The participants in a group photograph after the opening ceremony
The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) has advocated a reform in the sub-regional drug policy to include human rights and public health-oriented strategies in dealing with drug trafficking.
According to WACSI, drug dependency and the use of drugs such as marijuana and cocaine should be dealt with solely in the public health sphere.
“Countries in the sub-region must commit to the principle of support for drug users but not punishment to allow people who use drugs to receive support and protection,” it said.
Speaking at a two-day West African regional consultative meeting on drug policy reforms in the sub- region, Nana Asantewa Afadzinu, executive director of WASCI, said a shift from punishment to support for drug users was necessary as endorsed by development partners.
“For many years people caught with drugs were thrown into prison, but what happens after imprisonment is that many of these people come out even worse than before they were detained and this has negative impacts on the progress of the sub-region,” she said.
She observed that the trans-shipment of narcotics from Latin America through West Africa to Europe and North America has made West Africa the hub of global drug trade in recent years.
Ms Afadzinu said these developments posed serious threats to good governance, peace and stability, economic growth and public health in West Africa, and again reiterated her call for a drug policy reform that will eliminate legal and regulatory barriers to recovery and provide alternatives to incarceration for drug involved offenders.
Commissioner at the West African Commission on Drugs, (WACD) Christina Kafando,
said although the current system in the fight against drug trafficking does not work and need international reform, many African governments are not properly engaged with the UN drug debates.
She said the situation has resulted in a few African countries dominating the discussion and making decisions on behalf of the entire continent, especially West African countries that are affected by the trans-shipping of drugs.
Ms Kafando, thus, called on African governments to engage more with the UN and contribute to the turning point in the global drug debate.
“African governments and ECOWAS need to speak up in Vienna,” she said.
The meeting, organised by WASCI and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), was attended by government officials from the ministries of health, justice, interior, foreign affairs, human right advocacy institutions as well as civil society organisations from 10 West African countries and some countries from East Africa.
It is expected to allow participants agree on a common drug policy with specific and feasible recommendations towards the upcoming global summit, United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in April this year.
By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri