Don’t criminalise drug users

Letters to the Editor

TODAY Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drugs and Network (ZCLDN) in conjunction with Accountability Lab Zimbabwe (ALZ) and Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT) will convene a policy dialogue on drug use. This serves as a platform for accountability to facilitate collective deliberations and re-elections on the current challenges and gaps in the implementation of the Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan in a quest for a sustainable solution to address the problem of drug use.

This event is not coincidental, June 26 each year marks the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, a day on which governments around the world commemorate by celebrating their records on drug users arrests, seizures, and even in execution of people condemned for drug-related offences. As such, we stand to challenge the narrative of this day by advocating for alternatives to incarceration that is drug policy reform and harm reduction with a primary focus on health and human rights.

We note with concern the current trends where the government is calling for the criminalisation and arrest of people who use drugs as a panacea to the growing challenge of drug and substance use in Zimbabwe. As at April this year, an estimated total of 4 843 people who use and inject drugs have been incarcerated. While we agree that the excessive use of drugs and dangerous substances should be stemmed, especially now that the practice has permeated into our schools, we respectfully differ with the notion that criminalising people who use drug is the way to go.

We believe that, these people deserve harm reduction, treatment and rehabilitation not criminalisation and/or arrest as exhorted by the current drug policy.

Criminalisation, mass incarceration, stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs defeat the purpose and reasons why the government adopted the Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan and the Treatment and Rehabilitation Guidelines for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders as guidelines on how to deal with drug use in Zimbabwe. The current drug policy further rubbishes the country’s Inter-ministerial Committee on Drug and Substance Use which was put in place by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, as a vehicle to deal with drug use in Zimbabwe.

For Zimbabwe to win the fight against the scourge of illicit drug use, there is need for drug policy reform in order to establish sustainable and evidence-based alternatives that are grounded in the promotion and respect of human rights. We further believe that, criminalisation will force people who use drugs to go underground and shun healthcare services. Therefore, rather than throwing them in prisons, it is prudent to establish drop-in centres to cater for harm reduction services, treatment, detoxication, rehabilitation, psycho-social support and community reintegration.

Wilson Box (ZCLDN projects executive director) says: “Incarcerating people who use and inject drug, cannot be a panacea to the challenges facing Zimbabwe especially its youthful population. People who use drugs need harm reduction services, compassion and love not criminalisation.”

Today ZCLDN will host a policy dialogue on drug use at the Bronte Hotel in Harare as part of our activities for the Global Day of Action of the Support: Don’t Punish Campaign. In collaboration with ALZ and YETT, we expect to spark a national debate on the profound impact of criminalisation of drug use and the need to reform the country's half-a-century-old drug laws. We ought to reflect on the Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan (2021-25) which is almost halfway in its implementation.

Stakeholders will be expected to collectively reflect and co-create recommendations on urgently addressing the gaps and swiftly respond to the crisis. We will engage duty bearers from the relevant State institutions that include the inter-ministerial committee on Drug and Substance Abuse, Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Youth, Sports, Arts and Culture, Health and Child Care, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage among others. Further, a few select community members will also be invited to be part of the dialogue so they can directly engage with duty-bearers over how drug use has impacted their communities. - ZCLDN

Parties should lead in voter education

FROM the observations made by Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) members, it appears that several candidates and political parties were ill-prepared for the nomination court process. Most of the political parties and independent candidates had not submitted their papers in advance which made the nomination process painstakingly slow and in some cases the nomination courts had to sit until the early hours of the next day.

In one notable incident, Raymond Chitsinde from the Zimbabwe National Revival Party who intended to file his candidacy for the Mazowe Central seat, had his papers rejected after he turned up at the Harare courts instead of the Mashonaland Central province courts. In another case, the FORUS party candidate for Glen View North failed to pay the nomination fees, while the UZA party Dzivarasekwa candidate’s name did not appear on the voters roll. In several provinces including Manicaland and Mashonaland West, MDC-T candidates’ submissions could not to be considered after they failed to pay the nomination fees.

Nominations closed very late with some centres closing in the early hours of the next day. Initially, the courts were scheduled to close at 4pm. However, as noted by Zesn members at 4pm a number of aspiring candidates were still in queues to submit their papers and to make payments.

As of June 23, 11 presidential candidates had been successfully nominated. The only two female presidential aspirants Elizabeth Valerio and Linda Masarira failed to complete the nomination process on account of challenges they experienced with the electronic payment system.

Overall, proceedings at the nomination courts were generally peaceful and calm.

Candidates had the opportunity to file their papers and were afforded an opportunity to rectify any errors during the process. On the basis of the observations from the nomination courts, Zesn recommends the following:

  • Political parties and their chosen candidates should fully acquaint themselves with the nomination requirements.
  • Political parties and independent candidates should be encouraged to submit their papers before the sitting of the courts, in order to rectify errors or identify missing documents in time.
  • Political parties should endeavour to strengthen intra-party democratic processes to avoid conflicts such as the fielding of two candidates. - Zesn

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