New commitment on humanitarian drug policy

Rome Consensus in Asia and the Pacific
From: “Regional meeting of the Rome Consensus for Asia and Oceania”; Manila- Philippines, 27-29 September 2007

Asia: Back to the roots
I’m glad to be here in Asia, the first region in the world which addressed the drug problem in its first Red Cross Conference in Bangkok in 1922 and confirmed their engagement in the II Conference in Tokyo in 1924: it was a courageous demonstration of the Asian leaders discussing the vulnerabilities and problems affecting their communities and families, 85 years ago.
I would like to mention a quote of the decision adopted in 1922 which is based on the Humanitarian values of our Movement, on a RC/RC approach, which is still valid today:
“… the Red Cross Societies could help in the fight against opium and other drug abuses,
The I Conference of the Asian Red Cross Societies recommend that, in the countries where the abuse prevails, information in local languages is to be published about the risks of using such drugs and that such information is to be the first to be included in the community education programs run by the Red Cross National Societies, especially in the activities developed with the youth”
The Red Cross cares about vulnerable people. This is in fact one of the fundamental missions of the Red Cross: to advocate for the most vulnerable people. The ones who lack a voice. The Red Cross has shown a commitment throughout its history to address drug problems.
Before the current drug conventions were even written, in 1922 at the Bangkok Conference, the Red Cross was calling for sensible, humanitarian action to tackle drug use. Throughout this historic process, with renewed commitments in the International Conference of Istanbul in 1969 and of Geneva in 1986, the highest governance of the Red Cross Movement has systematically called on the governments to bring their moral and material support to actions fighting vulnerability.

Why the RC/RC should be involved on the fight of drug related suffering?
It is a good question my Dear friends: why drugs and not other humanitarian suffering?
Since its foundation in 1864, the Red Cross has rigorously followed its core Principle of Neutrality. This is the reason why, today, the Red Cross can work everywhere, in every community, regardless of racial, ideological, religious or political divides.
But the Red Cross has also another fundamental mission: the one of advocating for the most vulnerable people. Far from being contradictory, those two forces – neutrality and advocacy – if I may call them like this, meet at the point of alleviating human suffering. This is where the Red Cross finds its unique power of humanity
In the RC/RC Movement, we care about the 600 million people victims of conflicts and natural disasters every year, which is part of our mission, Principles and values;
However, the second major group of people suffering in the world is the drug users, who are stigmatized, discriminated and isolated from society.
Nowadays, more than 200 million people are drug users, worldwide; their marginalization affects their families, friends and communities and further hampers the civil society’s development.
The drug problem affects three major sectors of our society:
1. Local economy: Drugs hamper the development of public economy, causes brain drain and curtail public finance resources, producing more poverty and lack of opportunities,
2. Human security: Drugs increase violence, especially among young people and increase public health problems including the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, putting pressure on the usually fragile health systems and generates more discrimination and isolation,
3. Governance and legitimacy: Narcotics criminalize sectors of society, foster corruption and money laundering, create instability of local authorities and spread corruption at all levels.
Our National Societies have a unique position. They are a bridge between society and governments.
As auxiliaries to public authorities we can make an important difference, first and foremost by being able to reach all groups and levels of society.

XXI Century: the humanitarian challenges
We in the Red Cross have always said that stigma kills. Indifference and discrimination kill more than the abuse of substances.
After more than 50 years with the Movement, I have never seen so much human suffering and stigmatization than in drugs. Sadly, a big share of this suffering is caused as much by the repressive policies as the substances themselves. This suffering does not end with the users only; it affects their immediate families and communities at large. The spread of AIDS is a sad indicator of the broad impact of drugs on our societies.
The reason why I am giving this background information is because at a time of disagreements – and there are many on drug policy – it is important to bring the discussion on public health policies and drug use down, to a more neutral and rational ground. (Segue alla pagina successiva >>)