By Ann Fordham, Executive Director, International Drug Policy Consortium
Today, thousands of people from over 240 cities all over the world will unite in solidarity for the 7th Support. Don’t Punish Global Day of Action to call for an end to the so-called ‘war on drugs’. Diverse and beautiful actions taking place include a pop-up mock ‘drug store’ installation in Lille, a series of flash-mobs in ten cities in Ukraine, and a public debate in Sierra Leone, artistic events in Mexico City, among many other activities.
The 26th June is also the International Day Against Illicit Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse and too often governments have commemorated this day by showing off their drug control might by burning huge piles of seized drugs or, in the most extreme case, executing people charged with drug trafficking.
There is an ongoing, deeply concerning and unmitigated human rights crisis that has resulted from punitive drug control policies. The latest UN’s World Drug Report, released today, estimates that the number of drug use-related deaths soared to 585,000 in 2017 alone. The terrible truth is that most of these deaths could have been prevented if harm reduction and other health services had been available to those in need. The death toll from punitive approaches rises dramatically if extrajudicial killings, other unlawful killings and the use of the death penalty for drug offenders are added to this number.
Until 2013, the message on the 26th June in the media was predominately focused on drug law enforcement efforts with scant regard for the resulting disastrous violations of human rights. For the past six years, the Support. Don’t Punish campaign has aimed to ‘message jam’ this dominant narrative and reclaim the message of the day – through a broad and diverse Global Day of Action. Through visible and global activism, the campaign does not allow governments to shy away from the true human cost of their drug control efforts.
We reject any celebration, on the 26th June or otherwise, of the unjust, and disastrous ‘war on drugs’ that has detrimentally and disproportionately impacted millions of lives – from people who use drugs to subsistence farmers of drug-linked crops, people of colour, women and so many others. The burden of draconian drug law enforcement is borne by people who are marginalised and in situations of vulnerability. We have witnessed this so clearly in recent weeks in the UK with white, privileged politicians admitting to past drug use with little to no impact on their life outcomes, whilst at the same time Black people are disproportionately policed and convicted for drug offences.
Increasingly, repressive drug control measures are being understood as a form of state violence that serves to deepen and entrench structural inequalities, and the Global Day of Action brings together the growing, diverse and beautiful Support. Don’t Punish community to reject and challenge this.
The Global Day of Action is about building and showcasing solidarity, care and compassion, while promoting human rights and dignity for all the people worldwide who are, or have been, impacted by repressive drug policies. It is an opportunity for affected communities and civil society to have our voices heard, to demand alternative approaches to the war on drugs, and to engage in a real discussion with decision makers and the general public on meaningful reforms.
Today, we stand together from Amsterdam to Nairobi to Buenos Aires to New York to Bangkok and raise our collective voices that will not be silenced to loudly clamour for an end to repression and punishment as instruments of drug control.
In a global political climate where the space for activism is increasingly under threat, international solidarity matters more than ever. Together we can, and we must, work to end the war on drugs. Hundreds of thousands of lives depend on it.