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Violence, peace and drugs in the borderlands: Policy paper

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Vulnerable people at risk unless international community tackles illicit drugs in peacebuilding process, report warns

International development agency, Christian Aid, has published a new report warning the international community must acknowledge that vulnerable communities in areas of violence have "little choice but to engage in the illicit [drug] economy'' and called on the EU to adopt a peace and development approach to tackling drugs.

The report, published by Christian Aid as part of a Global Challenges Research Fund consortium alongside SOAS University of London, examined marginalised groups in Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar where illicit drug economies are prominent.

At the time of publishing, Myanmar and Afghanistan once again face authoritarian rule while in Colombia protests have been met with excessive use of force. In all three, the pandemic has compounded these developments, devastating local economies and livelihoods.

The report warns that failing to consider the tackling of illicit drug crop economies, as part of development rather than simply a law enforcement issue, leads to missed opportunities for both development and peacebuilding.

This is especially the case for marginalised communities where extreme poverty, violence, fragility and displacement are rife. Despite the violence and coercion, the report finds livelihoods, particularly for women, can depend on these illegal economies.

The EU is therefore being urged to end traditional counternarcotics measures and instead use indicators such as access to public services, poverty reduction, respect for human rights, human security, confidence in the state and access to meaningful employment.

The development charity also warns political agreements do not bring an end to violence while market-based development does not guarantee good outcomes. Peace processes, Christian Aid says, should incorporate longer timeframes and prioritise gender dynamics.

Paul Quinn, Head of From Violence to Peace with Christian Aid, said:

"In places like Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar, the research shows that drug economies are often the only way out for vulnerable people in desperate circumstances to make a living and stay safe.

"There is no easy solution, but it is evident that the war on drugs isn't working. The old approach of prioritising hectares eradicated or the capture or killing of traffickers is not reducing violence and providing a lasting peace for innocent people.

"Christian Aid believes we need a new, alternative approach to drug policy that is linked to development, peacebuilding, the eradication of poverty and the rights of people most affected.

"Like other multilateral institutions, the EU does not have a unified approach to considering drugs and peace and instead the issue is still viewed through a security lens. To really help the most vulnerable around the world, the EU must show leadership and change."

ENDS.

Notes to editors:

The Violence, peace and drugs in the borderlands policy paper can be found here.

Christian Aid's role in the Drugs & (dis)order project has been to consider what the findings of the research mean for policy makers and practitioners, globally and locally. Previous advocacy addressed the Sustainable Development Goals and how they might better address illicit drug economies, and engaged with the World Bank on pathways out of conflict in borderlands. In this paper, Christian Aid considers the role of the EU, and drawing on engagement with the EU through the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, of which Christian Aid is a member, we offer the following recommendations:

  1. The EU should develop a cross-sectoral approach to drugs, development and peace, acknowledging the root causes and factors which leave peripheral communities with little choice but to engage in the illicit economy, and taking a human-centred and rights-based approach to illicit drug economies. The EU should strengthen the peace and development focus in the Action Plan of the EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025.
  2. Any EU support for counter-narcotics policy or alternative livelihoods must use indicators such as access to public services, poverty reduction, respect for human rights, human security, confidence in the state and access to meaningful employment, rather than using metrics around reduction in illicit drug crops.
  3. The EU should consider the role which its own financial and political institutions may play in enabling the illicit drugs trade, and continue to fight against money laundering and illicit financial flows.
  4. The EU must place a stronger focus on violence reduction, attention to human rights, and 'do no harm' principles when engaging with fragile states and illicit economies.
  5. The EU should work to ensure women's equal rights to participate in and benefit from decision-making and programmes around drugs, peace and development.
  6. EU actions on border management should be carefully considered to ensure that they do not cause further harm where communities rely on cross-border exchanges. Ensuring good governance and accountability of State institutions must come before securitised responses.