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22/06/2006 | Written statement on economic, social and cultural rights.

Title: Economic, social and cultural rights
The Transnational Radical Party wishes to address the issue of the lack of availability of opium-based painkillers in the context of the reconstruction of Afghanistan and also the issue of economic social and cultural rights of the people that live in areas where the traditional, medicinal as well as sacred use of the coca leaf is prohibited by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The TRP believe that these issues amount to a violation of economic, social and cultural rights.

Concerning Opioids: The cultivation of opium for medical and scientific purposes is legal in France, Hungary, Spain, Australia, India and Turkey, the production is carried out industrially to supply the legal market of pain-killers, the demand for opioids is on the rise.

In May 2005, in his address to the 58th session of the World Health Organization (WHO), Professor Hamid Ghodse, President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), drew the attention of Member States on the shortage of essential narcotic drugs needed for medical and scientific purposes.

The latest data produced by the INCB in 2003, signal that six countries together accounted for 79% of the global consumption of morphine, while developing countries, which represent about 80% of the world’s population “account for only about 6% of the global consumption of morphine”. The INCB President also added that this “results in many governments not being able to provide adequate care for the thousands of patients suffering from cancer or AIDS” thus condemning thousands of people to an atrocious death in excruciating pain.

According to WHO projections, 10 million cancer cases per year will occur in developing countries by the year 2015, and that, if the availability of drugs in developing countries is not improved, lack of access to opioid analgesics will cause massive amounts of unnecessary pain and suffering. According to the INCB, this situation can become "even graver if crises occur, be they humanitarian crisis or natural disasters, such as the December 2004 tsunami, when essential drugs are part of the supplies needed" and that they should therefore "be available at all times in adequate amounts and in the appropriate dosage forms to satisfy the health-care needs of the majority of the population”. The TRP believes that the UN should establish some sort of "Humanitarian Morphine Programme" setting up warehouses in key areas of the world to be coordinate by OCHA or WHO. It must be emphasized that Morphine is on the "Model List of Essential Drugs" established by WHO as one of the analgesics for severe pain.

According to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the current production level of legal opium is approximately 400-500 tons (of morphine equivalent) and that global stocks of licit opiate raw materials have been rising in recent years from over 400 tons in 2000 to over 850 tons in 2003. These UN figures only take into consideration the distribution of the market as highlighted by the INCB but they do not address the possible launching of programs of legal production of heroin for its distribution, under strict medical control, that are bearing encouraging results in several European States and represent a decennial and consolidated success in Switzerland, nor the use of poppy seeds in traditional dishes.

The production of the plants necessary for the preparation of substances used in various therapies such as opium and cocaine, remains illegal in the majority of the countries of the world imposing a regime of prohibition that from those specific products expands to social, cultural and traditional aspects with political and economical devastating repercussions for the inhabitants of those countries, Afghanistan and Colombia in particular.

Despite a slight reduction in the areas dedicated to the poppy production, the overall output of Afghanistan for 2005 stands at 4,100 tonnes - a minor decrease if compared with the 4,200 tonnes produced in 2004. Furthermore it needs to be taken into account that despite the increase of international efforts to eradicate poppy Afghanistan remains the largest supplier of opium with 87% of global production.

Article 22 of the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances states that “Whenever the prevailing conditions in the country or a territory of a Party render the prohibition of the cultivation of the opium poppy [...] the most suitable measure, in its opinion, for protecting the public health and welfare and preventing the diversion of drugs into the illicit traffic, the Party concerned shall prohibit cultivation”. Afghanistan is party to the 1961 Convention but it is evident that its prevailing conditions cannot render the prohibition of poppy production “the most suitable measure” to control the phenomenon.

In March 2005, on the occasion of the 48th session of the UN Commission on Narcotics, the think tank Senlis Council announced its intention to carry out an independent “Feasibility Study on Opium Licensing in Afghanistan for Production of Morphine and Other Essential Medicines”. The TRP believes it is an idea worth studying. Afghanistan has lived with resolve through a series of radical changes that have started to rebuild a country destroyed by foreign occupation, civil war and the presence of all sorts of extremisms, as well as the encouraging progress concerning the opening up of Afghan society and the setting up of democratic institutions that today allow an increasing popular participation, also in a context where we continue to witness an impressive production of opium that is destined to the production of heroin mainly for the European market.

In the case of Afghanistan the possibility to accede to the legal opium market could represent a cornerstone of the political, economic and social future of that country. At the end of January 2006, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Afghanistan suggesting a more open-minded approach to counter-narcotics strategies worldwide. In fact, the resolution called on the participants in the Conference of donors, which took place in London at the end of January 2006 "to take into consideration the proposal of licensed production of opium for medical purposes, as already granted to a number of countries." Unfortunately, the Donor Conference reaffirmed all the pillars of the counter-narcotics strategy that supposedly should bring about the eradication of poppy in Afghanistan. The TRP urges the Members of the Commission to monitor the outcomes of that strategy, which so far has proved to be inappropriate and ineffective, calling for periodic evaluations to be carried out also on the basis of the information contained in this statement.

Concerning coca leaf: Over the last decade, the international community has addressed coca-related issues promoting a series of programs of "supply reduction" as well as "alternative development" to eradicate the “evil” plant from the face of the earth. All those efforts have proven to be unsuccessful in eliminating and/or substituting coca with other licit crops. Many of these eradication programs, like the aerial fumigations in Colombia, have been carried out often through violent means and have had a tragic impact on the health of thousands of people as well as on the environment of the concerned regions. In other eradication efforts, money has been promised to campesinos for their voluntary eradication and/or eventual substitution of coca.

Despite some timid positive results, duly documented by the UN in Bolivia and Peru in the late 1990s, in the medium-long term all the anti-coca programs have miserably failed. Different is the fate of "alternative development" programs. While in theory the idea of promoting licit crops as an alternative means for the development of those societies where the plants used for the production of narcotics are grown is a good one, in practice the substitution has never proven to be fully self-sufficient in the medium or long term. In fact, once the international community stopped the funding of those projects, the progress achieved disappeared in a matter of months, leaving local communities without the means provided by the "artificial" international support to sustain the alternative crops and ready to go back to cultivating the illicit plant.

For years, the alternatives to coca bush have been palm hearts, coffee, bananas and other crops in vogue at the time, products that, over the last years, have seen a surplus in the world production that has caused a drastic decrease in their profitability - annulling all the economic arguments in favour of the substitution. Lastly, when it comes to agricultural products, the tariff system imposed by North American and European countries places an unfair burden on developing nations closing rich markets to products from the "south".

With time passing, the situation in the Andes has become unbearable for local communities, the general development of their countries the wellbeing of the entire Latin American continent, and has provided an incredible source of easy and big money for all sorts of illegal groups, from the Narcos to terrorist as well as paramilitary networks. This dramatic situation is always addressed with the same formula: Prohibition; a formula that has not produced the desired results and needs a radical revision also to allow the full enjoyment of the Andean peoples economic, social and cultural rights.

The TRP believes that over the last few months a series of political changes in the Andean-Amazonian region should be regarded as a window of opportunity to open a debate on the economic, social and cultural rights of people living in the area that are violated by the prohibition of the production of coca leaf. For instance, in the framework of UN programs that promote "alternative development", a feasibility study to assess the possibility to allow the development of original as well as industrial uses of the plant should be considered. In fact, coca leaf can be used to produce medicines of different sorts, but also, as it has done for hundreds of years, coca can be used in the production of goods such as tea, flour, toothpaste, soap, condiments, fabrics, chewing gum as well as different dietary supplements and, last but not least, the means to alleviate the abuse of the chemical substances processed from its leaves.

Comprehensive alternative development projects should address the broader economic situation of farmers, who cultivate "drug crops" due not only to "rural poverty", "lack of access to markets for legal products" and "unsuitable soil for many other crops" as stated in dozens of UN official documents, but also because the plants that were outlawed 40 years ago, are an integral part of the cultures, traditions and religions of the indigenous peoples living in those regions where these agricultural products are endemic.

The original or industrial use of coca may trigger many positive outcomes:

• it will remain within the local culture and tradition (at times sacred) of dozens of groups, including ethnic minorities, that live throughout the Andes;

• it will not imply an "intrusion" in a region's economy with techniques and or producing habits that do not belong to that part of the world;

• it will provide a particularly environmentally-friendly and ecological industry that could facilitate the development of rural areas and their eventual/possible industrialization in a context that respects local customs and practices;

• it will take away the business from the criminal networks that today control and blackmail peasants that are involved in illegal activities;

• a conversion of programs of supply reduction to curb the production of illicit crops into alternative development of the illicit plants, would also be instrumental in ceasing the negative impact of eradication techniques, which cause dramatic health and environmental problems in several areas of the Andes.

The TRP welcomes a more pragmatic approach shown by some UN Member States during the last few years on the issue of illicit crops, but remains particularly concerned by the fact that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs has not taken them into due consideration and has refused time and again to foster a debate along the lines of economic, social and cultural rights concerning those regions where raw materials are grown.