AI - USA to decide if drug war is human rights
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
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
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."