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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:
 
  • Background
  • US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (written statement)
  • If You Are Poor, You Are Killed (Amnesty International video)
  • Message of Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo
  • Intro by David Borden, StoptheDrugWar.org executive director
  • Lousewies van der Laan, former leader, Dutch D66 party
  • Alison Smith, No Peace Without Justice
  • Chito Gascon, Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
  • Marco Perduca, former Senator of Italy
  • Philippine government response by Sulpicio Confiado, Deputy Director of Mission
  • Questions and Answers
  • Philippine government response by Earl Saavedra, Assistant Secretary of President's Dangerous Drug Board
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 –

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

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

prepared by Alison A. Smith, Counsel and Director of Criminal Justice Program, No Peace Without Justice,

1. Side event overview

Since his rise to power, President Duterte has engaged in an infamous "war on drugs" that has led to the extrajudicial killing of thousands of alleged drug users and dealers. More than 7,000 people have been killed since President Duterte started his anti-illegal drug campaign after taking office in May 2016. Despite increasing criticism from international and national human rights organizations, he repeatedly expressed his delight at the deadly results of his campaign and emphasized that the war on drugs will continue until his term ends in 2022.

Interviews with witnesses and open source research conducted by Amnesty International highlights the cruelty of the war on drugs and its far-reaching social effects, to which mostly people from poor neighborhoods fall victim. There is increasing reason to believe that the extrajudicial killings follow a certain pattern or policy. The rhetoric of President Duterte openly dehumanizes drug users, encouraging violence and promising impunity for anyone involved in the killing of drug users. In light of such findings, the possibility of investigations by the International Criminal Court, to which the Philippines acceded in 2011, are being discussed within the international human rights community.

The side event at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs was organized by DRCNet Foundation and cosponsored by the AFEW International, Associazione Luca Coscioni, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, Drug Policy Alliance, India HIV/AIDS Alliance, Liberal International, No Peace Without Justice, Persaudaraan Korban Napza Indonesia and Union C (Nepal). Moderated by David Borden, Executive Director of DRCNet Foundation (also known as StoptheDrugWar.org), and Marco Perduca, former senator of the Italian Radical Party, the event opened the floor to different perspectives on the war on drugs, including the Vice President of the Philippines, speakers from human rights organizations and Philippine human rights bodies and representatives of the Philippine government. As might be expected, the opinions of the government vs. other presenters'' differed very strongly.

Speakers representing human rights organizations embedded the ongoing war on drugs in a global trend of authoritarian and populist leadership, pointing to retrogressive developments in human rights and democracy standards. Calling for an immediate stop to the killings, there was agreement to condemn the war on drugs as an unacceptable and inhumane approach to tackle drug problems which may constitute as crimes against humanity according to international criminal law. If the Philippine justice system continuously fails to take up efficient investigations in that matter, participants expressed their support for an intervention by the International Criminal Court. Further major criticisms referred to the lack of transparent data and figures, the non-collaboration of police forces and judicial harassments or threats against those denouncing the human rights implications of the war on drugs.

As a response, the Philippine Government justified its war on drugs as a legitimate campaign that is necessary to serve its democratic duty and address the drug menace that threatens the well-being of its society. Claiming that many killings are occurring out of self-defense in legitimate police operations and that the implementation of comprehensive public health measures are equally part of the anti-drug campaign, the Philippine Government emphasized the need to put the war on drugs into context. The government assured that murders committed by unknown assailants would be investigated and stressed its respect for human rights and social justice.

Regional perspectives and experiences shared at the side event helped to illustrate the political dimension of the Philippines war on drugs. Drug trade and consumption seems to be a topic of high concern to the public and tends to be politicized by authoritarian-leaning governments. Other than investigating and prosecuting the extra-judicial killings that have taken place within the war on drugs, it is therefore crucial to come up with an alternative solution that takes the fears of Philippine voters seriously. With that in mind, participants from human rights organizations called upon the international community to collaborate in adopting a comprehensive public health approach and to help fighting illegal drug trade in the region.

2. Side event summary

In his introductory remarks, moderator David Borden (DRCNet) drew attention to the global rise of populist and authoritarian leadership. The tendency to politicize tensions among different identity groups has challenged the fulfilment of international human rights standards, increasing violence, hatred and anti-democratic movements all over the world. In this context, Mr. Borden pointed out that it is the most urgent priority to not let the brutal Philippine war on drugs become a model for other leaders. He went on to emphasize the importance of human rights leaders that dare to speak out against President Duterte's anti-drug campaign. In that respect, Mr. Borden especially thanked Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo and the Philippine Commission of Human Rights (CHRP) Chair Chito Gascon.

Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo (video message) clearly condemned the ongoing war on drugs and referred to the 7,000 killings that have taken place since July 2016 as "summary executions." The government's brutal anti-illegal drug campaign fails to address the very nature of the country's drug problem: The consumption and circulation of drugs is a complex public health issue, closely linked to poverty and social inequality. Consequentially, those most affected are residents of Manila's poorest neighborhoods who are not only mourning the loss of family members but are also subjected to the discriminatory and arbitrary behavior of police officials. Reportedly, people searched in drug raids were denied search warrants because they were living as squatters and lacked proof of property. Family members of alleged drug users who were listed by the police but could not be found were arrested as substitutes. As a result, the relationship to police forces has deteriorated significantly, undermining the overall feeling of safety and trust in authorities among the Philippines' largest communities. Instead of increasing security and eliminating criminality, Vice President Robredo predicted that the war on drugs will create new issues of public concern requiring legal and psychological support for affected individuals.

Vice President Robredo lamented that the anti-illegal drug campaign lacks transparency, particularly in respect of reliable statistics on the actual extent of the Philippine's drug problem and the lack of investigative efforts. Around 500 cases of extrajudicial killings have been filed with the Philippine Commission of Human Rights (CHRP) but until today none of these cases has undergone further investigations by the Department of Justice (DOJ). She further recalled the country's historical achievements, fighting for democratic values and respect for human rights under martial law imposed by former dictator Marcos. Against this background, she appealed to the Filipino people to watch carefully the human rights implications of the anti-illegal drug campaign and other happenings such as the potential reintroduction of the death penalty and the lowering of criminal liability to the age of nine years. The Vice President made it clear that in her opinion, a holistic public health policy, including educational and psychological interventions, can be the only approach consistent with respect for people's dignity and human rights to tackle the Philippines drug problem.

Lousewies van der Laan (video message), former leader of the Dutch D66 Liberal Party and spokeswoman on justice in the Dutch and European Parliament, reinforced the argument of previous speaker Vice President Robredo that drug use cannot be seen in isolation from complex social and health dynamics. As former chief of staff of the President of the International Criminal Court, she recalled the strong participation of active Philippine civil society organizations that she experienced during preparations for the country's ratification of the Rome Statute in 2011. The then Philippine president Benigno Aquino explained his decision to ask the country's Senate to ratify the Rome Statute by saying that the high number of Filipino nationals living and working abroad could only be protected if the Philippines contributed to setting a high international standard of human rights and rule of law. With that in mind, Ms. Van der Laan stressed the importance of Philippine civil society and motivated politicians to stand united against human rights abuses in the Philippines.

Abhisit Vejjajiva (video message), is the former Prime Minister of Thailand and Chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), a network of regional liberal and democratic parties which cosponsored the side event. In line with previous speakers, Mr. Vejjajiva criticized the Philippine government for ongoing human rights abuses within its anti-drug campaign. This brutal approach to tackle drug related issues risks having a profound negative impact on other countries in the region, of which Thailand has already engaged in similarly cruel anti-drug policies in the past, and Cambodia is potentially at risk for. In order to end ongoing violence and find adequate responses for the region's drug problem, the political dimensions of such anti-drug campaigns need to be addressed first. A majority of the region's population feel that drugs are a significant problem in their societies and are not adequately addressed. As a consequence, despite the high number of killings, such anti-drug campaigns are widely supported by the public, encouraging and legitimizing the radical approach of authoritarian governments. Mr. Vejjajiva argued that both among societies and political leaders, there needs to be more awareness of the negative implications such drug wars can have. He cited former President of Colombia Cesar Gaviria, who has argued that anti-drug policies in his country have created new problems: driving the drug trade underground, preventing users from seeking rehabilitation services and increasing corruption among police forces and state officials.

In order to stop the killings in anti-drug campaigns and reduce political support for authoritarian leaders, those advocating for human rights and the rule of law need to come up with a credible alternative solution to tackle drug issues. In this regard, the international human rights community has both to continue its pressure on authoritarian governments and convey a strong message to the wider public, raising awareness that extrajudicial killings are not the right approach to address drug issues but are illegal and anti-democratic in their very nature.

Alison Smith, Director of the International Criminal Justice Program with No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), reported on the international criminal law implications of the Philippine war on drugs. Having acceded to the Rome Statute in 2011, potential war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide taking place in the Philippines can be investigated and prosecuted by the ICC. Since the Philippine war on drugs is not related to a conflict and does not include a specific intent to eliminate a protected group, war crimes and genocide do not fall within the scope of this analysis. Instead, based on NPWJ's research of open-source information, Ms. Smith concluded that crimes against humanity have been committed since the war on drugs started in May 2016. The killings within the Philippine anti-drug campaign do not appear to be justified by law and therefore constitute an act of murder, which is the first to be prohibited under crimes against humanity in the Rome Statute. The context of this act, which is that it needs to take place as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population pursuant to a state or organizational policy to commit the attack, is equally shown in the Philippine case. The large number of extra-judicial killings within the war on drugs aggregate to an attack, which international criminal law has interpreted as the commission of multiple acts prohibited within the context of crimes against humanity. Furthermore, international criminal law does not require a formal or written plan to prove that crimes against humanity are committed on the basis of a state or organizational policy. The systematic nature of the killings in the Philippine war on drugs and promises that perpetrators will enjoy immunity from jurisdiction infer that there is either a state policy or a general agreement to allow such attacks to take place. In the light of the above, Ms. Smith appealed to the Philippine authorities to stop extrajudicial killings and fulfill their international obligations by investigating and prosecuting these crimes against humanity.

Chito Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Republic of the Philippines (CHR), associated the brutal war on drugs directly with Rodrigo Duterte's presidency and stressed that the number and pace of killings has reached an alarming level, which so far has been unprecedented in the ASEAN region. According to Mr. Gascon, among the close to 8,000 deaths, one third were killed by police officials and justified for the purpose of self-defense in ostensibly lawful police operations. The other two thirds were supposedly killed by unknown assailants and have been labelled as "deaths under investigation" (DUIs) by government authorities. In reference to the lack of national investigation efforts highlighted by previous speakers, Mr. Gascon reported that so far no police officer has been charged. Instead, the self-defense argument appears to be used to circumvent longstanding internal police regulations for investigating the use of firearms in operations. For instance, previous policies imposed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that required further examination of cases involving the use of force for the purpose of self-defense in front of a court, appear to have been abandoned under the Duterte administration. However, Mr. Gascon pointed out that he still believes the Philippine justice system will be able to function if serious investigations are initiated soon and authorities are willing to cooperate with the CHR. In that respect, he reported on the non-cooperation of the police in about 500 CHR-led investigations, ignoring requests for access to documentation. In line with previous speakers, Mr. Gascon confirmed the possibility of ICC proceedings and urged the Philippine Government to instead stop the killings itself, to properly investigate the killings, and to approach the drug problem through a "harm reduction" public health approach.

Sulpicio Confiado, Deputy Chief of Mission, Counsel General and Deputy Permanent Representative from the Republic of the Philippines, read out a statement of the Philippine Government. Based on data released by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the government conceded that there is a need for further investigations but clearly dissociates itself from killings carried out by vigilante groups or syndicates, which the government claims are being investigated as murders. Mr. Confiado further clarified that this particularly applies to a small number of suspicious cases. In the opinion of the Philippine Government, the international community unfairly generalizes the high number of deaths as extrajudicial killings. These figures need to be put into perspective as some killings are causalities, occurring in legitimate police operations, and a good percentage are not drug related at all.

The Philippine Government strongly rejected accusations made by the international community and defended its anti-drug campaign as a necessary and politically legitimate approach. Based on section four of the Philippine Constitution, the government regards the war on drugs as a primary duty to protect the Philippine society from the dangers that drug consumption and trafficking pose to the well-being of society. According to the Philippine Government, the voluntary surrender of 100,000 people proved the dimension of this drug problem, which is affecting an estimated three million citizens. Eliminating the drug menace is a precondition to turn the very high percentage of young citizens into healthy members of society, allowing them to grow up in safe environments and fully enjoy human rights.

The statement further argued that the perspective of the international community is one-sided. The government claims to complement the anti-drug campaign with a holistic public health approach, promoting and implementing preventive, educational, rehabilitation and reintegration measures. This is embedded in the overall socioeconomic agenda of the current administration, whose primary goal is the alleviation of poverty. In this regard, Mr. Confiado listed successfully implemented reforms aiming to eradicate social inequality by addressing the needs of rural populations. The success of community based measures, involving communities in implementing rehabilitation centers and planning anti-drug strategies, are further proof of the government's respect for the dignity of marginalized social groups.

In the name of the Philippine Government, Mr. Confiado asked the international community to accept the anti-drug campaign as a legitimate and necessary step to serve and protect its population. He also called for more international collaboration and support in fighting the drug trade. The government statement ended by quoting the President' Duterte's State of the Nation address after his election, emphasizing that the government will fully commit to human rights, social justice and development. However, at the same time the quote insisted that international opinion will not limit the government's actions and decisions in protecting its citizens and promoting the well-being of society.

Following the speakers' statements, concerns and questions regarding available protection mechanisms for human rights defenders (Daniel Joloy, Amnesty International) and the potential powers of the Vice President's Office to oppose abuses, were raised. In reference to an earlier comment made by Marco Perduca, co-moderator and former Italian senator, who expressed his concern that those criticizing the war on drugs are harassed and curtailed in their right to freedom of speech, CHR Chair Chito Gascon reaffirmed the deteriorating situation for human rights defenders in the Philippines. Those opposing President Duterte's policy risk being harassed, threatened, intimidated and prosecuted. In that respect, Mr. Gascon referred to the recent arrest and imprisonment of former Minister of Justice and former CHR Chair Leila De Lima as a prominent example. In his opinion, the testimonies of long term convicts suddenly accusing Senator De Lima of being involved in drug circulation confirm the suspicion of trumped up charges and fabricated evidence. Mr. Perduca strongly condemned the incarceration of Senator De Lima and noted the European Parliament had taken up a resolution on this matter. Mr. Gascon reported that Vice President Robredo appears to face similar challenges due to her outspoken criticism of the anti-illegal drug campaign. However, the Vice President's powers are very limited as long as President Duterte knows that 80 % of the population approve of his job performance and that a majority in Congress support his policies.

A last comment was made by Earl Saavedra, Deputy Executive Director of the Dangerous Drugs Board of the Republic of the Philippines, who presented updated figures on the war on drugs released by the Philippine National Police (PNP). Between July 1, 2016 and January 29, 2017, 21 law enforcers were administratively charged and another 21 criminally charged. During law enforcement operations involving DUI matters, 11 officials were charged. Fifty-four officials were charged related to operations aiming to arrest drug traffickers. Another 43 law enforcers were charged in regard to President Duterte's pronouncement to surrender and 18 within his call for voluntary surrender. Mr. Saavedra reaffirmed the government's holistic approach to preventing drug use and assured the collaboration of his institution, offering to share whatever data is available.

 

– END –

Chronicle AM: NJ, PA Move to Increase Opioid Sentences, Canada Legal Pot Delayed?, More... (12/20/17)

Mid-Atlantic state politicos are moving toward harsher sentences for some opioid offenses, Canada's July 1 marijuana legalization date may get bumped back, California's Humboldt County rejects safe injection sites, and more.

Make way! Moves are afoot in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to toughen opioid sentences. (supremecourt.gov)
Harm Reduction

California's Humboldt County Rejects Safe Injection Sites. At its meeting Tuesday, the county board of supervisors voted to send a letter to the sponsor of a state bill that would allow for safe injection sites telling her they weren't interested. The measure, Assembly Bill 186, filed by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), would allow certain cities and counties, including Humboldt, to authorize such programs. Some supervisors had moral objections, while others raised cost concerns. Most public commenters at the meeting also opposed the plan.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Pennsylvania DAs Want Tougher Fentanyl Laws. The state District Attorneys Association is getting behind a push by Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) for harsher sentences for fentanyl-related crimes. "Stiffer penalties for fentanyl would go a long way in helping us," Shapiro said during a recent roundtable discussion on drugs. The DAs backed him up a few days later, tweeting that "An increase in sentencing guidelines for #fentanyl will help prevent deaths. PA Sentencing Commission is considering changes."

New Jersey Bill Could Quadruple Prison Sentences for Opioid-Related Offenses. Democratic lawmakers have filed a bill, Assembly Bill 5264, that would dramatically increase sentences for some opioid offenses. Under the bill, the sentence for possessing five grams of heroin would double from a maximum of five years to a maximum of 10 years. People caught possessing 10 grams would see their maximum sentences quadrupled, from five years to 20.

Drug Policy

Acting Chief of Staff at Drug Czar's Office Fired. Lawrence "Chip" Muir, the acting chief of staff and general counsel for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), was suddenly fired Tuesday afternoon. ONDCP has been without a new drug czar since the Trump administration took office, and now it lacks a chief of staff, too. It's not clear why Muir got canned.

International

Canada Not Wedded to July 1 Deadline for Marijuana Legalization. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed to back away from the long-anticipated July 1 rollout date for legal marijuana in an interview Tuesday night. "It won't be July 1," he said, but will happen "next summer." The House of Commons approved legalization legislation last month, but the bill is now being studied by the Senate, which could modify it and possibly delay final adoption.

Indian Government to Craft New Drug Rehab Policy for Addicts. Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot told congress Tuesday that the country's 2001 law on rehabilitating drug addicts is under review and that a survey of drug addicts nationwide was underway. An action plan to rehabilitate addicts is now being prepared he said.

Indonesia Officials Threatens "Shoot to Kill" Policy for Drug Dealers Jakarta Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno has threatened to kill drug dealers who resist arrest. "We are serious [in fighting drugs], we will '810' drug dealers who try to avoid authorities' pursuit," he said, referencing the police code for shooting and killing suspects who try to flee arrest. According to Amnesty International, Indonesian police have killed 80 suspected drug dealers this year, five times the number killed in 2016.

Chronicle AM: Wyden Signs On to Booker Pot Bill, Ithaca Safe Injection Site Talks, More... (12/19/17)

Cory Booker's federal marijuana bill finally finds another sponsor, Kentucky's ag commissioner pronounces himself "dumbfounded" at the DEA's recalcitrant position on industrial hemp, and more.

Cory Booker is feeling just a little less lonely after picking up Ron Wyden as a cosponsor for his marijuana bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Wyden Signs On to Booker's Federal Marijuana Bill. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced Monday that he is cosponsoring Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, Senate Bill 1689. The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to legalize it without fear of federal interference. The bill would also withhold funds from states that continue to criminalize marijuana and disproportionately arrest and imprison minorities for marijuana offenses, as well as allowing people sentenced under racially biased marijuana law enforcement to file civil lawsuits against their states. Wyden is the only cosponsor of the bill so far.

Hemp

Kentucky Ag Commissioner "Dumbfounded" at DEA Position on Hemp. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has written a letter to the DEA requesting a meeting about hemp policy. "I was dumbfounded" to read about the DEA's position that hemp-derived CBD oils are illegal, even if they contain no THC," Quarles wrote. "Consumable hemp products are legal to buy," Quarles noted. But the DEA maintains that hemp is the same thing as marijuana, and DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson responded that Quarles is "knocking on the wrong door." Patterson said the DEA was simply enforcing the Controlled Substances Act, and if people want to change hemp policy, they need to talk to Congress.

Drug Testing

Illinois Roadside Drug Testing Pilot Program Coming Soon. Police in the northwestern town of Carol Stream will begin a pilot roadside drug testing program in February. Officers will use mouth swabs to screen for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, and opiates. Testing will begin on a voluntary basis, with drivers asked if they will consent to giving a saliva sample. The test results could be used to help police build drugged driving cases, but since Illinois does not have a zero tolerance drugged driving policy, test results alone would not be sufficient to prove guilt.

Harm Reduction

Ithaca, New York, Continues Discussions on Safe Injection Site. County officials on Monday continued discussing a proposal from Mayor Svante Myrick to open a safe injection site for heroin users in the city. The county legislature's Health and Human Services Committee heard from proponents of the harm reduction measure in what is the second hearing on the topic in two months.

Chronicle AM: CA Licenses First Legal Marijuana Shops, US ODs at Record High, More... (12/15/17)

California starts rolling out recreational marijuana business licenses, Maryland approves more dispensaries, Michigan starts accepting dispensary applications, the Mexican Senate approves a bill letting the military keep playing a policing role, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Issues First Recreational Marijuana Business Licenses. The state's Bureau of Cannabis Control issued 20 retail marijuana business licenses Thursday, paving the way for consumers to buy legal weed at pot shops as early as January 1. On the list were medical and recreational adult use distributors, retailers, and "microbusinesses." Among first day retail licenses were KindPeoples in Santa Cruz, 530 Cannabis in Shasta Lake, and Torrey Holistics in San Diego.

Denver Arrests 12, Shutters 26 Marijuana Stores in Criminal Investigation. Police in Denver shut down 26 Sweet Leaf marijuana stores Thursday and arrested 12 people in an ongoing criminal investigation related to allegations the shops were selling larger amounts of marijuana than allowed under state law. The shops involved all received orders to close the business, the first time the city has issued an open-ended suspension to a legal pot business. The DEA was not involved.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Approve a Dozen More Dispensaries. The state's Medical Cannabis Commission has given the go-ahead for another 12 dispensaries to open their doors. The state currently has 10. Another 60 dispensaries that have received preliminary licenses are still awaiting final approval. The state has more than 10,000 registered patients and existing dispensaries have had a hard time keeping up with demand.

Michigan Starts Accepting Medical Marijuana Applications. The state's Medical Marihuana Licensing Board is now accepting applications for medical marijuana businesses under the new regime approved by the legislature earlier this year. Existing dispensaries will not have to shut down while their licenses are approved, a process that could take three or four months.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise. At least 66,324 people died of drug overdoses during the 12-month period ending in May 2017, up 17 percent from the 56,488 who died between May 2015 and May 2016, according to data released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics. Fentanyl and other synthetics overtook heroin as the leading killer, accounting for some 23,000 deaths compared to heroin's 15,525 and another 14,467 deaths from prescription opioids.

International

Mexico Senate Votes to Keep the Military in Police Role. Despite soaring violence and human rights abuses, the Mexican Senate voted early Friday to approve the "internal security law" even as protestors surrounded the Senate to decry the measure, which they say will militarize the country and harden a failed strategy of using soldiers to fight drug cartels. The bill now returns to the lower house, where passage is expected to be a formality. "We are concerned that the bill gives the armed forces a leadership and coordination role in certain circumstances, rather than limiting their role to aiding and assisting civilian authorities," said a statement issued by the UN high commissioner for human rights. "[It] does this in the absence of solid control mechanisms to ensure that operations are carried out with full respect for human rights." The proposal comes as Mexico suffers its most murderous year on record -- despite having the military involved in the fight against the cartels for the past 11 years.

Chronicle AM: Norway Moves Toward Drug Decrim, WHO Gives Thumbs Up to CBD, More... (12/14/17)

Norway moves down the path toward drug decriminalization, a New Hampshire legislative committee votes down a legalization bill, the WHO gives a thumbs up to CBD, and more.

CBD ointment. The World Health Organization has declared CBD non-addictive and non-toxic. (Pinterest)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois' Cook County to Vote on Non-Binding Legalization Referendum. The county commission voted Wednesday to put an advisory referendum on whether marijuana should be legalized on the March primary ballot. While the vote is only advisory, a strong "yes" vote in the state's most populous county would send a signal to state legislators in Peoria, who will be considering legalization next year.

New Hampshire House Committee Votes Down Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House Criminal Justice Committee voted 13-7 Tuesday to kill a legalization bill, House Bill 656.

International

World Health Organization Declares CBD Non-Addictive, Not-Toxic. In a recent report, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared cannabidiol (CBD) non-addictive and non-toxic. "In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential," WHO concluded. The organization's Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) found "no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD." The committee also found that clinical trials showed CBD could be useful for treating epilepsy and "a number of other medical conditions."

Norway Begins Move to Drug Decriminalization. A majority of the parliament has moved to begin shifting the country's drug policies toward decriminalization. "The majority in the parliament has asked the government to prepare for reform," a spokesperson for the Storting told Newsweek. "It has started a political process," he said. But he cautioned that "it's just the starting point," and that there's no legislation yet. Parliamentarians will be heading to Portugal in the spring to see how the Portuguese did it.

Global Coalition Calls for International Criminal Court to Intervene in Philippines. A coalition of dozens of groups and individuals worldwide led by Help Not Handcuffs has sent an open letter to the International Criminal Court urging it to investigate the Duterte government for crimes against humanity for the wave of killings of suspected drug users and sellers that has left thousands of people dead in the last year.

How Bigoted Pennsylvania Drug Warriors Turned This New York Man's Life into a Living Hell [FEATURE]

In June, 2014, Wilfredo Ramos was driving back to his Brooklyn home after visiting his mother in Lancaster, Pennsylvania when two Pennsylvania State Police troopers detoured him into a Kafkaesque nightmare from which he emerged only five months later.

The traffic stop from hell happened to Wilfredo Ramos -- and happened, and happened. (Sonoma County Sheriff's Office)
In the meantime, Ramos rotted in jail on bogus charges, losing his job, his car, and his apartment. Now, in a small gesture of redress, the State Police have agreed to pay Ramos $150,000 for his travails in a taxpayer-funded settlement, but the cops still admit no fault or liability.

According to the lawsuit that ended in the settlement, Ramos' nightmare began when he was pulled over by Troopers Justin Summa and Kevin Vanfleet on June 6, 2014. Neither trooper said why they stopped Ramos, and the suit alleged they were engaged in racial profiling because Ramos is Hispanic and was driving a car with New York plates.

Summa claimed he smelled alcohol, and Ramos replied that he had not been drinking. Summa then challenged Ramos, citing his ethnicity and place of residence. "We know you have drugs," Summa told him, "just tell us where they are." Ramos denied possessing any drugs.

Summa then administered a Breathalyzer test, which came back negative for alcohol, and ordered Ramos to perform field sobriety tests, which he completed without any problem. The encounter should have ended at that point, with Ramos being thanked for his cooperation and sent on his way, since there was no evidence he had committed any crime.

But that's not what happened. Instead, although Ramos had cleared all the tests and although they lacked probable cause, Troopers Summa and Vanfleet arrested Ramos for driving under the influence, giving them a pretext to search his vehicle in their quest to make a drug bust. Their search turned up nothing.

The troopers then took Ramos to state police headquarters where they administered yet another Breathalyzer test, which they described as "inconclusive." The next stop was the Lehigh County DUI center, where Ramos consented to have his blood drawn to be tested.

According to the lawsuit, typical practice in Lehigh County is that people arrested under suspicion of drunk driving who have no prior drunk driving arrests and where there was no accident or injuries are released pending blood test results. That didn't happen with Ramos. Instead, he was held under $10,000 cash bail -- an amount he could not raise.

As Ramos rotted in jail, his blood sample was tested twice by the Lehigh Valley Health Network Laboratory, which found on June 18, 2014, that it contained no drugs or alcohol. Trooper Summa then ordered a third test of the sample, this time for a broader spectrum of substances, but again the results were negative.

On the same day the test results came in, Summa testified in a preliminary hearing on Ramos' case that the results were not yet in. He did not tell the court about the negative test results. Ramos remained in jail for 158 days until he was found not guilty in Lehigh County Court after blood tests showed no illegal substances or alcohol in his system.

While Ramos was jailed, he was fired from his job and lost his home. He lost his car, too: The tow truck operator notified Ramos by mail about a deadline to retrieve his vehicle, but because Ramos was in jail, no one was at his residence to receive the letter.

Ramos' lawsuit charged that Troopers Summa and Vanfleet conspired to falsely arrest him despite finding no evidence that he was impaired or had drugs in his car. The lawsuit also named five state police supervisors, from the troop commander to former state police Commissioner Francis Noonan, as liable for racially motivated misconduct, unlawful seizure, violations of due process of law, denial of equal rights, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, and other Civil Rights Act violations.

While the State Police admitted no fault or liability, their willingness to settle the case speaks for itself.

Attorney Joshua Karoly, who represented Ramos in the lawsuit, was magnanimous after the settlement was announced. "It was a mistake that this happened, and this resolution is going to go a long way toward getting his life back on track to where it was before this happened," Karoly told the Lancaster Morning Call. "It makes mistakes like that much less likely when they're brought to the public's attention."

Medical Marijuana Update

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment stays alive (for now) in the stopgap spending bill, Honolulu's police chief backs away from seizing patients' guns, and more.

National

Last Thursday, federal medical marijuana protections got a two-week reprieve. The passage of a stopgap spending bill means the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment ban on spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal remains in force for at least another two weeks. That's good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough, said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) in a statement: "While we are pleased that these critical protections will continue, two weeks is not enough certainty for the millions of Americans who rely on medical marijuana for treatment and the businesses who serve them," Blumenauer said. "As Congress works out a long-term funding bill, it must also include these protections. And ultimately, Congress must act to put an end to the cycle of uncertainty and permanently protect state medical marijuana programs -- and adult use -- from federal interference."

Hawaii

Last Wednesday,the Honolulu police chief admitted the department erred in trying to take guns from patients. Chief Susan Ballard acknowledged to the Honolulu Police Commission that the department's abortive move to make medical marijuana patients turn in their firearms "was incorrect." She said the department will return two guns to people who turned them in voluntarily, but she also said the department will continue to deny new gun permits to cardholders.

Nevada

Last Thursday, the state's highest court okayed the state's medical marijuana registry. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state's medical marijuana registry does not violate constitutional provisions of due process, equal protection, and the right against self-incrimination. "We conclude Nevada's medical marijuana registry does not impinge upon a fundamental right," said the opinion written by Justice Ron Parraguirre. "We further conclude the registry is rationally related to the legitimate state interest of protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: WI Dem Governor Contender Rips Walker on Food Stamp Drug Tests, More... (12/13/17)

The Hartford, CT, city council says legalize it, a Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial canddate attacks Scott Walker over food stamp drug testing, Colombia meets coca eradication goals, and more.

Gov. Walker wants Wisconsin to be the first state in the country to drug test food stamp recipients. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Hartford, CT, City Council Calls for Legalizing and Taxing Marijuana. The city council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a resolution calling for the legalization and taxation of marijuana. The resolution also calls on the city to conduct an economic impact study and hold public hearings on the issue, as well as measures to "ensure racial equity in ownership and employment."

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Candidate Rakes Walker on Food Stamp Drug Testing. Democratic gubernatorial contender Matt Flynn slammed Gov. Scott Walker's (R) plan to impose drug screening and testing on food stamp recipients Tuesday: "I condemn this in the strongest terms. First, it is hypocritical. Walker and his Republican allies claim to be against intrusive big government, but there has never been a more intrusive, big-government administration in our state's history," he said. "Second, this is foolishly wasteful of our state's limited resources. By the administration's own admission, fewer than one-third of one percent of all food stamp recipients will likely be identified as drug users. Numerous states have passed similar 'reforms' and have actually found that recipients of these programs test positive at a lower rate than the general population. These 'reforms' always cost more money than they save. Third, and most importantly, this policy is offensive in the extreme. It demeans people experiencing poverty. It is unconscionable."

Law Enforcement

Kansas Couple Whose Home Was Raided in Bungled Marijuana Search Loses Lawsuit. The couple, a pair of former CIA employees who were growing tomato plants hydroponically, were raided by Johnson County sheriff's deputies searching for marijuana. Deputies zeroed in on the couple after spotting them at a hydroponics store, then searched their trash and mistook discarded tea leaves for marijuana leaves. The couple sued, alleging deputies violated their Fourth Amendment rights, but a federal jury disagreed. The couple says they will appeal.

International

Colombia Says It Met Coca Eradication Deadline, Hints at Shift to Crop Substitution. Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said the country had eradicated some 125,000 of coca planting ahead of a deadline agreed to with the US. He said the target for forced eradication next year would decline to 100,000 acres. This year's forced eradication program was five times larger than last years' and led to clashes between troops, eradicators, and growers that left at least ten coca farmers dead.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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