Human Rights

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The D.E.A. Changes a Policy on Painkillers

The Drug Enforcement Administration has issued a new guideline intended to help ease the delay some nursing home residents face in receiving certain painkillers and anti-anxiety medications. The D.E.A. had not previously recognized nurses employed by nursing homes as the legal agents of doctors in conveying controlled substances prescriptions to pharmacists. The agency’s previous stance, critics said in an article last week in The New York Times, caused many nursing home residents to suffer in pain while they waited for their prescriptions.
Publication/Source: 
The New York Times (NY)
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/health/policy/07aging.html

Cambodia Opens First Methadone Clinic

The Cambodian Ministry of Health has opened a clinic where people addicted to opiates, primarily heroin, can be administered methadone. The move is a significant departure in a country in which "drug treatment" has typically meant imprisonment, forced labor, and unproven herbal treatments.

Royal Palace, Cambodia (wikimedia.org)
The opening of the clinic is the culmination of years of quiet effort by harm reduction organizations, the BBC reported. Two of those groups, which run outreach programs for drug users, will identify candidates for treatment.

The program is strictly voluntary. Participants will be taken to the clinic for a needs assessment in line with international standards. The clinic is inside a public hospital and run by the Ministry of Health with support from the UN's World Health Organization.

While harm reductionists and public health workers are pleased with the government's new approach, they said more steps need to be taken to shut down the existing, punitive drug treatment centers. But the government says it has no plans to do so.

Read an expose of existing Cambodian drug treatment centers here.

Cambodia

Russian Diplomat Takes Over at UN Drug Agency

As of Monday, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is under new management. Russian diplomat Yury Fedotov , who was nominated for the post earlier this year by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, has now taken over the organization that makes up a key part of the global drug prohibition regime. He replaces outgoing UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa.

Yuri Fedotov (courtesy Voice of Russia, ruvr.ru)
The Vienna-based agency, established in 1997, is charged with fighting the illegal drug trade, as well as other international crime, such as corruption and human trafficking. It also publishes annual reports on the global drug scene, as well as regional reports, including annual surveys of Afghan opium poppy production.

"Public health and human rights must be central" to his agency's work, Fedotov said in a statement Monday. "Whether we talk of the victims of human trafficking, communities oppressed by corrupt leaders, unfair criminal justice systems or drug users marginalized by society, we are committed to making a positive difference," he said.

"Drug dependence is a health disorder, and drug users need humane and effective treatment -- not punishment," he added. "Drug treatment should also promote the prevention of HIV."

Harm reductionists and AIDS activists had earlier urged Ki-moon not to appoint Fedotov, pointing to Russia's abysmal record on human rights, the treatment of drug users, and HIV/AIDS prevention. But on Monday, the International Harm Reduction Association told the Associated Press it was willing to give Fedotov a chance based on his early remarks.

"We certainly hope this sets the benchmark for the path he'll be taking," said the association's executive director Rick Lines. "For any public official, they're going to be judged by what they do with the responsibility they're given."

Vienna
Austria

Absence of Morphine Condemns Children to a Life of Pain

Location: 
Kenya
Morphine, as a narcotic, has such a bad reputation in many poor countries that doctors cannot obtain it for their patients. A new report from Human Rights Watch describes the suffering of children in pain in Kenya.
Publication/Source: 
The Guardian (UK)
URL: 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/sarah-boseley-global-health/2010/sep/09/international-aid-and-development-kenya

Boy Shot Dead by Drug War Troops

Location: 
NLE
Mexico
Soldiers opened fire on a family car at a checkpoint in northern Mexico, killing a 15-year-old boy and another person. It is at least the second time this year that a family has been caught up in a shooting involving Mexico's military, which has come under intense criticism for human rights abuses as soldiers fight drug traffickers.
Publication/Source: 
The Press Association (UK)
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5gQR7XRyDpSyIgbfe06G0uSsjx1tw

US Withholds Some Mexico Drug Aid Over Human Rights Concerns

The Obama administration is withholding $26 million in anti-drug aid to Mexico that was appropriated this year because Mexico failed to meet human rights conditions. But at the same time, it is releasing $36 million it withheld last year for the same reason because Mexico has made some human rights improvements, the State Department said in a report released to the Senate Friday.

poster of assassinated human rights advocate Ricardo Murillo
In 2008, as Mexico sank deeper into prohibition-fueled mayhem, Washington approved a $1.4 billion, three-year assistance package called Plan Merida. Part of that legislation mandated Mexican compliance with human rights conditions.

"We believe there has been progress, very significant progress, on human rights in Mexico, but as a policy decision -- not a legal decision -- we are going to wait on a portion of new funding because we think additional progress can be made," said Roberta Jacobson, a deputy assistant secretary for Mexico and Canada at the State Department.

The State Department is withholding 15% of this year's appropriation until Mexico takes a series of measures. Those include limiting the authority of military courts in cases involving abuse of civilians, improving communications with human rights groups in Mexico, and enhancing the authority of the National Human Rights Commission.

Complaints of human rights abuses by the Mexican military have risen sharply since President Felipe Calderon deployed the Army against drug traffickers in December 2006. More than 2,200 have been filed with the National Human Rights Commission since then, but there is little information available about how those complaints have been resolved.

In one incident that renewed calls from human rights groups that civilian authorities -- not the military -- investigate cases involving the military, human rights officials accused the Army of shooting two children and claiming they were caught in the crossfire of a shootout between soldiers and gunmen. In that April incident, two brothers age five and nine were killed. Surviving family members said they were shot by soldiers at a highway checkpoint.

The Mexican government responded by saying it is trying to improve human rights and that Washington should send money faster and not stick its nose in Mexico's business.

"The State Department report establishes that the government of Mexico is carrying out actions to strengthen the observance of human rights," the Mexican Foreign Relations Department said in a statement. "Cooperation with the United States against transnational organized crime through the framework of the Merida Initiative is based on shared responsibility, mutual trust and respect for the jurisdiction of each country, not on unilateral plans for evaluating and conditions unacceptable to the government of Mexico."

The State Department action won mixed reviews from human rights and advocacy groups north of the border. Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America told the Associated Press that withholding the funds sends the message "that you cannot fight crime with crime and you cannot fight drugs while tolerating abuses by your security forces."

But Nik Steinberg of Human Rights Watch told the Washington Post the funding freeze didn't go nearly far enough. "Nothing should have been released, because Mexico is simply not meeting the human rights requirements," Steinberg said. "There are widespread and systematic abuses by the military, for which they have total impunity."

Washington, DC
United States

Mexican Army Kills US Citizen on Acapulco-Zihuatenejo Highway

According to Mexican press reports, the Mexican military shot and killed a US citizen on the Acapulco-Zihuatenejo highway Saturday night. The American was identified as Joseph Steven Proctor, either 32 or 35 years old, of Georgia.

The incident took place on kilometer 14 of the coastal highway, near the village of Cerrito de Oro in the municipality of Coyuca de Benitez in the state of Guerrero. For more than 30 years, the Mexican military has conducted patrols and checkpoints on the highway as part of its "permanent campaign against drug trafficking."

According to Lt. Francisco Javier Escamilla of the 68th Infantry Battalion, soldiers in a Hummer driving toward Coyuca encountered a Winstar pick-up truck traveling toward them. The truck opened fire on the soldiers, and when it refused to stop, the soldiers shot back, causing the truck to overturn.

The Mexican army did not initially report the incident, only issuing its statement after police found Proctor's body. Instead, an anonymous call to state police reported the truck and the body around 2:00am Sunday morning. When police arrived, they found Proctor's body in the truck. It had multiple bullet wounds. They also found an AR-15 rifle with a 41-cartridge clip holding only 34 cartridges.

[Editor's Note: Anyone with experience firing a semi-automatic rifle at oncoming military vehicles while driving solo down the highway, please contact us. We want to know just how that is done.]

Proctor's body was taken to Acapulco for forensic examination, then turned over to his wife, Mexican national Liliana Gil Vargas. Gil Vargas told the newspaper Reforma that her husband had left their home in Coyuca de Benitez at about 10:00pm Saturday night to go shopping at a supermarket.

State and municipal police are investigating. The US consulate in Acapulco is asking that the military cooperate in the investigation.

While the Mexican military has long played a limited role in enforcing drug prohibition, President Felipe Calderon unleashed it in December 2006, deploying some 50,000 soldiers and federal police in hot spots across the country. It is widely accused of human rights violations, ranging from rape and robbery to torture, murder, and forced disappearances.

Coyuca de Benitez
Mexico

Mexican Presidents Talk Drug Legalization

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/fox_0.jpg
Vicente Fox
Last Tuesday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon briefly opened the door to drug legalization, saying it was something that needed to be discussed, only to clarify in a press release hours later that he remained opposed to legalization. Now, Calderon's predecessor, former President Vicente Fox, has stepped up to call forthrightly for legalization, and just two days ago Calderon again expressed a willingness to rethink his aggressive anti-drug campaign.

The discussion comes as Mexico staggers through the fourth year of Calderon's war on the so-called drug cartels. Despite deploying nearly 50,000 soldiers and federal police in the fight, violence has only increased, with the death toll rising year after year. And the drug trade goes on, seemingly unimpeded by the campaign.

Fox's call came in a Saturday blog post in which the ex-president cited the "enormous cost" of fighting organized crime, beginning with the more than 28,000 people the government admitted last week had been killed in prohibition-related violence since Calderon came to power in December 2006. He also cited the cost of corruption among law enforcement and public officials, the loss of tourism, and the threat to foreign investment.

Felipe Calderon attending security conference
"We should consider legalizing the production, distribution and sale of drugs," wrote Fox, like Calderon, a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN). "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked. Legalizing in this sense does not mean drugs are good and don't harm those who consume them," he wrote. "Rather we should look at it as a strategy to strike at and break the economic structure that allows gangs to generate huge profits in their trade, which feeds corruption and increases their areas of power."

Fox also called for the "rapid return of the national army to its bases," saying it was "neither conceived for nor is prepared for police work." The military's role in Calderon's campaign has tarnished its image and led to "more and more" human rights violations, he added. The military's role should be taken over by a new national police force and there should be direct election of police chiefs and high commanders, Fox wrote.

On Tuesday, Calderon underwent his second session of talks on the drug war that he began last week, this time mostly with opposition legislators. Calderon wasn't ready to jump on Fox's legalization bandwagon, claiming that it would lead to increased drug use and wouldn't reduce drug traffickers' income. But he did signal an increasing awareness of the disastrous impact of his policies. "I know that the strategy has been questioned, and my administration is more than willing to revise, strengthen or change it if needed," Calderon said at the meeting. "What I ask, simply, is for clear ideas and precise proposals on how to improve this strategy."

Under the 70-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexican drug trafficking organizations were not so much suppressed as managed, but with the election of Fox, the modus vivendi between traffickers and the state was shattered. Midway through his term, Fox declared war on the cartels and went after their leaders. That led to intramural fighting within and among the cartels and to increased confrontations between traffickers and police, a situation that has only continued to escalate under Calderon.

Mexico

American Gets Drug Death Sentence in Indonesia

A court in Jakarta has sentenced a US citizen to death for his role in an international drug trafficking organization, the Jakarta Globe reported Wednesday. Frank Amado, 46, had been arrested in October carrying more than a pound of methamphetamine outside of his apartment. Police found 11 more pounds of meth when they searched his apartment.

"Considering that during the hearings there was nothing that could lighten the defendant's sentence, and that after deliberations the judges found the defendant proven guilty of the primary charge against him, the defendant is sentenced to death," presiding Judge Dehel Sandan said as he read out the court’s verdict. "Frank intentionally committed a criminal act, unlawfully becoming a courier in a Class I narcotics trade together with Peyman bin Azizallah aka Sorena aka Paulo Russo," Judge Dehel continued.

Peyman, an Iranian citizen, had been getting drugs from two other Iranians, who fled and are still at large. Peyman then turned the drugs over to Amado for delivery. It's unclear what happened to Peyman.

"The defendant was actively involved in a large-scale drug trade that could have fatal consequences for society, especially the younger generation. The sentence was to act as a deterrent for foreigners involved in the drug trade," Judge Dehel said.

According to a June report from the   International Harm Reduction Association , The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses 2010: A Global Overview, Indonesia is one of a group eight Asian and Middle Eastern nations with a "low commitment" to the death penalty for drug offenses, meaning that while they had the death penalty on the books for drug offenses, they applied it sparingly in practice.

The report said two people were executed for drug crimes in 2008 and none last year. But of 111 people on Indonesia's death row, 56 are there for drugs.

Jakarta
Indonesia

"Murder City," by Border Cognoscenti Charles Bowden (BOOK REVIEW)

"Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," by Charles Bowden (2010, Nation Books, 320 pp., $27.50 HB)

by Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/murdercity.jpg
Last Saturday, Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, marked a grim milestone: its 6,000th murder victim since the beginning of 2008. The discovery of 10 bodies that day pushed the beleaguered city past that marker, but the week -- still only half-done as I write these words -- held more gore. On Wednesday, two headless bodies appeared propped up against the wall of building. The heads sat atop upended ice chests in front of them. Writing on the ice chests claimed that one of the men was a carjacker and the other a kidnapper and extortionist, and that both were members of the Aztecas, a street gang that peddles dope and acts as neighborhood enforcers for the Juarez Cartel.

Gruesome photographs of the death scene ran in the Mexican press -- there is a longstanding tabloid press there that positively revels in full-color photos of murder victims, car accident fatalities, burned bodies -- but, according to Charles Bowden, it is almost a certainty that we will never hear another word about them, that we will never know why they had to die so horribly, that no one will ever be arrested for their deaths, that we will never even learn their names.

And Charles Bowden should know. He's probably forgotten more about Ciudad Juarez than most journalists writing about the city ever knew. The poet laureate of the American Southwest, Bowden has been living and writing about the border for decades, and with "Murder City" he is at the peak of his powers.

"Murder City" is beautiful and horrifying, not just for the exemplary violence it chronicles, but even more so for the portrait it paints of Juarez as a community stunned and staggering, hit hard by the vicissitudes of the global economy, the corruption of the Mexican state, and the wealth and violence generated by the trade in prohibited drugs.  It is non-fiction, but reads like a surrealist fever dream.

We learn of Miss Sinaloa, an achingly gorgeous, white-skinned beauty queen, who turns up raving mad at "the crazy place," a desert shelter for the mentally ill, the homeless, the glue- or paint-destroyed kids. Turns out she had come to the city and been invited to a weeklong, whiskey- and cocaine-fueled party at a motel where she was gang-raped for days by eight Juarez policemen. Miss Sinaloa weighs on Bowden, a witness to the city's violence and depredations, its ugly degradation. She's gone now, taken back home by her Sinaloa family, but there's always another one, he writes.

We learn of reporters killed by the military. We learn about other reporters' poor salaries and about how their real pay comes in envelopes from shadowy men, and they know it means they will not write about certain things. We learn of one reporter who inadvertently crossed the military in 2005 and had to flee to the US border for his life when the military came looking for him three years later. He sought political asylum. What he got was imprisoned for seven months until a Tucson civil rights lawyer managed to spring him.

As Bowden notes:

"It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don't think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the US government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard-pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight the war on drugs. But then the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels. There are two errors in these accounts. One is simple: The war in Mexico is for drugs and the enormous money to be made by supplying American habits, a torrent of cash that the army, the police, the government, and the cartels all lust for. Second, the Mexican army is a government-financed criminal organization, a fact most Mexicans learn as children."

Bowden writes about a Ciudad Juarez policewoman taken away by the military and raped for three days. Bowden writes about the military patrol sitting yards away from a drug treatment center where armed assailants shoot the place up for 15 minutes, leaving eight dead. Bowden writes about how the press describes convoys of killers as "armed commandos" dressed in uniforms and says that's code for military death squads.

Remember those two headless gentlemen in the first paragraph? This is why we will never learn anything more about them. The reporters are scared for their lives. Bowden writes about the "narco-tombs," safe houses where victims are tortured and killed, then buried on the grounds. The exhumation of the bodies takes place with great fanfare, but the forensic scientist doesn't want her name used or her face shown, and then the bodies just vanish. Poof! They are never identified, no one knows where they went, no one knows why they died, no one knows who killed them.

Bowden writes about El Sicario, the former state policeman/cartel assassin, who talks with professional pride about kidnapping, torturing, and killing hundreds of people. Now, El Sicario is afraid. The killers are after him, and he has fled his former hunting grounds. And what is even more disturbing for the reader is El Sicario's statement that he doesn't even know which cartel he was working for. In the cell-like structure in which he operated, he knew only his boss, not the boss's boss, or even who the boss's boss was. El Sicario killed for phantoms.

But what is really terrifying is that El Sicario is being chased by "a death machine with no apparent driver," a web of hidden complicities where the cartels are the military are the police are the government, nobody knows who anybody really is, and the dead become evil by virtue of having been killed.

We can blame the cartels (or, obversely, drug prohibition), we can blame street gangs, mass poverty, uprooted families migrating to the city for jobs that have now vanished, corrupt cops, corrupt governments, but the violence may now have escaped any good explanation, Bowden writes. As the Mexican state fails to suppress the violence (at least in part because it is committing a great part of it, the killings are establishing "not a new structure but rather a pattern, and this pattern functionally has no top or bottom, no center or edge, no boss or obedient servant. Think of something like the ocean, a fluid thing without king and court, boss and cartel... Violence courses through Juarez like a ceaseless wind, and we insist it is a battle between cartels, or between the state and the drug world, or between the army and the forces of darkness. But consider this possibility: Violence is now woven into the very fabric of the community, and has no single cause and no single motive and no on-off button."

Absolutely chilling stuff, and absolutely brilliant. Bowden turns prose into poetry, and he provides an understanding of Juarez and its woes that hits you at the visceral level. "Murder City" will give you nightmares, but it's worth it.

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