'Support. Don’t Punish': Thousands Protest the War on Drugs in 100 Cities

Today in 100 cities across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, people have taken to the streets and participated in a range of events that highlight the need for better drug laws.

For decades, the global approach to drugs has been repression, demonization and harsh penalties. It is estimated that US$ 100 billion is spent every year on this law enforcement model, which has resulted in the mass imprisonment of people who use drugs, a multi-billion dollar illicit drug market, HIV epidemics and other health crises, and political instability.

The global war on drugs creates climates of fear and stigma. Because of this, two-thirds of the 16 million people who inject drugs worldwide are living with hepatitis C, and 3 million are living with HIV. These infections are preventable and treatable.

The ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ campaign calls for an end to the expensive and counter-productive war on drugs, and promotes more effective and humane approaches based on public health and human rights. Diverting just a small fraction – a mere 10% – of drug law enforcement budgets, and reinvesting in health services will have significant impacts. The call is not for new money, but for more effective public spending.

A range of other actions are taking place in cities as diverse as Jerusalem, London, Moscow, Kuala Lumpur, Mexico City, Paris, Bogota, Bangkok, New York, Budapest and Dakar. The actions include demonstrations, music concerts, press conferences, graffiti displays, boat shows, dance displays, public meetings and workshops, social media campaigns, and advertisements on public transportation and billboards.

June 26th is the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking – a day that is used by many governments to celebrate the war on drugs, to justify violent crackdowns and to promote harsh punishments. It has even been used in the past for public executions and beatings of drug offenders in some countries. By holding a ‘Global Day of Action’ on this date, the campaign has managed to change the rhetoric and present the other side of the argument.

Malaysia

The ‘Support. Don't Punish’ campaign in Malaysia began with a press conference launching the Day of Action and the HIV and Human Rights Mitigation 2013 report. This report, detailing complaints lodged with MAC in 2013, included issues of HIV discrimination, arbitrary arrest, and employment discrimination. Panellists were: Datuk Raj Karim (MAC President), Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman (Dean of Medicine of Universiti Malaya), Dr Sangeeth Kaur (Principal Assistant Director, National Anti-Drugs Agency), Azizan Hassan (Peer Educator at the Cure & Care Service Centre in Kerinchi) and Hamdan Isnin (methadone patient). All panellists emphasised that drug use should be dealt with primarily as a health issue and not as a criminal justice issue.

From 3-6 pm, a music and cultural event was held in Central Market, Kuala Lumpur, where a live band played local music and drug user community members also took part in this event. Flyers on drugs & health were given to members of the public. At 8:30-10.00 pm, an outreach team composed of NSEP outreach staff, Malaysian AIDS Council staff and drug policy activists took to the clubbing street of Jalan P Ramlee to hand out flyers on club drugs including mephedrone, ecstasy and methamphetamine to club-goers and the general public. Condoms were also given out.

Ukraine

Eurasian Network of People Using Drugs (ENPUD) jointly with ICF ‘International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine’ within the framework of the global campaign ‘Support. Don’t punish’ held the event ‘War on Drugs Kills!’ in Kyiv, just opposite the Government of Ukraine building.

The event aimed to express protest against the state’s strict drug policy and required the Government of Ukraine to take specific actions to observe the provisions and standards of the new State Strategy of Ukraine on Drugs approved on August 28, 2013.

In front of the Government of Ukraine building PWID community activists showed punitive drug policy visual signs by laying down 5 symbolic ‘dead bodies’ who were victims of the war on drugs.

Indonesia

‘Support. Don’t Punish’ campaign was held during June 2014 in Indonesia. This strategy was designed in view of the Muslim fasting month held by many people of Indonesia in June, because if the event was only conducted in one day the public might not catch the issue.

In each city the campaign was conducted under the different concept for the same issue. It started in Semarang on June 1, 2014 as a part of a player selection for the Homeless World Cup 2014. During the selection the ‘Support. Don’t punish’ message was spread with the purpose to involve general population, especially football fans to understand drugs problem through football activities.

On June 22, ‘Brown Sugar’ youth division from PKNI (Indonesia Drug User Network) launched a creative campaign followed by 30 members and 100 civil society activists using Resolution Art Gravity media which took place in public space at Monument Hotel Indonesia. They shared ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ message to people who came to have sports during Car Free Day.

At the same time PKNI in Makasar held street campaign with music media and theatre show involving 40 PWID.

On June 24, Rumah Cemara conducted public discussions on the theme of ‘War On Drugs’ involving 100 people who use drugs and 200 civil society activists.

On June 25, PKNI in Makasar held workshop for journalists with the purpose to get media support on the PWID issue. 20 local journalists and related stakeholders were involved.

On June 26, the campaign was simultaneously conducted in 3 cities: by PKNI in Kepri-Batam involving 35 PWID and about 30 people from general population; in Cirebon the campaign was conducted by CAC involving 50 PWID who made a long march through the city; and in Balikpapan-Kalimantan the campaign held by Perbansakti involving 30 members who were spreading ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ message.     

On June 30, East Java in Action conducted discussion on the ‘War on Drugs’ book - transformative reflection on the fight against drugs policy implementation in Indonesia. The event involved 20 people from media agencies, author and speaker Patrianto Budi Handoyo and Deradjat Ginandjar from Rumah Cemara. This book covers different approaches to drugs abuse prevention.

Kenya

In Kenya, ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ campaign was held in three locations: Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi. The main emphasis for the campaigns was PWID to access services and bringing down criminalization that had acted as big impedimenta to harm reduction services. In all three areas the following HIV activities were held: counseling and testing camps, community dialogues forums, law enforcers key note speeches, processions with the ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ banners, T-shirts and leaflets.

In Nairobi, the Kenya Network of People who use Drugs (KeNPUD) together with the Nairobi Outreach Services Trust (NOSET) mobilized for HIV testing and counseling in Mathari, a region where there is a large population of people who use drugs and highest incidences of stigma for health care workers.

In Mombasa, the Campaign also highlighted gains made in ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ by having the area member of parliament present and read out the UN Secretary General’s message for the day. Civil Society organizations together with active PWID came together to show their support for services for PWID, and to encourage them to seek services.

Mewa, Reachout,Teens Watch,Safe Pwani, KANCO,ICRH, PEMA K, Red Cross and other CSOs were present for the campaign.