UN Secretary General Kofi Annan Urged to Make War on Drugs A Top Priority at Upcoming World Conference Against Racism

Press Release August 19, 2001
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 or Shayna Samuels at 212-547-6916

A letter, signed by more than 100 celebrities, civil rights and religious leaders, was sent today to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, urging him to make the drug war a top priority at the upcoming UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Excerpts from the letter will also appear on Monday, August 27 in the Durban newspaper, Daily News.

“In one country after another we see racial and ethnic minorities targeted and persecuted in the name of the ‘war on drugs,'” says the letter. “We call on you, Mr. Secretary General, to place this issue on the agenda of the United Nations for open and free discussion. And we call on all member governments of the United Nations – most especially the U.S. – to end the ‘war on drugs’ and remedy its discriminatory and oppressive consequences.”

Signatories include: Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM), Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Congresswoman Eva Clayton (D-NC), actor Harry Belafonte, NAACP Chair Julian Bond, Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, actor Danny Glover, Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor, Tikkun magazine), Gloria Steinem and Reverend Edwin Sanders, Senior Servant, Metropolitan Interdenominational Church.

“You can’t talk about race in the U.S. without talking about the war on drugs,” said Deborah Small, Director of Public Policy at The Lindesmith Center – Drug Policy Foundation, a New York-based drug policy reform organization, who is leading the delegation. “This is not a war on drugs. It’s a war on people of color.”

As the letter points out, the U.S. incarcerates more people on drug charges than all of western Europe (with a larger overall population) incarcerates for all criminal offenses. Among those incarcerated in state prisons for drug felonies in the U.S., Blacks comprise 57%; Latinos account for 22%. In New York State – home to the United Nations headquarters – 94% of all people in prison on drug charges are Black or Latino. In New York, as in California, more Black and Latino men are sent to prison each year than graduate from state colleges and universities.

The link between racial discrimination and the “war on drugs” exists not only in the United States but throughout much of the world. In most countries, racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately targeted, arrested, prosecuted and punished for drug offenses.

A ten-member delegation, The Campaign to End Race Discrimination in the “War on Drugs,” will go to South Africa later this week to address issues related to the racial impact of the “war on drugs” and the drug war at the UN World Conference Against Racism. The delegation includes: Eddie Ellis, President of the Community Justice Center in New York City; James E. Ferguson II, a leading civil rights attorney; Reverend Edwin Sanders, Senior Servant and Founder of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church; Deborah Small, Director of Public Policy at The Lindesmith Center – Drug Policy Foundation; and Alicia Young, an attorney with the ACLU National Drug Policy Litigation Project.

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Web Site
View complete letter and list of signatories

Durban Press Conference
There will be a press briefing about race and the drug war in Durban, South Africa on Tuesday, August 28th at the UNISA Building (next to the Cricket Stadium), from 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm. For more information please contact Dani McClain in South Africa at (0)31 562-8926 Fax: (0)31 572-2930 or 562-1805 (country code is 011 followed by 27)

Interviews with Delegates
To interview any members of the Campaign to End Race Discrimination in the “War on Drugs” during the World Conference Against Racism, please contact Dani McClain in South Africa at (0)31 562-8926 Fax: (0)31 572-2930 or 562-1805 (country code is 011 followed by 27). To interview spokespeople in the United States, please call Tony Newman at 212-548-0383 or Shayna Samuels at 212-547-6916.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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