November 24, 2017

Inter-American human rights commission set to analyze region’s policies today

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

‘70% of women in jail are there due to crimes involving drugs’

By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission will today be analyzing drug policies in the region on behalf of 16 human rights organizations, including two from Argentina: the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the civil association Intercambios.

The Herald talked to Luciana Pol, CELS coordinator of the area of Security Policies and Institutional Violence, who will be taking part in the hearing in Washington, D.C.

“Getting involved in these topics is a great challenge for traditional human rights organizations,” Pol told the Herald.

Why did you request this hearing?

The situation regarding drug policies in the continent is quite complex. Some states have used militarization as one of the most common answers, which has increased violence, as Mexico and some countries in Central America have demonstrated. Prohibitionist policies — aimed at limiting traffic and consumption, also had adverse effects. For instance, the number of people who have been deprived of freedom has grown. A quarter of the total amount of inmates are imprisoned for crimes linked to drugs, which are often non-violent. A full 70 percent of women in jail are there due to drug crimes.

How has the region reacted to these policies?

Latin America has been jolted by drug policies and violence. The Organization of American States is one of the organizations that has provided a better response. Last year, the OAS General Assembly issued a brief, making reference to different scenarios and different approaches. We wanted the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to get involved in the issue as human rights are at risk.

Why do you think drug-trafficking ihas been in the news so often in Argentina lately?

A paradox. Social concern is logical as this also involves corruption in the police forces and a possible involvement of the courts and the political world. But this social concern is not based on reliable information. The state isn’t issuing serious and trustworthy information on the groups operating here. The debate shows a lack of information.

Last year, the Supreme Court said that the courts in the northern provinces are not able to deal with this issue and urged the government to take action.

In those northern provinces, the judiciary only focuses on particular cases, 80 percent of which involve people who put their own lives at risk to smuggle. The courts must stop attacking the weakest links, which are easily replaced. They have to focus on those who recruit them, on the big organizations.

Is it due to this lack of information that even members of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Cabinet appear to disagree on whether Argentina is a producing country?

The problem is that when you don’t have information, you don’t have a basis for action. This is a problem that the United Nations and the OAS also face.

Why has the so-called “drugs law” — approved in 1989 — not been amended?

It has to do with moral principles and fear. Some associate drugs with crime and that association is not proven.

How do changes in the Sedronar anti-drug agency impact the problem?

We’ll see how it develops because they are too recent. The health response should be improved and the coordination with Sedronar is essential. Then, there is the link with security and the economic side.

In Santa Fe province, police are part of the drug-trafficking problem. What can be done with the security forces?

That’s fundamental. When you go to a neighbourhood, everyone knows that small sellers have police protection. That also happens with the biggest gangs but on a larger scale. You cannot think of struggling against drug-trafficking without considering the police body that will be in charge of it. So far the debate has been marked by the possibility of incorporating the Armed Forces into the “war on drugs” but those involved in the discussion have not paid attention to the examples of Colombia and Mexico and their disastrous consequences. Argentina could learn lessons from Mexico and Colombia.

This is a complex moment to open this discussion as the debate over the Penal Code reform shows. Don’t you agree?

We want a serious discussion. We don’t want a debate that is simplified for TV. We have to discuss what the real conflicts are in order to avoid wasting resources. A cultural change is also necessary.


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