AI - USA to decide if drug war is human rights abuse

Amnesty International USA's Cape May County (New Jersey) group presented a drug war resolution to the human rights organization's Northeast US regional meeting in Manhattan in the first weekend of November. The resolution called on Amnesty to recognize the correlation between US drug policy and human rights abuses at home and abroad, and to investigate, educate, and act on its findings.

The London-based international human rights defense organization has for years taken strong and principled stands against human rights abuses in places such as Colombia, where US drug policy helps fuel the fires of war and resulting social dislocation. Amnesty has condemned US prisons and our governments' continued use of the death penalty. Yet, while Amnesty has contended with and condemned the results of the US holy war against drugs, the million-member organization with chapters in 162 countries has never directly focused on US drug policy in itself as a fountain of human rights abuses.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly, sponsor Georgina Shanley told DRCNet-and DRCNet helped, she said. "We printed out 250 copies of the DRCNet story published the week before and handed them out at the conference, asking people to support the resolution," she said. "The students were especially interested, and it was the students who pushed the resolution over the top."

"The support for the resolution was surprisingly strong," said Shanley. There were a handful of informal objections from old diehards, and one person who worried that an emphasis on drug policy would take resources from an environmental project. "The bottom line is this has only made us stronger."

This is only the beginning for Shanley. She and her supporters are now turning their attention to getting the resolution passed at Amnesty's national conference in Seattle next April. If the resolution passes there and subsequently survives the scrutiny of the organization's US board of directors-which could veto it-it would then become part of Amnesty USA's core mandate. In that event, the million-member international organization could turn its considerable weight to changing US drug policy.

"We have to ignite the country with the consciousness of what is going on," said Shanley. "Even the people in Amnesty didn't know the details of these drug policy horrors; so what can we expect from the average person in the street? It's all about education and persuasion right now, and having the courage to talk about it in every conversation," she added.

Shanley and supporters are thinking and planning at many levels. "We have a two-pronged strategy, following the politics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We will work the activist angle right here within Amnesty, but we will also work the legislative angle at the state, and ultimately, at the national level. Within Amnesty, we are aiming to recruit a lot of new young people-we had people in Washington for the SSDP conference and in Seattle for a criminal justice conference on November 10-11. If these diverse groups with many young people become members, they can get involved in Amnesty campaigns, use Amnesty's clout on their campuses, and, of course, they can vote for this resolution in April at the annual convention in Seattle," said Shanley.

"This has really started a big discussion within Amnesty," said Shanley with satisfaction. "This is lighting a big fire under the organization. And it gives drug reformers some cover. Now, when someone calls you a deviant or a doper for advocating drug law reform, you can say no-this is a real human rights issue, or at least the Northeast US Regional Conference of Amnesty International thinks so. By next spring, I hope we can say all of Amnesty USA thinks so."

About her motives the Irish-born activist said, "I never wanted to get into this drug business because it's too hard, too complex. Now, however, I'm in the belly of the beast. This resolution is for the kids, the kids in Colombia, the kids standing on dead-end corners here in New Jersey, the kids rotting for years in US prisons. Martin Luther King talked about the appalling silence of the good people. That appalling silence has to stop."