal regimes with draconian drug policies signed on — and a few allies balked at the Trump administration’s retrograde drug war push.
(The Intercept) THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION announced last week that it would kick off the United Nations General Assembly with an event inviting member states to join a revamped U.S. war on drugs. On Monday, Donald Trump got his drug meeting — but not quite everyone signed on. Billed as a “Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem,” the State Department said that 130 countries had agreed to a nonnegotiable text, but missing from that list were a number of key U.S. allies.
For the U.N. member countries, some realpolitik over dealing with the U.S. was involved, but analysts of international affairs and drug policy said that many governments chafed at the way the document and meeting were proposed — even if the U.S.’s powerful position at the world body meant that more than 100 countries signed up anyway.
“The U.S. is trying to lead us backwards now to the failed policies that led us here.”
“I think a lot of delegations, including a lot of delegations that ended up signing, found it entirely offensive that one country would take it upon itself with a few others, pronounce a text as nonnegotiable, and then pressure countries to sign up because they said so,” said John Walsh, director for drug policy and the Andes at the Washington Office on Latin America. Advocates like Walsh expressed concern at the substance of the U.S. program, as well. “The U.S. is trying to lead us backwards now to the failed policies that led us here,” he said.
Some U.S.-allied governments echoed those concerns, albeit in softer terms. Speaking to Norwegian TV, the country’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said the call had “too little focus on the health side of drug policy,” explaining why Norway had turned it down like all the other Nordic countries. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made similar remarks. Nigeria and Brazil were the largest countries to refrain, and Germany was the biggest in Europe to decline. Others who kept away included Uruguay, which has legal marijuana market, and South Africa, which days ago legalized private use of the drug. (Tens of millions of Americans live in states where marijuana is legal.)
As The Intercept reported last week, the Trump administration assembled a number of hard-line countries, including Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia, as partners before sending out the action plan to all member states. The Philippines — where President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war has drawn international criticism for its extrajudicial killings and brutality — and Myanmar, whose government stands accused of genocide, were both included on the final list. Israel signed on, but its U.N. delegation did not attend, presumably to make it easier for other countries, such as those Arab nations who eschew formal relations with Israel, to appear.
“I’m thrilled that every country in the room today has agreed to answer our call, and I want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to this important initiative,” said Trump.
THE CALL, A departure from consensus drug policymaking at the U.N., was crafted around a “four-pronged” strategy — demand and supply reduction, treatment, and international cooperation. A Western diplomat whose government refused to sign on, and who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter involving relations with the U.S., told The Intercept that their delegation resented the lack of consultations over language. The wording, the diplomat said, was reminiscent of that used prior to the General Assembly’s last special session on drugs, in 2016.
The outcome document of that special session, known as UNGASS, was split into seven thematic chapters that addressed some of the same concepts — international cooperation, as well as supply and demand reduction — as those found in Trump’s four prongs. But Trump’s approach does not contain specific progressive measures found in the 2016 document, for instance, a pillar on human rights or alternative development options for those who grow illicit crops, as well as a nod to access to controlled substances. (In many developing countries, the problem for millions suffering from terminal illness is not a surfeit of drugs, but a complete lack of affordable painkillers.) Advocates and U.N. member states who want to change drug policies lamented the absence of these elements in both UNGASS and the new Trump plan.