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Chronicle AM: Trump Nixed Israeli MedMJ Exports, Duterte Faces ICC Investigation, More... (2/8/18)

Israeli Prime Minister says he barred medical marijuana exports because of Donald Trump, the International Criminal Court begins a "preliminary examination" of the Philippines' bloody drug war, and more.

Israeli PM Netanyahu says he barred medical marijuana exports at Trump's request. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Lawmakers Shame Regulators Over Medical Marijuana Program. A joint legislative oversight committee tore into state medical marijuana czar Christian Bax on Monday. The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee used four separate unanimous votes to clarify its displeasure with rules and regulations promulgated by the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Lawmakers are also unhappy that the office failed to respond to more than a dozen letters from lawmakers over the past four months identifying problems with the rules.

Nebraska Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Nebraska poll has 77% of respondents saying they would support allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. Some 52% said they would definitely vote yes, while 22% would probably vote yes, and 3% were undecided but leaning toward yes. The poll comes as the legislature ponders a bill that would allow voters to weigh in on a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.

Texas Sees First Dispensary, But CBD Only. Compassion Cultivation opened Thursday in Austin. It's the first dispensary to open under the state's CBD cannabis oil medical marijuana law. The state saw its first cannabis oil delivery to a patient earlier this week.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Needle Exchange Bill Advances. A three-member panel of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a bill that would legalize needle exchanges in the state. Senate File 219 now heads for a vote of the whole committee.

San Francisco Regulators Back Safe Injection Site. The city's Health Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution supporting supervised injection services. The resolution endorses the recommendations of the Safe Injection Services Task Force, which calls for safe injection sites in the city. The matter does not need to go before the Board of Supervisors. The first two supervised injection sites could open as soon as July 1, Health Director Barbara Garcia said.

International

International Criminal Court Begins Moving on Philippines Drug War Complaints. The ICC has begun "preliminary examinations" to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish a case before the court in connections with the thousands of killings perpetrated in the course of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs. The preliminary examination is the first step in the ICC prosecution process. Duterte said he welcomed the examination because he is "sick and tired of being accused," a spokesman said.

Israel Put Hold on Medical Marijuana Exports Because of Trump, Netanyahu Says. The Israeli prime minister said President Trump called him and expressed his objection to marijuana exports. Netanyahu nixed exports earlier this week, putting potential export earnings of $1 to $4 billion a year at risk.

Lesotho Becomes First African Nation to Allow Legal Marijuana Cultivation. Lesotho has granted the first licenses for commercial marijuana cultivation, but the licenses are restricted to two foreign-owned companies. On Tuesday, Corix Bioscience announced that it received "the first license issued by the Government of Lesotho that enables them to import and export cannabis and cannabis resin in various forms." The product would be exported to any country that permits it.

Statement of ICC Prosecutor on Opening Preliminary Investigations in the Philippines and in Venezuela

The ICC is a long and uncertain road.  But this is an important first step for stopping the drug war killings, restoring rule of law, and seeking justice. We commend Ms. Bensouda for her leadership.

More soon, but in the meanwhile, an article in Rappler, and many more. Read about our own work on the Philippines here.

Location: 
International Criminal Court
The Hague
Netherlands

Chronicle AM: Trump Vows Foreign Aid Cuts Over Drugs, German Cops Says Legalize It, More... (2/5/18)

The president accuses Mexico and Central American countries of not doing enough to fight our drug war, a group of senators joins the call to save ONDCP, the German police association calls for marijuana legalization, and more.

The president singled out Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for criticism over illegal drug imports. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Virginia House Passes CBD Bill. The House has passed a bill, House Bill 1215, which would allow doctors to prescribe CBD cannabis oil for any medical condition. A companion measure is up for a vote in the Senate next week and is expected to pass.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Senate Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Senate has unanimously approved Senate Bill 99, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does require prosecutors to file an affidavit for probable cause within seven days after a seizure and file asset forfeiture motions within 21 days if the owner of the property has objected in writing, 90 days if he has not. Under current state law, property can be held up to six months before the state decides to file a forfeiture claim. The bill now heads to the House.

Drug Policy

US Senators Call on Trump Administration to Keep Drug Czar's Office Intact. A dozen senators have written to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and to the Senate leadership urging them to block proposed changes to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) that would essentially gut it. OMB has proposed moving two major grant programs -- HIDTA and the Drug-Free Communities -- out of ONDCP, which would reduce the office's budget by 95% as the nation confronts an opioid crisis.

Foreign Policy

Trump Threatens to Cut Aid to Mexico, Central America Over Drugs. President Trump last Friday threatened to cut off aid to countries from which illicit drugs are imported into the United States. "I want to stop the aid. If they can't stop drugs from coming in, 'cause they can stop them a lot easier than us. They say, 'oh we can't control it.' Oh great, we're supposed to control it," the President said. "So we give them billions and billions of dollars, and they don't do what they're supposed to be doing, and they know that. But we're going to take a very harsh action. We want strong borders. We want to give you laws. We want to stop the catch and release nonsense that goes on. You catch somebody and you release them. You know they're bad," he said. "They're pouring in from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, all over. They're just pouring into our country. These countries are not our friends, you know. We think they're our friends, and we send them massive aid, and I won't mention names right now," he said. "But I look at these countries, I look at the numbers we send them, we send them massive aid and they're pouring drugs into our country and they're laughing at us."

International

German Police Call for Marijuana Legalization. The Association of German Criminal Officers (BDK) has come out in favor of ending marijuana prohibition. "The prohibition of cannabis has historically been seen as arbitrary and has not yet been implemented in an intelligent and effective manner," the head of BDK, André Schulz, told Bild newspaper on Monday. "in the history of mankind there has never been a society without the use of drugs; this is something that has to be accepted," he added. "My prediction is cannabis will not be banned for long in Germany." The BDK thus calls for a"complete decriminalization of cannabis use," Schulz said, adding that the current legal system is stigmatizing people and promoting criminal careers.

Philippines Drug War Killing Ratchet Up Again. The Philippine National Police announced last Friday that nearly 50 people suspected of using or selling drugs had been killed by police in the past two months. That's the period that the National Police have been back on the job in the drug war -- after President Duterte temporarily pulled them away last year after officers were found to have killed three teenagers and lied about their deaths.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Bills Popping Up, HRW Calls on Philippines to Support UN Inquiry, More... (2/1/18)

With the legislative season gearing up in the states, marijuana bills are everywhere. And Human Rights Watch has a message for the Philippine government.

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Bill Would Seal Public Records of Past Marijuana Convictions. Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage) has filed House Bill 316, which would seal public records for past marijuana possession convictions. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Georgia Bills Would Amend State Constitution, Codes to Legalize Marijuana. Lawmakers in Atlanta have not one, but two, marijuana legalization measures to deal with this year. Senate Resolution 614 proposes amending the state constitution to legalize it, while Senate Bill 344 would amend the state code to allow for the legalization and regulation of marijuana businesses. Since the measures are in the form of amendments to the constitution, they must first pass the General Assembly and then they would go to the voters on the November 2018 ballot.

Maine House Fails To Pass Short-Term Moratorium on Retail Marijuana Sales. The House has failed to extend a moratorium on recreational marijuana sales that expired today. Supporters had said that extending the moratorium would send a strong signal to would-be entrepreneurs that legal sales are still on hold, but failure to pass it will have little effect, since retail operations can't happen until there is a regulatory framework in place. It's now been more than 13 months since voters approved legalization.

New Mexico Bill to Legalize Marijuana Introduced. State Rep. Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) on Wednesday filed House Bill 312, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. Advocates don't expect the bill to pass this year, but said it would advance the conversation.

New Jersey Assembly Sees Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) has filed a marijuana legalization bill, Assembly Bill 1348, that would allow a single household to grow up to 12 plants. The bill would also set a limit of 80 retail marijuana outlets in the state. If it passes the Assembly, it would need to be reconciled with a legalization bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 380, that doesn't allow home grows and does not cap the number of shops.

San Francisco to Wipe Out Thousands of Old Marijuana Convictions. City District Attorney George Gascon announced Wednesday that the city will retroactively apply the state's marijuana legalization to past marijuana cases going back to 1975. He said more than 3,000 misdemeanor cases dating back decades will be dismissed and sealed.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Governor Agrees to Delay New, More Restrictive Medical Marijuana Rules. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has agreed to delay the implementation of new, more restrictive rules that were set to go into effect Thursday. They would have allowed surprise inspections of caregivers and shut down markets for infused edibles, tinctures, and lotions. Now, the governor is giving the legislature another three months to draft a new law. "While I believe strongly that the medical marijuana program needs improved and increased regulation, waiting until May to ensure we do not create unnecessary confusion and complication is a reasonable approach," LePage said in a letter Wednesday.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bills Advance. Two bills taking the state down the path toward allowing medical marijuana advanced in the legislature Wednesday. House Bill 197 would allow marijuana cultivation for research purposes, while House Bill 195 would establish a "right to try" for terminally ill patients. Both bills were filed by Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem). They passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and now head for a House floor vote. Meanwhile, an initiative for a full-blown medical marijuana program is now in the signature gathering phase.

Industrial Hemp

Indiana House Unanimously Passes Industrial Hemp Legalization Bill. The House on Wednesday approved House Bill 1137 on a vote of 90-0. The bill would allow farmers in the state to grow industrial hemp crops -- if the federal government issues the necessary permits and waivers. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Maine Employee Drug Testing Bill Filed. Sen. Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) has filed a bill that would usher in a sweeping overhaul of the state's employee drug testing laws, giving employers new powers to test and discipline workers for drug or alcohol use. The bill is backed by GOP lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage (R). The bill would remove probable cause requirements for drug tests and eliminate provisions mandating that employers provide access to drug treatment.

South Dakota Senate Panel Approves Bill Requiring Drug Tests for Legislators. Two days after a committee in the House voted to kill the bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 to approve House Bill 1133, which would require legislators to submit to drug testing. The full Senate will now take up the bill.

Vermont Legislature Considers Saliva Test Ahead of Marijuana Legalization. The House Committee on Transportation is pondering whether to look into a saliva test for drivers as the state faces looming legalization. Legislators are also proposing a per se THC blood limit of .05 nanograms per milliliter. But as the Vermont ACLU noted, the presence of THC does not necessarily indicate impairment.

International

Human Rights Watch Calls on Philippines Government to Support UN Inquiry into Drug War Killings. The Philippine government should urgently support the creation of a United Nations-led investigation into the thousands of killings linked to its "war on drugs," Human Rights Watch said Thursday. A UN-led probe would both help clarify the disparity in official and independent estimates of killings in the anti-drug campaign and facilitate accountability for unlawful deaths. "The glaring disparity between the Philippine government's official death toll and those of credible independent observers underscores the urgent need for a UN-led independent investigation into killings since the drug war began in June 2016," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. "The government should welcome a UN effort to establish an impartial and verifiable death toll as a crucial first step in accountability for wrongful deaths."

Chronicle AM: Amnesty Warns on Philippines Drug War, NY Safe Injection Site Push, More... (1/30/18)

Republican legislators are gumming things up in Maine and Virginia, a big coalition calls for preserving the drug czar's office, Amnesty International warns the Philippines, and more.

Duterte's bloody drug war is drawing heat from Amnesty International, but not so much from the State Department. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Republicans Set to Delay Adult Use Sales. With a moratorium on legal marijuana sales set to expire Thursday, the state GOP is moving to push back the date legal sales can begin. The Senate Tuesday approved Republican Sen. Roger Katz's bill to delay sales until the spring, but Republican House Leader Ken Fredette is calling for a delay in recreational sales until next year. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has also been an obstacle to implementing the will of the voters, who approved legalization in November 2016, some 14 months ago now.

Virginia Senate Republicans Kill Decriminalization Bill. Nine Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted Monday to kill Senate Bill 111, which would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Senate action followed action in the House, where Republicans already killed a similar bill.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. The House Judiciary and Rules Committee is taking up a bill that would reform, but not eliminate, civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill would prevent forfeiture in cases of simple drug possession and would prevent forfeiture of large quantities of cash unless there is evidence of criminal activity. The measure is RS25826, which is not yet available on the legislative website. A similar bill passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Butch Otter (R).

Drug Policy

Coalition Calls for Trump Not to Gut Drug Czar's Office. More than 150 groups have signed onto a letter sent Monday to the White House opposing the Trump administration's proposed plans to radically cut funding the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) and move its grant programs to other agencies. The move would "create an unnecessary distraction from efforts to save our lives," the groups said. Signatories include groups from the prevention, treatment, recovery and criminal justice communities, and more. "Not only would such a move drastically weaken these vitally important programs, and force them to compete for priority, direction, and funding in larger agencies with competing and higher priorities, but it would significantly impact ONDCP's ability to effectively carry out its mission," the groups, led by the Addiction Policy Forum, wrote.

Harm Reduction

New York Activists Press Lawmakers to Approve Safe Injection Sites. Drug policy reform advocates gathered in Albany Monday to urge lawmakers to act on a bill that would allow for the creation of safe injection sites in the state. Legislation was filed last year by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), but never acted on. If state Sen. Fred Akshar (R-Binghamton), head of the Senate Heroin Task Force, has his way, it won't be acted on either. "Our state dollars should not be going to a facility that is allowing people to continuously inject drugs," he told the New York Daily News.

International

Amnesty International Demands Philippines Hold Police to Account for Unlawful Drug War Killings. Responding to news that the Philippine National Police have resumed their role in waging President Duterte's bloody war on drugs, Amnesty International warned that police killers must be held to account. "The Philippines neither can nor should try to solve its drug problems at gunpoint," said James Gomez, the group's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "Since President Duterte came to power, police have unlawfully killed thousands of people, the vast majority of them from poor and marginalized communities, in attacks so extensive and brutal they may well amount to crimes against humanity. Now that police are once more returning to the forefront of anti-drug operations, the government must make sure that there is no repeat of the bloodshed seen during the past 18 months."

State Department Drug Agency Vows to Support Duterte's War on Drugs. The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), says it will continue to support the Philippines drug war. "We are aware that the police are continuing the resumption of their operations. Many folks have been tracking the EJKs (extrajudicial killings) and the Philippines. There are some [encouraging things] that were seen, some of our human rights training [is] working and so I would describe [the] United States being cautiously optimistic... when it comes to a good, appropriate way of [carrying out the anti-]drug campaign," Deputy Assistant James Walsh said in a Tuesday press briefing. "And so we'll just monitor that and we'll continue supporting the government of the Philippines with our rule of law, our demand reduction programs and our maritime assistance," Walsh added.

ALERT: Trump is Promoting Savage Human Rights Abuses in Countries' Drug Wars

Dear Reformer:

First, if you haven't already taken action to help us save marijuana legalization from the Trump administration, in the wake of Jeff Sessions revoking a federal policy that protected both legalization and medical marijuana, please read my post and action alert from Monday, and then write and call Congress. If you want more info on what's happened, check out Phil's weekend report on the national pushback against the Sessions move too.

Yesterday I promised a second alert this week, about how Donald Trump is promoting savage human rights abuses in other countries' drug wars. The biggest case is that of the Philippines, but unfortunately it is no longer the only one, and Trump's words have contributed. Sadly Trump has continued his amoral conduct on this matter as recently as last week.

In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines in June 2016, having promised to slaughter hundreds of thousands of drugs users and sellers. An estimated 16,000 people have since been murdered by police and government-supported vigilante groups under the guise of drug enforcement.

(Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines to learn about our work on this issue. And if you haven't already supported our efforts to pass S. 1055, the Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act, please take action on it now.)

Trump, who in July drew condemnation from US law enforcement leaders for urging police to bash suspects' heads on car door frames when arresting them, has also voiced approval for Duterte's killing campaign, though without calling it that. First, in December 2016 Trump and Duterte spoke on the phone, after which Duterte claimed that Trump praised his drug policies.

While Duterte could have made that up, the Trump team never rebutted the claim. And when the two spoke again in April, a statement on the White House web site said they discussed "fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs," and a leaked transcript of the call quotes Trump congratulating Duterte for doing an "'unbelievable job' in the war on drugs." Neither Trump nor his staff have qualified these statements to exclude the killings from that praise. And the president has never backed up his own State Department's careful statements on the matter.

Last weekend, Trump claimed during his Camp David speech that countries with "very harsh drug policies" have "much less difficulty." Of course Trump made that up – not surprising for a person who tells an average of 5.5 lies per day, or more recently nine lies per day. There are countries like Iran, which is one of the world's leading executioners for drug offenses, but continues to have an extensive and growing narcotics problem. And there are countries like Portugal, which has decriminalized the use of all drugs, with impressive and positive results.

When the person telling a lie like that is the President of the United States, it has an impact on what leaders in other countries think they can get away with. Trump has thereby contributed to a larger "Duterte effect" in the region. The drug war killings have spread to Indonesia, where President Widodo is using them as a populist campaign tactic in a tough election campaign. In November a member of Malaysia's parliament called for Duterte-style killings in that country. And last week Turkey's Interior Minister said police should break drug dealers' legs. In the context of Trump's past comments on the Philippines drug war, clearly such people are going to interpret his most recent remark as greenlighting the abuses they are calling for too, and it reduces the pressure on the Duterte administration.

It is necessary for Congress to rebuke President Trump by making a statement on this issue. If you haven't already supported our efforts to pass S. 1055, the Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act, please take action on it now. There is a chance that language from the bill or similar to it could make it into Congress's foreign operations appropriations, and that could happen as soon as the 22nd of this month.

Along with taking action to pass the bill, I hope you'll read about our extensive continuing efforts to stop the Philippines drug war killings and reform UN drug policy, and our other programs. I also hope you'll consider signing up for a recurring or one-time donation to support our work – our donation form accepts credit card, PayPal, and now checking account payments by ACH.

Thank you for reading this far, and for joining us in opposing these depradations of the Trump administration.

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
P.O. Box 9853, Washington, DC 20016
https://stopthedrugwar.org

Chronicle AM: AG's Pot Move Sparks Outrage, VT House Votes to Legalize, More... (1/5/18)

The attorney general's war on marijuana proves unpopular, legalization proves popular (again), Vermont moves forward on a legalization bill, and more.

the Pew Poll over time
Marijuana Policy

Sessions' Marijuana Shift Generates Bipartisan Opposition. Attorney General Sessions' announcement that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave state law-abiding marijuana operations alone, has ignited a firestorm of opposition, including high-ranking Republican elected officials. Among them are Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), both representing legal pot states, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), representing a medical marijuana state. Less surprisingly, Democratic senators and representatives, as well as state government officials, have also denounced the move.

New Pew Poll Finds Six in 10 Americans Support Legalization. A Pew poll released Friday has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, nearly double the 32% who supported it only seven years ago in 2010. All demographic groups reported in the poll had majority support for legalization, except for two: Republicans at 43% and white evangelical Christians at 38%.

Vermont House Passes Legalization Bill (With No Sales). Ignoring the hubbub emanating from the nation's capital, the House on Thursday approved a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but would not allow taxed and regulated sales. Instead, a task force appointed by the governor would study the issue and report back by December 15. The measure, House Bill 511, now goes back to the Senate, which already approved it last year. Gov. Phil Scott (R), has said he is comfortable with the bill and has signaled he will sign it. That would make Vermont the first state to legalize pot through the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana

Three Kettle Falls Five Members See Convictions Vacated, Charges Dismissed. Three members of a Washington state family prosecuted for growing medical marijuana for themselves have seen their convictions vacated at the request of federal prosecutors. The feds said congressional bans on using Justice Department funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs made it impossible for them to continue with an appeal.

Oklahoma Will Vote on Medical Marijuana Initiative in June. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced Thursday that a medical marijuana initiative will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative will be Question 788 on the June ballot. It would create a full-fledged state medical marijuana system, and patients would be allowed to grow up to six mature plants themselves.

International

Turkish Interior Minister Says Police Should Break Drug Dealers' Legs. In the latest iteration of 21st Century drug war thuggery, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has called for the imposition of physical violence on some drug sellers. "If a dealer is near a school, the police have a duty to break his leg," he said. "Do it and blame me. Even if it costs five, 10, 20 years in jail -- we'll pay." Well, hey, at least he isn't calling for them to be killed, as in Malaysia, or actually killing them, as in Indonesia, and to a much greater extent, the Philippines.

From Bloody Drug War to Legal Pot: Ten Global Drug Policy Highlights (and Lowlights) of 2017 [FEATURE]

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed a drug war that has killed thousands. (Wikimedia)
1. In the Philippines, Duterte's Bloody Drug War Rages On

Undeterred by international criticism, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte continued his murderous war on small-time drug users and sellers throughout 2017, with Human Rights Watch estimating that some 12,000 people -- almost all poor -- have been killed since Duterte unleashed the killers in June 2016. Poor neighborhoods have also been subjected to warrantless searches and door-to-door drug testing, and thousands more people have been imprisoned in insalubrious conditions.

2. Indonesia Starts Going Down Duterte's Path

Indonesian President Joko Widodo must have liked what he was seeing one archipelago over because in July, he started sounding like his Filipino counterpart. To fight the country's "narcotic emergency," he said, police should "gun down" foreigners suspected of drug trafficking if they "resist arrest." At year's end, the National Narcotics agency proudly reported it had killed 79 people in drug raids during 2017, and arrested more than half a million, of whom 1,523 were declared rehabilitated after drug treatment. In 2016, Widodo had ordered that a 100,000 people receive drug treatment, but there don't seem to be any resources for that.

3. Norway Moves to Decriminalize All Drug Use

In December, the Norwegian parliament sent a strong signal that it wants to decriminalize drug use and possession. It voted to pursue such a path, directing the government to begin making changes in the laws to reflect that vote. Legislation that would actually enact the changes has yet to be drafted, but Norway is on the way.

4. Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales Begin

It took more than three years after the country legalized marijuana before it happened, but it happened this year: Pharmacies began selling marijuana direct to customers in July, making Uruguay the first country in the world to permit the legal production and sale of marijuana.

5. Nevada Becomes 5th US State to Allow Legal Marijuana Sales, More Coming Online Soon

Uruguay may be the first country to legalize marijuana, but now, eight US states and the District of Columbia have done it, and the first four -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- all allow recreational marijuana sales. Four states legalized it in November 2016, but only Nevada got legal sales up and running in 2017. But watch out -- a tidal wave is coming: Legal sales begin in California, with its population of nearly 40 million, on January 1. Oh, and Maine and Massachusetts will begin legal sales sometime in 2018, too.

6. Mexico Drug War Mayhem at Record Levels

Eleven years after then-President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels and sent in the military, things are worse than ever. According to government crime statistics, 2017 was the bloodiest year yet with more than 27,000 murders as splintering drug trafficking organizations fight a multi-sided war among themselves and against the police and military (when the police and military aren't acting on behalf of cartel factions). The year brought other grim milestones as well: More than 200,000 dead, an estimated 30,000 missing, more than 850 clandestine graves uncovered. All to keep Americans well supplied with the drugs we love to hate -- or is it hate to love?

7. Iran Moves to Drastically Reduce Drug Executions

The Islamic Republic has long been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, but that could be about to change. In August, the Iranian parliament approved an amendment that significantly raises the bar for mandatory executions for certain drug offenses. The amendment dramatically increases the quantities of drugs needed to trigger a sentence of death or life in prison and should result in hundreds of people being spared execution each year. But it's not a done deal yet: It still must be approved by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Islamic jurists, to ensure it complies with the Iranian constitution and their interpretation of sharia law.

Breaking Bad: Kim Jung Un (Flickr)
8. US Heightens Afghan Drug War, First Round of Bombing Campaign Kills Dozens

In August, President Trump authorized new rules of engagement for American forces in Afghanistan, allowing them to target the Taliban directly with air strikes. Previously, air strikes had been allowed only in support of Afghan troop operations or to protect US or NATO troops under attack. In November, US military commanders made the first use of that authority by bombing ten Taliban-controlled opium production facilities in Helmand province, leaving a toll of at least 44 dead. The aim is to disrupt Taliban funding, but it looks like there's plenty more work to do: The Pentagon says the Taliban have another 400 to 500 heroin labs. And with bumper opium crops in 2017, they have plenty of work to do, too.

9. Colombia's Bumper Coca Harvests Prompt US Pressure to Resume Aerial Eradication

Colombia just came off a bumper year for coca and cocaine production, but that's largely an artifact of the peace settlement between the FARC and the government, which offered assistance to coca growers wishing to transition to other crops, thus encouraging farmers to grow coca so they could qualify for the program. But such nuances matter little to the Trump administration, which is pressuring the Colombian government to reinstate the aerial fumigation of coca crops with potentially carcinogenic herbicides.

10. In Sanctions-Busting Move, North Korea Ups Meth Production

The regime in Pyongyang has long been accused of resorting to drug trafficking to help finance its oft-sanctioned military activities, and it looks like it's up to it again. In August came reports that state-affiliated companies and universities were "ramping up" the production of methamphetamine as a means of obtaining desperately needed foreign currency. With more sanctions, expect more North Korean meth.

Video: "Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War," side event, UN in Vienna, March 16 2017

Playlist version:

 
Individual video links:
 
Single video of full event:
 

Transcript, "Human Rights Challenge, Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War," March 16 2017, UN in Vienna

Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Executions in the Drug War side event at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, March 16, 2017

TRANSCRIPT

Written statement from US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):

What's been happening in the Philippines is horrifying. Instead of escalating this violence through chilling episodes like those on display in the Philippines, we need a just and compassionate approach to drug policy that focuses on public health and harm reduction.

The international community must prioritize these changes. Our goal should ge to put an end to mindless military action and hard-edged policies that have been proven to fail, and replace them with more effective regulation and treatment.

David Borden: Let's start.

Amnesty International video, "If you are poor you are killed: Extrajudicial executions in the Philippines 'war on drugs'"

My campaign against drugs will not stop until the last pusher, and the last drug lord are... [video of Pres. Duterte making throat cutting sound and gesture]

Video continues in Filipino language with English subtitles:

"They said, 'This is a raid, no one moves.' Then there were six gunshots."

Analyn's house was raided in August 2016. Police say it was an anti-drugs operation. Her husband and four friends were killed. She says he was unarmed and never involved in drugs. He's one of many.

Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte [d]eclared his "war on drugs" 6,200 people have been killed. We've documented 33 cases. Most appear to be extrajudicial executions.

Our report reveals allegations of payment to police for encounters with alleged drug offenders and claims of links between assassins and the police.

Almost all of those targeted are poor.

"Why is it that the rich are jailed and used as witnesses? But the poor, why do they kill the poor?"

Our investigation also includes claims that police ran a racket with funeral homes to cheat families and that some officers steal when working crime scenes.

Despite complaints, there've been no proper investigations[, a]nd many victims' families are too scared to protest. No police officer has been charged, let alone convicted[,] and President Duterte has promised to protect them.

"His first slogan was good. I was in favour of it: 'Change'" Everyone wants change[,] but no Filipino wants dead bodies all over the streets and for the police killing people to become the norm."

Vice President Robredo's video:

David Borden, Executive Director of the DRCNet Foundation; Marco Perduca, former member of the Italian Senate; Chito Gascon, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights; Alison Smith, Legal Counsel and Director of International Criminal Justice Programs, No Peace Without Justice; all the other sponsors of this event, ladies and gentlemen, a good day to all of you.

We are heartened that the issue of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines today is being discussed in an event such as this. To know that the international community's eyes are on us, and to feel that human rights advocates are watching over our country gives us comfort, courage, and hope.

It is already February 2017, and the body count to the drug-related killings keeps growing. We are now looking at some very grim statistics. Since July last year, more than 7,000 people have been killed in summary executions.

We agree that our people deserve nothing less than a safe environment, so that anyone can walk the streets safely whether in daylight or at nighttime. But drug abuse should not be treated as one that can be solved with bullets alone. It must be regarded as it truly is: a complex public health issue, linked intimately with poverty and social inequality.

As it is, in some areas in Manila where poverty is rampant, residents tell us that communities are rounded up in places like basketball courts, women separated from men, those with tattoos asked to stand in a corner, their belongings searched. People are told that they didn't have any right to demand for search warrants, because they were squatters, and did not own the properties on which their houses were built. They told us of the Palit Ulo scheme, which literally means exchange heads, where the wife or husband or relative of a person in a so-called drug list will be taken if the person himself could not be found.

Some of those have told us when there's crime, they normally go to the police. Now they don't know where to turn to. Our people feel both hopeless and helpless, a state of mind that we must all take seriously. This is why the Office of the Vice President supports the rehabilitation of drug dependence. You cannot kill addicts and declare the problem solved. The solution is to design the proper health, education and psychosocial interventions to prevent further drug use, and help them transition into productive members of society. Another challenge is to drum up legal and psychological support for those who may have undergone trauma due to extrajudicial killings.

We believe that when the public knows its rights under the Philippine Constitution, when the community is united in this knowledge, our people will be better protected. We must tread carefully on this, however, because in some cases reported to us, those who ask for a search warrant, for instance, have been beaten and physically abused for doing so.

We must all demand greater transparency in the government's war on drugs, because this is a major, publicly-funded campaign. Our leaders must be honest about the basis of the drug war. What exactly is the scope of the drug problem? Why do numbers about the extent of the problem change, as officially reported to the nation by our president, inconsistent?

We believe that any campaign against illegal drugs must be founded on integrity. The public must ask why no one is being held accountable. The public must be watchful. Around 500 complaints have been filed at the Commission of Human Rights, and recommended to the Department of Justice for filing of cases. But until now, seven months into the administration's drug war, no information has been filed.

On top of this, there is a brewing problem. Death penalty might soon return, and the age of criminal liability might be dropped down to nine. We believe this to be a huge mistake, because death penalty for nonviolent offenses violate UN treaties and international human rights norms.

Last Friday, a day before the EDSA People Power Revolution's 31st anniversary, we called the president to task on this. On behalf of the Filipino people, whose daily struggles are escalating, we asked him to focus on the war that truly matters, the war against poverty, instead of just the war against drugs.

In a public statement, we asked him to direct the nation towards respect for rule of law, instead of a blatant disregard for it. We asked him to uphold basic human rights enshrined in our Constitution, instead of encouraging its abuse. We asked him to be the leader he promised to be, and evoke in our people hope and inspiration instead of fear. We told him, do not allow the lies to distort the truth. We also asked the Filipino people to defy brazen incursions of their rights.

Our people have fought long for our rights and freedoms. The Filipino nation has come far since our country's darkest days. We are not about to back down now.

Thank you all for listening, may you have a fruitful discussion moving forward. The Office of the Vice President is looking forward to deepening this conversation further with you.

David Borden:

So, thank you all for joining us today. I'm not sure if it was clear or not, the video we opened with was published recently by Amnesty International. I appreciate their providing that for us today. I'd like to thank all of our cosponsors, especially the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), which made so much possible.

Today, we will hear from Lousewies van der Laan, former leader of the Dutch D66 Liberal Party. We'll hear from Alison Smith, Lead Counsel and Director of International criminal justice programs with No Peace Without Justice; and Chito Gascon, the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Republic of the Philippines. I'm pleased that we've also been joined by some members of the Philippines Mission, and we'll hear from them later as well. And my co-moderator, long-time friend, Marco Perduca, former senator from Italy.

So, one lens through which I think we can view the Duterte administration is as a manifestation of the global rise in populist and authoritarian or authoritarian-leaning leaders. We've seen these currents of tension between different kinds of people. We've seen in some places, in my opinion in my own country, demonization and demagoguery. We've had debate on legitimate economic questions. All of these have challenged the standing global order of institutions and responsibilities and rights.

In this context, it is essential that the Duterte administration's approach to drug policy not become a model for other leaders. And so we applaud Vice President Robredo for speaking out, and the work of human rights leaders like Chair Gascon, and others doing so much, what they can in the Philippines, and the risks they are taking.

Now our first speaker has joined us remotely. She'll only be with us for the first part of this session due to a conflict, but this is Lousewies van der Laan. Lousewies?

Lousewies van der Laan: Thanks very much. Good afternoon, everyone. Can you hear me from this Skype connection?

Marco Perduca: Yes.

van der Laan:

Oh good, okay. I'm really sorry that I was not able to attend in person. But I'm a member of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and we're having our community forum in Copenhagen. That means also that I will have to drop after my contribution. But one of the things we do is to keep the internet going, which is why I'm able to join you online, and why we can make these wonderful connections.

I really want to say congratulations to all the sponsoring organizations for putting this very important topic on the agenda. The impression that many of us around the world are getting is that the so-called war on drugs in the Philippines is descending into extrajudicial killings that will cost innocent lives, and will do very little, in fact, to stop the drugs trade. And it's very, very important that this was able to be put on the agenda in this way.

I used to be spokeswoman on justice in the Dutch and the European parliament, and I agree wholeheartedly with Vice President Robredo that drugs abuse is a very complex social and health issue that cannot be solved with police brutality. Police have a role, but only within the limits of the law.

Now, I feel very connected to the issue in general, but for the Philippines in particular, because I had a very inspiring visit to the Philippines in March of 2011. It was my only visit, and at the time I was serving as the Chief of Staff of the President of the International Criminal Court. And my president, President Song, was meeting with the then-president Benigno Aquino to try to persuade him to ratify the Treaty of Rome.

In order to prepare for the meeting, we met with civil society, which is extremely strong and vibrant in the Philippines. We met with academia, with human rights organizations. And they had been fighting tirelessly to keep the Philippines a very strong democracy, guided by the rule of law and the protection of human rights. And they were actually so effective that, by the time we got to the meeting with the President, he immediately confirmed that he had already sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification.

And what I found very interesting was his motivation for the Philippines ratifying the country. He explained that there are so many Filipinos who are working and living abroad, in other countries outside of the Philippines, that it is in the national interest to create a world which is guided by the rule of law. And that by ratifying the treaty, the Philippines was actually setting a standard also for the rest of the world to protect their nationals, no matter where they might be.

I found that extremely inspiring – that, as well as the very active civil society. The many very motivated politicians we met – most of them actually were women, which I also found extremely inspiring. And I very much look forward to working together with everyone to try to support those in the Philippines that want to ensure that everyone is equal before the law, and that human rights apply to all.

So I wish you all a very productive visit. I will try to stay online as long as I can to listen. But for the rest, I'm sure I will be debriefed afterwards. And I wish everyone good luck for the session. Thank you.

Borden: Now, since Ms. van der Laan will have to leave soon, are there any very brief questions for her before we move on to our next item?

Okay. So, next, we have a video from the CALD chairman, Thailand former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Abhisit Vejjajiva's video:

Sawasdee Krab. Greetings from Bangkok. On behalf of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, an organization which is a network of political parties of liberal and democratic leaning in the region, who is cosponsoring this event, it is a great pleasure for me to address this session.

I recognize that the topic being discussed, the war on drugs – we have two representatives from the Philippines who will also be addressing this meeting. I hope that the Philippine Chair of the Human Rights Commission, Chito Gascon, will be able to give you a very good overall picture. As well as the statement made by the vice president of the Philippines, Vice President Robredo – who will also continue in her opposition, vocal opposition, to the war on drugs – will be able to tell you about the challenges that the country is going through.

The fact of the matter is this war on drugs in the Philippines has already claimed 7,000 lives, many of whom could be innocent people unrelated to the drugs trade. It is a clear violation of human rights, a challenge for liberal and democratic institutions – not just in the country, but also will have profound impact in the region.

I say this because we already see some leaders, notably in Cambodia, who are now contemplating carrying a similar exercise. And just over 10 years ago, in my own country, in Thailand, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, also engaged in a war on drugs, which claimed the lives of 2,000-3,000 Thais.

What we need to understand is the need to get to grips with the reality of the political impact of the war on drugs, so that we can come up with the appropriate and adequate response, and recognize what our agenda must be.

The hard fact of the matter is, in cases where the war on drugs is being carried out, it is a very popular campaign. That's why these leaders, populist leaders, decide to carry out such a policy. And to be able to get to grips with the issue, we need to recognize that its popularity stems from the frustration of people who feel that the drugs problem simply is not being addressed in an adequate manner.

So for us, the hard truth is, what is popular is not always right, and what is right often carries political cost. What we have to decide is, what to do under such circumstances. I think, for all of us, we feel that we have to stand up for the right principles. Whatever the political cost, we still have to fight against any violation of human rights. And we have to recognize that the war on drugs, apart from often claiming innocent lives, also leads to other sorts of problems – corruption, political persecution – which very much go to undermine the democratic system itself.

So our response, first of all, as part of the international community, is to keep up pressure, and to say that this is not right, that this has to be stopped. But at the same time, our campaign, our message, can only get traction, if it is eventually accepted by the people in the countries where the war on drugs is being carried out. And here, we have to do two things.

First, point out that the war on drugs itself never achieves its objective. In Thailand, it certainly didn't solve our drugs problem. That problem remains with us. And one of the most powerful opinion pieces that I've read recently was from a former president of Columbia. He has clearly spelled out that during his war on drugs, a new set of problems were created, whether it's driving a lot of the drugs trade underground, making drugs more expensive, preventing drug users from rehabilitation, greater corruption in the police force and state officials – all of which eventually meant that the war on drugs itself never achieves the purpose it is set out to achieve.

And more importantly, it's not enough for us to criticize or fight against the war on drugs. We, who believe in human rights, in liberal democracy, must also put forward a credible alternative as to how we would be able to end the drugs problem. Unless we do that, we will not have the credibility, or the hearts and minds of the people whose support we need to eventually stop the drugs war.

So I hope your session on this particular topic will be able to address these issues, and allow us to continue the fight against such violations of human rights on a grand scale. Thank you very much for your attention, and we will, in Asia, as liberals and democrats, continue to support the good work you do in our fight against the war on drugs, and also in solving the drugs problem for the people of the world. Thank you.

Perduca: Thank you for your attention. We promise this is the last video, so we go back to real human beings in the room. And it's a pleasure for me to introduce Alison Smith, who for many have been coordinating the activities on international criminal law for No Peace Without Justice, an organization that I had the pleasure to coordinate within the UN system 20 years ago, and she will speak about the implication of international criminal law, and what we have been hearing since 1:00pm today. You have the floor.

Smith:

Thank you very much, Marco. And thank you to the organizers of this event, David in particular, and thank you to all of you for being here. As Marco mentioned, what I wanted to talk about was an international criminal law framework of what's been happening in the Philippines. At No Peace Without Justice, we've been researching this for the past several months, looking at what's been happening on the basis of open source information, so media reports and things like that.

And the reason we wanted to look at this within an international legal framework is because if certain crimes are committed, this triggers certain obligations on the part of the state. Now as was mentioned, the Philippines has ratified the Rome Statute from the International Criminal Court. And so the Rome Statute's substantive law, substantive international criminal law, is the framework that we've been using to look at what's been happening. Because that's the applicable law in the Philippines at the relevant times.

So the Rome Statute covers war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. In terms of war crimes, there's no armed conflict, so there are no war crimes. There's been – we can't see any specific intent to destroy a protected group, in whole or in part, so there's no genocide. So we've been focusing on crimes against humanity.

The definition of crimes against humanity is any one of a number of prohibited acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population as part of a state or organizational policy to carry out that attack. So I'm going to go through these in a little bit more detail, also so we can fit in what we've been hearing, and what we will hear from Chair Gascon, about the facts on the ground within this legal framework.

Starting with the prohibited acts, the first act that's prohibited in crimes against humanity is the act of murder. And what this means is basically a killing that is not justified by law. And from what we've seen from the videos, and what we've seen happening in the Philippines, there are many, many killings that are taking place that do not appear to be justified by law. So we have the prohibited acts taking place in the Philippines.

In terms of the context, as I mentioned, the context is that the act takes place as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population as pursuant to a state or organizational policy to commit the attack. And I'm just going to focus on two of those elements, but I'm happy to answer questions on the other elements as well, if anybody wishes to ask.

The first element I wanted to highlight is the question of the attack. When international criminal law is talking about an attack as part of crimes against humanity, it doesn't mean a military attack, necessarily. What it's referring to is the – forgive the technical language here – the commission of multiple acts that are prohibited within the context of crimes against humanity. So we can see there is an attack in the Philippines that's constituted by this very large number of extrajudicial killings that has been taking place since May 2016.

The second element I wanted to focus on was the question of a state or organizational policy or plan. One thing I would say, this is not part of customary international law, but it is part of the Rome Statute system, so it is an element that would need to be satisfied in the case of the Philippines. And the purpose of this is to distinguish random attacks from the widespread or systematic attacks required for crimes against humanity.

The thing that I wanted to mention about this is that there's no need under international law for there to be a formal plan, a written plan, or a written policy. And that a policy or plan can be inferred from the circumstances – so by the systematic nature of what's happening, or by promises that perpetrators will be protected and will be shielded from the law – and all of these things can point to the existence of a plan or policy. And our conclusions based on the research that we've done, is that there is a state policy either to carry out the attack, or at least to look the other way and to allow these attacks to take place.

So based on our research, our conclusions are that there have been crimes against humanity being committed in the Philippines since May 2016, and this triggers certain obligations. And the obligation that it triggers is on the Philippine authorities to investigate and, where appropriate, to prosecute people who are perpetrating these crimes against humanity. As David mentioned, we recognize the presence of the Philippines here, and we look forward to your thoughts and your input on that.

So, our recommendations, of course, are first that these killings should stop, and second that the Philippines should investigate and prosecute the crimes that have been committed, and so to contribute to accountability, and contribute to a Philippines based on human rights and the rule of law. Thank you.

Perduca: Thank you Alison. Now, Chito Gascon, the Chair of the National Commission on Human Rights.

Chito Gascon:

Thank you, Marco. And at the onset, I want to thank DRCNet Foundation and the other sponsors of this meeting for organizing this. I'm also grateful to all of you for coming. We appreciate your interest in what's happening in our country. I'm very conscious about time, so I will be direct to the point.

The president of the country himself declared this as a war on drugs, and as a result of this war, the number of deaths related to this prosecution of drugs and drug traffickers and drug addicts is an unprecedented number of killings in terms of pace and scale. Over eight months now, close to 8,000 have been killed. A third of that have been killed by the admission of the police themselves, in what they ostensibly refer to as lawful police operations. The local term they use is "nanlaban," or "they fought back," and so they got killed. So the self-defense argument is raised. And two thirds of those who have been killed, and the term used by the government itself is DUI – not driving under influence, but deaths under investigation. Ostensibly committed by unknown assailants, possibly internecine drug gang wars, or possibly death squads or some other assailants.

So that's the number. And I say unprecedented in terms of pace and scale because we have not seen this, not even during the authoritarian period. In fact, we have long passed the number of those killed in this war on drugs compared to those that had been killed in the first year of the authoritarian period. Our friend from Thailand, the prime minister said that their government ten years ago prosecuted the same war on drugs, and close to 3,000 had been killed over an 18-month period. This is 8,000 over eight months. So that is the challenge we have.

Now we welcome the statements made by the Philippine government in the conference here, that they will affirm human rights, that they will have an inclusive and comprehensive approach. But the first step is to declare a halt on the killings.

The next is, as Alison highlighted, the importance of investigating thoroughly, and prosecuting those that have been part of these killings. Unfortunately, unless our friends from the Philippines here, from the government, can clarify, to our knowledge in the Commission on Human Rights, eight months since the start of this war on drugs, not a single police officer has been charged in court. The law on the police established an internal affairs service that is duty-bound by the law to immediately investigate any instance of a discharge of a firearm, and a death resulting from lawful police operations. And yes, the internal affairs service has conducted what they referred to as administrative investigations, but that is essentially dribbling the ball, because eight months after, not a single police officer has been charged in court. Why? Because they essentially take the nanlaban, or self-defense argument as basis for washing their hands.

That is not the case, because a commissioner in the Commission on Human Rights, a colleague of mine, was former undersecretary of the Department of Justice. And she told me the previous policy in the Department of Justice was when there is an admission by a police officer that they had in fact killed someone in the course of a police operation, that person must be brought to court, because the self-defense defense is a matter for the courts to determine in specific cases. But the reality is not a single police officer that has already admitted is being held accountable.

And we are also calling for investigation of the two thirds, because there is no progress there as well. As has been mentioned by two previous speakers, we are a party to the International Criminal Court. I am still a believer in our justice system, but this justice system must be allowed to work. First instance: law enforcement must do a serious investigation. Second instance: they must cooperate with the Commission on Human Rights.

We are currently conducting, of the seven thousand plus killed, about five hundred of our own investigations. And at every stage of our own investigations, we have received non-cooperation from the police. We ask for documents, they ignore the giving of these documents.

And so if the Philippine government is serious about protecting human rights, if the Philippine government is serious at ensuring that it will not fall under the category of one state that is unwilling and unable to prosecute these cases, thereby triggering the possibility of going to the International Criminal Court, we ask them to stop the killings. We ask them to fully investigate. We've reviewed the prosecution and convictions. And ultimately – and there's opportunity in this forum here – they really need to move away from a primarily strongman, law and order approach to this problem, to a more comprehensive harm reduction approach. And we hope that this dialogue in this session as well as elsewhere will help contribute to that purpose.

Thank you very much, good afternoon.

Perduca:

Thank you, Chito. Before I give back the floor to Dave, I want to say that another victim of the war on drugs, also in the Philippines unfortunately, is freedom of speech. We have seen some of the most articulate critics of the President and the policies, being incarcerated with virtually no reason, on false and politically fabricated allegations, in particular Senator De Lima.

Now I'm not saying this because as a former senator I take more into consideration the thoughts of a politician. But still, that is possibly the most egregious case of someone being incarcerated without evidence. I understand there may still be a hearing, and we're looking forward to that. But at the same time we're mobilizing parliaments all over Europe. And we know that also the European Parliament may adopt a resolution soon on this worrying situation.

Dave, the floor is back to you, or we can open it for questions.

David Borden: Okay. Well before we open generally to questions, we will hear from Mr. Sulpicio Confiado – I hope I pronounced that correctly – the Deputy Chief of Mission and Consul General, and Deputy Permanent Representative from the Republic of the Philippines.

Sulpicio Confiado:

Thank you very much, Mr. Borden, Mr. Perduca, distinguished members of the panel, ladies and gentlemen, friends. Thank you very much for giving us the floor to be able to convey a statement by the Philippine government. Let me read through this, very brief and short.

Early on in his campaign, then-candidate Rodrigo Duterte stated that he will deal decisively with the substantial drug menace plaguing our country from north to south and east to west. As a result of that democratic exercise of suffrage, the president was elected by an overwhelming majority of the people.

We were quite disappointed that the firm resolve of the president in addressing the scourge of drugs has been met with skepticism if not outright condemnation. The focus has been solely on alleged human rights violations and so-called extrajudicial killings. The shocking number of seven thousand killed has been bandied about as reflecting the number of EJKs. There is clearly a need for clarification and investigation of these numbers, and based on the data from the Philippine drug enforcement agencies.

These ___ statistics, while in part coming from data on casualties from legitimate police operations against drug criminals, arise from killings carried out by vigilante elements or purges by syndicates themselves. These killings are being investigated as murders. It should be noted that a good percentage of the killings recorded in the last six months are non-drug related.

The government has an interagency mechanism that has been operational since 2012, headed by the Department of Justice and comprising of other eight different agencies. The interagency mechanism addresses cases of EJKs, which involves targeted killings of persons because of their advocacies to include political, environmental, media practitioners, human rights, et cetera. The government has recognized that a small proportion are suspicious cases, and these are being seriously and thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. We iterate that the Philippine government has never made extrajudicial killings a state policy, and the president himself has taken action targeting police and law enforcement personnel.

The principal campaign against illegal drugs should be viewed in the context of the president's duty under the constitution. This he has been doing, and doing this with fervor and commitment. Notwithstanding criticism from within and without, the majority of Filipinos continue to support the campaign against illegal drugs.

We welcome advice, but decisions will be made on sovereign grounds. Article Two, Section Four of the Philippine Constitution stipulates that the prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people. Section Five likewise provides that the maintenance of peace and order, protection of life, liberty and property, and promotion of general welfare, enjoyment by all people the blessings of democracy.

Unfairly, the Philippine response to the drug menace has been almost exclusively portrayed within the rubric of enforcement. The truth, however, is that the Philippine government has pursued a balanced and holistic approach to the drug issue in all its facets: prevention, education, enforcement, rehabilitation and reintegration. The five pillars of supply reduction, demand reduction, alternative development, civic awareness and regional international cooperation, inform the Philippines nation against illicit drugs.

We wish to emphasize that the illegal drugs campaign is but a subset of the overall socioeconomic agenda of the administration. The Philippines has employed a whole of government approach, uplifting the dignity of Filipinos, to alleviate poverty and pave the way for safe and secure societies.

Various Philippine governments are working towards this end, and aside from the war on illegal drugs, the government is leading effective implementation of agrarian reform through distribution of lands, improvement of communal irrigation systems, __ far and provision of ___ assistance to farmers and fishermen.

The success of the approach could be gleaned through the substantial 31.7% decrease in crimes from January to December 2016, compared with the same figure the year before. More rehab centers have been and are being built with enthusiastic support of the community, the business sector, and international partners. Various community-based measures, as well as initiatives for our young people including the peer-based strategy against drugs, have been met with considerable success. Regionally, the Philippines as chair and member of ASEAN, has embarked on collaborative efforts with like-minded countries to secure our communities against illegal drugs.

Perhaps the voluntary surrender of 700,000 people is telling. It tells of the magnitude of the problem. It's affected 45 thousand barangays, and affected another three million people. It could be viewed as indication that says that the drugs campaign has voluntary submission means that these victims desire to rid themselves of this habit in the use or __ of drugs.

Ours is a very young population with over 30% below the age of 14. We want safe communities where they can mature to be responsible citizens and to be able to achieve their full potential. A drug-infested community robs our youth of these basic human rights: the right to life, the right to happiness, and the right of a bright tomorrow.

We call on our friends in the international community to appreciate the substantial threat that our country faces. We call on the international community to do their share in raising their voices against legalization of illicit drugs. We call on the international community to see through the various agendas that promotes commercial and mercantilistic interests under the guise of compassion and human rights, while ignoring the solemn duty of a state to protect its __ systems and to nurture its people.

Let me end by quoting from the president's State of the Nation address last July: "My administration shall be sensitive to the state's obligations to promote, protect and fulfill the rights of our citizens, especially the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable. And social justice shall be pursued, even as the rule of law shall at all times prevail. The administration shall implement a humane approach to development and governance, as we improve our people's welfare in the areas of health, education, adequate food and housing, environmental preservation and respect for culture. Human rights must work to uplift human dignity, but human rights cannot be used as a shield or an excuse to destroy the country."

Thank you very much, Mr. ___.

Perduca: Thank you very much.

Borden: So given the limited time available, I request that comments and questions be kept as concise as possible.

Marco Perduca: Yes.

Daniel Joloy: Thank you very much for that very interesting presentation. My name is Daniel Joloy, from Amnesty International. We are also very deeply concerned about the increasing risks human rights defenders including staff from the Commission on Human Rights are facing in the Philippines, particularly in the context of documenting extrajudicial executions and that – as has been said, might amount to crimes against humanity – and for bringing these cases before justice. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the specific challenges that human rights defenders are facing, particularly after the direct threats of President Duterte against human rights defenders. And can you tell us a little bit more about what mechanisms does the Commission have to protect human rights defenders?

Chito Gascon: Should we take a few, and then respond?

Marco Perduca: Yes, if there's any?

Unidentified Speaker: Yeah, I wanted, I know we're here about the Philippines, so I was wondering about what internal institutional resistance is there available for those that are against this policy. It's very interesting to see the Office of the Vice President come out so strongly. What kind of powers does she have, or others in Congress, or other branches of power? What kind of work is being done to resist this?

Marco Perduca: We can take one last, if there is, and then we go to – yes please.

Randy Thompson, Help Not Handcuffs: Thank you so much for putting this together. It's been invaluable to hear your voices and your perspectives. Just personally, as a survivor of police violence, I can't believe what was just said, that in the face of 8,000 people murdered in the streets we have to hear this.

I just want to say that the other people in the room that are seeing what is happening, we've launched a letter calling on the ICC to be involved. I think Alison you say you have a letter. I just encourage you to act on that, to move forward on that. I am really beside myself to sit in this room and listen to the response. I know this individual has a job to do, but I am flabbergasted by that. Thank you again, once more.

Perduca: Thank you. Chito, do you want to start?

Gascon:

Okay, thank you first for your questions and your interventions. By way of responding to them, I will agree with my dear friend, who I haven't seen in decades, S. Confiado, that there is an existential threat in the country. But that existential threat is not really about the safety and security of our young. The existential threat is a direct assault on human rights, rule of law, and democracy in the country.

Marco referred to the undermining of freedom of speech. It actually goes beyond that. Because as he mentioned, those that are opposed to this policy, are calling for a review and assessment of it, are now being subjected to threats, intimidation, harassment, and possible prosecution. A sitting senator who was five years Minister of Justice and two years Chair of the Commission on Human Rights was arrested two weeks ago, on what I view to be essentially trumped up charges. Because the evidence that they are presenting are suspect evidence, statements from convicts inside jail serving long prison terms, now saying after many years that this senator took money from them. That is the nature of what's happening.

So, and of course, the vice president is very courageous, making her statements, she too is subjected to intimidation and attacks, largely from the supporters [of the president]. As our colleagues have said, this war on drugs is popularly supported by the public. It has been embraced by the public, 80% approval rating. He won by 39% of the vote. So he has consolidated power, and support beyond those who have voted for him.

And so, this is going to be a long haul of work. There are institutions that are pushing back. There are the human rights defenders that are doing their work on a daily basis, trying to document this. As I said, it's unprecedented – even us, the Commission on Human Rights, which has staff to investigate, cannot cover 100% of all of these cases. We will try our level best to do so, but to do so, we have to work with journalists, NGOs, human rights defenders. And they have been receiving, right now more verbal threats. There haven't been any direct attacks on any human rights defenders. We have received reports from human rights defenders that state that they are on some form of watch list and surveillance, but that's par for the course. If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen, so to speak.

We are trying to improve ways and means to address that problem, early warning mechanisms, provision of sanctuaries and refuge, and so on. And this is actually one big challenge. Because in the past, we do have a witness protection program that was essentially a halfway house program, where people came to us, and we would ultimately refer them to the Dept. of Justice. Unfortunately, now many of those that are seeking witness protection from us are unable or unwilling to be referred to the Dept. of Justice, for obvious reasons. So we are trying to develop new mechanisms. So there is pushback.

As I said, I still have faith in our legal process, but the government has to step up and show more commitment to this beyond statements made in the UN. It must show and manifest itself on the ground. The president put a pause in the killings when he said, when there were charges of corruption involving the killing of a Korean national. And he said he would have this investigated, and he said 40% of the police force are corrupt. Two weeks after, he sends the police to continue this war on drugs, but he has not yet solved the 40% corruption in our police force. That is the problem that we have.

When we have a law enforcement mechanism that is suspect – now I don't want to cast aspersions that they're all corrupt: No. We have good people in the police force. But under the circumstances where their commander-in-chief has said "I will continue this war on drugs" – not considering a more comprehensive and holistic approach – maybe our friends at lower levels are trying their very best to create these interventions, but it's coming from the very top. And the very top is saying – and you heard him say it himself – he wants the killing to continue. And that's why we say this can't be sustained. We need to have a human rights-based approach to the drug problem.

Marco Perduca: Thank you.

David Borden: So we've been asked for one minute to talk about disciplinary acts. I request that it does be limited to one minute, because we're over time, and another organization is waiting to come in.

Earl Saavedra:

Good afternoon. Thank you very much. I'm Earl Saavedra, the Deputy Executive Director of the Dangerous Drugs Board of the Republic of the Philippines.

It was mentioned earlier regarding the legal processes which are being exhausted in terms of how the law enforcers deal with our war on drugs. I would like to provide everyone with these updated data regarding the internal cleansing being initiated by our Philippine National Police, one of the organizations in charge of drug abuse prevention and control.

So from July 1, 2016 to January 29 of 2017, the number of law enforcers who were administratively charged reached 21, criminally charged also reached 21, those killed during law enforcement operations reached 21, deaths under investigation 11, arrested 54, and those who surrendered under the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte reached 43, and those who voluntarily surrendered reached 18.

So these are so far the up-to-date figures which we have, and we may be able to share some of these data to the Philippines Commission on Human Rights, and perhaps we could have a dialogue on this so we could definitely look into the other facts that we may be able to share through your office.

For those who would like to get more information, we're very much willing to share with you whatever available data we have right now. Because as what we have mentioned this is a comprehensive approach in order to address the concern on drug abuse prevention. Thank you.

David Borden: And just three quick notes on your way out. One, I neglected to mention before the group Liberal International also played a key role in helping us put this together. We're grateful for the tangible support from cosponsors, including the Luca Coscioni Association and Drug Policy Alliance, and of course from all the other cosponsors. There are copies of the Amnesty International Report that the video is connected to, on the table outside. And if anyone has not signed in yet and is willing to do so there are some sign in sheets floating around. Thank you all for coming.

– END –

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