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Philippines - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:32 pm on 24th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 3:32 pm, 24th January 2019

My Lords, I applaud my noble friend Lord Hylton for tabling this debate and very much endorse his comments. I shall focus on extrajudicial killings in order not to repeat what others have said.

As others have indicated, extrajudicial killings have become the norm. I believe President Duterte aims to kill some 30,000 people thought to have a drug problem because he thinks this will eliminate that problem. Along with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I welcome the fact that our embassy in Manila has intervened on this issue, and it is reassuring to note the comments of our Minister of State, Mark Field, but surely as a major trading partner with the Philippines we have considerable leverage over President Duterte. What action has already been taken to consider reducing our trade with the Philippines? What discussions are taking place now to use our leverage to change some of the most appalling policies of the regime?

Apart from these killings being utterly immoral and reprehensible, we know that harsh prohibitionist policies simply do not work to reduce drug use. The most respected academics in this field have shown clearly that such policies are likely to have the short-term effect of driving up drug prices and reducing use, but that within a few years the market stabilises at the level that it was at prior to the introduction of the prohibitionist policies. Professor Reuter and Professor Pollack found “zero evidence” that such tactics are effective in reducing drug use. The assumption in the Philippines that all one has to do is murder enough people and the trade in drugs will stop and shift to something else is simply wrong.

As we know, the ambition of the global war on drugs, initiated by the UN Convention on Drugs of 1961 and taken up strongly by President Nixon, was the global elimination of drugs. President Duterte needs to examine the history of drug policy. Human beings have always used mind-altering drugs. Hunters and gatherers knew perfectly well which berries to pick to give them a nice little high. Since 1961, far from reducing the level of drug use, across the globe the tough 1961 UN convention has been accompanied by an unprecedented increase in drug use across the world. Drug policies all over the world have failed due to a lack of sensible objectives or evidence of which policies would best achieve those objectives.

Thankfully, the world is going to change on this issue. At the 2016 UNGASS, important change was achieved at the UN level, partly as a result of the ceaseless pressure from experts, parliamentarians and non-governmental organisations across the world. The deputy director of the UNODC declared at the UN meeting that evidence-based public health drug policy was here to stay. When for more than half a century global drug policy had been driven by prejudice and moral judgments—like those in the Philippines—rather than hard-headed evidence, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of the UN shift. Member states are now encouraged to be clear about our policy objectives, which are surely to reduce addiction, crime, violence and corruption, and how to achieve them. President Duterte needs to be made aware, ideally by our own Ministers, of the UN position on this issue and just how wrong his policies are, even on his own terms.

Whatever the failings of our own policies, and I have to say they are far from perfect, we uphold the rule of law and did away with the death penalty in 1965. We can therefore take the moral high ground. I hope the Minister will give the House an assurance that our Government will be taking up this issue at UN level and will bring our full weight to bear on President Duterte.