Worldwide efforts to prohibit drugs are causing human rights abuse, increased violence and restricted democracy, argues a new study from the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Far from making the world more secure, say the authors, attempts to stop the production and trade of illegal drugs have made it more dangerous. They suggest that the concerted global effort to root out the drug trade is causing fundamental breaches of human rights. 

And the paper, by Fernanda Mena and Dick Hobbs from LSE's Department of Sociology, argues that the rationale for restricting the supply of drugs is based on moralism rather than empirical evidence. It would be better, they suggest, not to legalize drugs but to regulate them within the framework of international development – recognising that drug-producing countries tend to be among the poorest and would be most vulnerable to commercial exploitation and replacement crime which would follow legalization. 

The paper, 'Narcophobia: drugs prohibition and the generation of human rights abuses', appears in the March edition of Trends In Organized Crime.  

It examines the history of the drug trade - from the 18th Century when opium was traded as a valuable commodity by, among others, the British, Dutch and Portugese governments - to the modern day in which the United Nations has adopted international treaties against drug trafficking.

Yet the unintended effects of this prohibition arguably conflict with the UN's own fundamental Charter of Human Rights which includes the rights not to be killed, tortured or displaced. Narcotraffic (as the authors call it) brings all three in its wake: 'All seem to be generated, in one way or another, by the black market nature of current global and local drug flows.' 

As an example, they examine the shocking crime statistics in Brazil where the murder rate, at 26 per 100,000 inhabitants, is more than 20 times higher than in Europe. Between a quarter and a half of these deaths are related to the drug trade and the evidence shows that a military-style 'war on drugs' contributes heavily to this toll. In parts of Brazil for example, it is seen as legitimate for police to open fire on children who have been recruited in to drugs gangs. 

Professor Hobbs said: 'For all the right reasons it seems the world may be doing all the wrong things about drugs. Can we really put a higher moral value on stopping the drugs trade than we can on the human rights violations that our efforts bring out? Our study suggests that we need to rethink our assumptions about prohibition and consider how we can withdraw from this policy. The evidence suggests an approach based on development, education, treatment and social inclusion would be better.' 

The full article is available at Trends in Organized Crime.

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