At its national convention in Seattle last weekend, the US branch of Amnesty International (http://www.aiusa.org), the world's largest human rights organization, voted to have the organization investigate the links between US drug policy and human rights abuses at home and abroad. The grassroots effort was lead by Georgina Shandley of the Cape May, NJ, AIUSA chapter, who helped draft the resolution and shepherded it through the AIUSA Northeast Regional conference last November (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/210.html#amnestyresolution). The adoption of the resolution will lead AIUSA to focus more intently on the drug war, supporters said.
"It was a powerful weekend," Shandley told DRCNet, "but also very tense and frightening as we fought off efforts to strip away some of the language. I felt like I was in a tumble dryer. But we ended up with the national membership of AIUSA voting overwhelmingly in support of our language asking Amnesty International to look into drug war-related human rights abuses."
The only real opposition to the resolution, said Shandley, came from AIUSA environmentalists concerned that the resolution's language on environmental damage due to the drug war could have a negative impact on an ongoing campaign, Just Earth, designed to protect environmental activists in the Third World. The environmental damage plank was removed from the approved version of the resolution.
While Shandley had her doubts about the revised resolution, she said, AIUSA's executive director assured her that "the resolution is strong." Shandley said she was also cheered by the reaction of Irene Khan, the newly-elected head of Amnesty International. "I gave her a package of information about the US drug war and talked to her about it, and she is very concerned," said Shandley. "She will be visiting Colombia soon -- right after Israel -- and she is concerned about drug war human rights abuses in the United States as well," Shandley said.
The resolution is a powerful symbolic statement, said Shandley, but it is only the beginning. "There is a lot of educating to do, even among human rights people," she said. "Now we have to get time with the newly-elected AIUSA board of directors to educate them. People just haven't tied it all together. They may know about prison abuses or murders in Colombia, but they haven't put it all together," she said.
The second front is institutional. "The second thing we need to do is carve out a niche within AIUSA, something like the Just Earth program, for human rights abuses as a result of the drug war," Shandley said. "AIUSA administrators have told me it is possible, but they have no funding, so now the fight begins."
While Shandley sees a long road ahead, she is also savoring this grassroots victory. "We had 800 people at the convention," she said, "the most ever, and the drug war resolution was by far the most discussed piece of business at the convention. We had Mikki Norris' "Shattered Lives" exhibit. We had the November Coalition there. Now the drug war is in the consciousness of AIUSA. Now we have to start getting publicity. I want to see those newspaper headlines saying "'Amnesty International Overwhelmingly Supports Investigating Human Rights Abuses in the Drug War,'" she exclaimed.
"One thing the people understood right away was the ads linking drug dealers and terrorists, that got people thinking," said Shandley. "I see our leadership in Washington as the terrorists, terrorizing the families of America and all over the world with this heinous war on drugs. If they were sincere about people on drugs, they would have rehab programs. Who are the terrorists?"