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Has the war on drugs in Asia succeeded?

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23.02.2019

The war on drugs in Asia has been going on for over a decade now. From death penalties for drug offenders in China to the bloody security crackdown in the Philippines, which has claimed 27,000 lives so far, countries in the region continue fighting drugs with brutal measures.

Next month the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs will convene in Vienna to evaluate progress on countering the drug problem across the world. When officials sit down for discussions, they should not shy away from asking the tough questions.

Has the war on drugs moved Asia any closer to achieving the elusive drug-free society? Has it effectively eliminated or significantly reduced illicit drug markets? And has it advanced UN's overarching goals of advancing health, human rights, public security and sustainable development?

Recent research shows that the answer to these three questions is a resounding no. In fact, data demonstrates that the war on drugs waged by countries across Asia has proven to be a devastating failure.

Current approaches to drug control in Asia overwhelmingly criminalise people already on the margins of society - those who use or are dependent on drugs - with dire consequences for them, their families and communities.

Among the harshest penalties imposed in the name of the "war on drugs" is the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking. In the past decade, more than 3,940 people globally were executed for drug offences. Half of all countries worldwide that impose capital punishment for drug crimes are in Asia.

Then there is the surge in extrajudicial killings of individuals accused and suspected of using or selling drugs, a grave human rights violation promoted by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, which now seems to be spreading across the region. During a visit to the Philippines earlier this month, Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena praised the country's state-sanctioned massacre as "an example to the world" and vowed to bring back the death penalty for drug offenders. In May 2018, Bangladesh launched a Philippine-style "war on drugs" which resulted in more than 100 deaths and 12,000 drug arrests in its first 15 days.

Several countries in Asia, including Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore, still condone caning, whipping, lashing or flogging for people accused of drug use,........

© Al Jazeera