The Civil Society Task Force of the United Nations selected nine persons to present their point of view and recommendations for the UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problems. Dr. Iva Carruthers was selected to represent the faith community; she was the only U.S. citizen who presented. The statement follows.
CIVIL SOCIETY FORUM EVENT – APRIL 18, 2016
UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION (UNGASS)
REMARKS REV. DR. IVA E. CARRUTHERS
General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
I thank you for the opportunity to share a faith lens on the issues related to global drug problems and the search for policies to address the many problematics associated with them.
I serve as general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference an NGO of the UN. I am here representing the global interfaith community; additionally, I am here as a U.S. citizen of African descent. The SDPC is a partner in the interfaith movement to declare and support the call for harm reduction strategies as the centerpiece of strengthening the global response to the world drug problem.
More often than not, the lens of the faith community is missing from the discourse. Our point of view is important because spiritual, religious and faith factors are always at play with humankind and significantly inform individuals’ use of drugs and policy makers’ responses to drug use. For too long, member states have generally been on a path that is directed by and grounded in policies which are punitive, dehumanizing and result in over criminalization. The interfaith movement brings and elevates the imperative of affirming the moral center and moral authority which emanates from the sacred views inherent in all of humanity.
All over the world, global drug policies and punitive responses to addiction have resulted in the devastation of individuals, families and entire communities who continue to suffer the collateral damage from systems and practices that continue to marginalize and disempower them.
To be sure, U.S. policies disproportionately impact global policy. The 1970’s declaration of a War on Drugs in the US has resulted in intergenerational human devastation and trauma. It has cost over a trillion dollars and has resulted in a system of mass incarceration where now the US who represents 5% of the world’s population holds 25% of the world’s incarcerated in its jails and prisons. And, the current trend towards privatization of prisons only exacerbates the commodification of the incarcerated.
The disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs upon communities of color and poor people has mobilized a profound commitment of the interfaith movement to dismantle, reform and transform the system. To that end, interfaith leaders from around the world are present at this UNGASS to declare our collective support and mandate for drug policy reform which prioritizes human dignity, equality and social justice. Our voices and points of view are reverberating throughout UNGASS. This cycle of injustice, moral injury, and human violation must be interrupted. For us, this is not an event. We know this is not easy work and we are committed to stay the course beyond UNGASS.
We attest to the fact that people from all faith, spiritual and religious traditions are negatively impacted by drug addiction, individually and corporately. We recognize that addiction is often caused and intricately related to generational systems of poverty, racism, sexism, oppression and community marginalization. What is needed are investments in health systems and opportunities for rehabilitation from addiction. What is needed are policies that interrupt the global drug trafficking which only furthers the untold human rights violations, massive corruption and violence being experienced by so many on a world wide scale.
In the U.S. context, the War on Drugs has become a War on People. It has been noted that its practices and consequences manifest the characteristics identified by the United Nations as genocide. It is horrific and the trends towards prison privatization is but a reinvention of the American slave system. It must be dismantled. Our faith partners, such as the Exodus Foundation, have created evidence based best reentry practices and begun a movement calling for commutation of 50,000 non violent drug offenders.
In conclusion, we urge representatives of member states to dig deep in their hearts, examine their national policies and embrace a new way forward that values an agenda to reduce supply and lower demand; that acknowledges the intersectionality of policies related to drug production and trade agreements; HIV prevention, law enforcement and sentencing policies; public health practices; and above all, human rights.
We call on member states to recognize and acknowledge the collateral consequences and harm that has been done to families and communities; and undertake a holistic course correction towards global drug policy reform focused on prevention, treatment, compassion and care.
We call on member states to prioritize and embrace specific policies which further harm reduction, including the decriminalization, destigmatization and dehumanization associated with current policies and move towards the creation of safe and health-based environments for those addicted.
To these ends, we call on member states to engage spiritual, interfaith and multifaith leadership and community based networks to participate in the planning, design and implementation of harm reduction strategies and models to reform and transform global drug policies.