UN Philippines chief bats for "compassionate pragmatism" to address substance abuse
Mr. Gustavo Gonzalez says, "a pure enforcement approach, that stigmatizes and discriminates, will not yield the needed solutions"
MANILA, 10 May 2023--The United Nations (UN) said on Monday it is targeting to have more public health-approach in handling the drug use problem in the Philippines.
Under the Antipolo Declaration issued on 8 May 2023, the UN stated that its Technical Working Group (TWG) on the Human Rights Based-Approach to Drugs aims to achieve the following objectives:
- increase in the availability and voluntary access to a range of appropriate human rights-based and scientifically informed services that include health, social and developmental support for persons whose lives include drugs;
- increase the capacity to address cross-cutting issues in drug control, according to the Nelson Mandela Rules, Bangkok Rules, and Havana Rules among others;
- strengthen international cooperation on drug control based on the principle of common and shared responsibility and in line with international standards, strengthen joint action at national, regional and international levels to accelerate implementation of joint commitments to address the world drug problem; and
- develop and implement a communication strategy on human rights based-approach to drugs.
UN Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez said that a "compassionate pragmatism" approach is more effective in addressing substance abuse.
He said, "If we just remain with a pure enforcement approach, that stigmatizes and discriminates, we will remain in our comfort zones of a simplistic approach but we will fail in finding solutions."
The text of Gonzalez's message follows:
Today’s workshop is of major importance for three reasons:
Number one, because it means a concrete step forward in considering substance use as a multisectoral issue and, particularly, as a public health challenge.
In this sense, we welcome the recent statements by the President of the Republic at the Center for Strategic Studies in the United States, on the critical importance of a “holistic approach” to the drugs challenge.
Number two, this unique workshop is important because it brings together those who contribute with technical and scientific knowledge, those who participate in decision-making, those who are confronted to the challenges of substance use at the local level, and those from the private sector, from civil society and the international cooperation are engaged in a human rights-based approach to drugs.
Number three, this event is an important step in the implementation of Human Rights Council’s resolution 33/45 of October, 2020, on technical cooperation to the Philippines.
My presence here is to confirm the commitment of the United Nations to be part of the solution -hand-in-hand with concerned partners- in addressing the human impact of the so-called war on drugs in the country.
The title of today’s event is intriguing: it combines two words that sometimes are on the opposite sites: “Compassionate” and “Pragmatism”.
“Compassionate” means a genuine concern for others, it reflects a deep sense of care, of empathy, and of attention to others.
To be compassionate, we start by recognizing we live in a diverse society, where we bring different cultural backgrounds, ideologies, gender, values, among others. We frequently say that diversity is our strength, not our weakness.
“Pragmatism”, on the other hand, centers on practical acts and beliefs.
To be pragmatic means to find concrete and factual ways to translate ideas and goals into action.
Pragmatism -in the context of today’s workshop- means finding solutions that are based on evidence, on facts and on the experience of people who are most involved in and affected by substance use.
“Compassionate Pragmatism” is an evidence-based and people-centered framework to address substance use as a fundamental public health issue.
And let me share with you an example of the importance of this approach that recognizes the specificity of each country:
The Philippines has an alarming and rapidly increasing HIV and hepatitis C prevalence. This is considered a twin epidemic, among people who use drugs. Many countries, including South-East Asian Member States, have implemented comprehensive and evidence-based interventions based on the guidelines of UNODC, UNAIDS, and WHO that have shown tremendous positive results.
If we just remain with a pure enforcement approach, that stigmatizes and discriminates, we will remain in our comfort zones of a simplistic approach but with the failure of not finding the solutions.
Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on drug policy and human rights.
In this resolution, the Council recalled that efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to effectively address all aspects of the drug problem are complementary and mutually reinforcing, and that public health programmes should be available to all.
This needs to be implemented without discrimination, including for individuals with drug use disorders, as well as in prisons and other custodial settings,
It is crucial that we reflect and consider which responses will work most effectively in the Philippines, particularly to prevent and address drug use disorders from a holistic perspective.
And I go back to the recent statement of the President of the Republic (I quote) “We are looking at the problem as a whole … giving option to our young people so they are not tempted to indulge in these activities”.
Today’s workshop is also implemented as part of the UN Joint Programme for Human Rights in the Philippines, which is an important platform for crafting solutions to drug-related issues in the country.
I thank our development partners, including the Australian Embassy, the Royal Norwegian Embassy, and the Global Fund for their support in this endeavor.
I also commend the growing cooperation amongst the Philippine government, the Commission on Human Rights, and civil society on public health and human rights.
Dear partners, let’s show the world how we, in the Philippines, can work with compassion and with pragmatism which respect human rights of all, including people who use drugs, to implement the most effective solutions.
Thank you very much and welcome, once again.