Human Rights and Drug Policy in Budapest - Part 2

In my last blog post reporting on my time at the Central European University's course on Human Rights and Drug Policy, I opined about the inconsitent aims and policies of the United Nations with respect to drug policy.  After fifty years of the Drug War, experience has shown us that criminalizing drug use and drug users has had no impact on the supply and availability of drugs around the world.  Plus, these policies have led to numerous human rights abuses at the hands of governments following the guidance of international drug control treaties that support extreme measures to curtail drug availability.

I've just completed the second and final week of the course in Budapest, and wanted to recap this week's events.  The first part of the week focused on legal systems and drug policies,  with criminal lawyer Richard Soyer and drug policy expert Krzysztof Krajewski, professor at Jagellonian University, Krakov, Poland.  We then spent a half day with Balázs Dénes from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, who discussed working with journalists (take a look at the HCLU's recent video about the march at the AIDS2012 conference in Washington, demanding better services for people with HIV).  Balázs' section focused on  strategies for NGOs to better work with journalists, such as building effective media lists, holding better press conferences and events, and drafting press releases that make the job of journalists easier.

We then took part in an exercise where the class split into three groups and were given some material on an issue.  We drafted a press release and prepped a spokesperson to be filmed and critiqued. 

The final two and a half days were spent discussing the situation in drug producer countries, and featured presentations from Julia Buxton, Senior Research Fellow, Peace Studies, Bradford University, UK, and Daniel Mejia,  Department of Economics, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia.  Julia covered the policies of crop eradication, including the harmful impacts of aerial spraying, and the generally unsuccessful attempts to introduce "alternative development" (AD) in drug producer countries (that is, inducing subsistence farmers to grow something instead of crops that end up in the illicit drug supply).  AD has largely failed because of a lack of social and market supports to assist subsistence farmers in the transisiton to another crop.  Policies have failed to understand the motivations for farmers (who make next to nothing growing these crops, but it's by far the most lucrative crop they can grow) and thus cannot provide ready markets for alternative crops that are economically sustainable.  We also heard from fellow student, Eduardo Ramirez.  He described the situation in his country, Bolivia, which is battling to have coca grown for traditional uses allowed under the international treaties.

Daniel, an economist, focused on the situation in Colombia and his research into the effectiveness of Plan Columbia, which is a joint effort by the United States and Colombia to stop the cocaine trade in Colombia.  Daniel's research demonstrates that the Colombian government's efforts to target farmers who grow coca is misguided and inneffective in reducting the supply of cocaine in North America and Europe.  Because of the low amount of profits reaped by small-scale farmers growing coca, efforts targeted at eradication have little effect on the amount of supply and value of cocaine.

Reflections on the Course

Overall, I am extremely pleased with having the opportunity to particpate in this course.  I went into this course with the hope that I would expand my understanding of the situation in other parts of the world, learn something about global drug policy, and meet passionate individuals working around the world on human rights and drug policy.  I certainly wasn't disappointed on any of these accounts.  Truly amazing and inspiring were my fellow students, who added so much to the course and my experience through their ideas, their work,  and their friendship.  I'm looking forward to collaborating on projects with some of the students I met over these two weeks, and continuing relationships that we built over hard work and fun times in the beautiful city of Budapest.  I return to Vancouver energized with ideas about pushing the boundaries of drug policy in Canada, and eager to share my experiences with my Pivot colleagues.  I can't wait to see how this all plays out.