Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Senlis Council Has "Nothing to hide"

This is from the Embassy Mag a few months ago.
This article gives interesting background information on the council and their criticism of the conventional wisodom of eradicating production as part of the war on drugs. This seems to have provoked criticism from authorities and those who support the status quo. But the council also released a report last December that was also critical of other aspects of the Afghan mission. Tis is from this blog.

Politicians failing soldiers in Afghanistan, Senlis Council says
by David Akin on Tue 19 Dec 2006 12:07 PM EST | Permanent Link | Cosmos
The U.K.-based think tank The Senlis Council is relatively unique among the “think tank” crowd who have had pronouncements on the current NATO mission in Afghanistan because it is one of the few NGOs to actually put its researchers on the ground there.

This week, the council released its latest report in which it concluded the following:

The Taliban are winning hearts and minds in southern Afghanistan; the international community is not. NATO-ISAF troops are forced to fight in an increasingly hostile environment because of the international community’s blunt political errors.
The absence of comprehensive development aid plans has given a strategic advantage to the Taliban.
Time for a well-planned village by village hearts and minds campaign to re-engage the Afghan population and make NATO’s mission a successful one.
Josee Verner, the federal minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency will announce two more aid projects for Kandahar at a press conference in Quebec City.

The group showed that aid in the Kandahar region was not functioning well in contradiction to what authorities claimed. The latest report would indicate that the situation is getting even worse.

Embassy, July 18th, 2007

Senlis Council Has 'Nothing to Hide'
The NGO's Afghan country director says those who believe the Senlis Council has ulterior motives are toeing the U.S. line on drugs, and invites debate on the group's licensing proposals.
By Lee Berthiaume
Ask officials from some departments working in Afghanistan about the Senlis Council and you will hear grumblings.

Some will wonder whether the group has ties to large pharmaceutical companies. Others will wonder whether the group has garnered instant credibility–at least from the mainstream media–because it is one of the Canadian government's loudest critics on Afghanistan.

Canadian officials aren't the only ones who aren't happy with the group. During a trip to Ottawa on Feb. 27, Christopher Alexander, the UN deputy special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan, said the non-government organization had been "extremely effective in taking their message to Afghan farmers," which was creating tensions between the population, the Afghan government and NATO forces.

"You start to wonder which side they're on," he said. "I'm not pleading for the Senlis Council to give up its role as a strong, independent voice of civil society, but we do need to get our act together to rally around a single policy of counter-narcotics."

Edward McCormick, the organization's Afghanistan country director, says the Senlis Council has nothing to hide and is merely the subject of skepticism because it is pushing an idea that goes against the American line on drugs.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result," Mr. McCormick said in an interview last week. "What we're saying is let's try something different. And just because we want to try something different, everybody is saying 'What are you up to?'"

NGO Backed by Swiss Billionaire

The Taliban made poppy farming illegal under their rule. But with the group's removal from power in late 2001, farmers in Afghanistan returned to the crop as a lucrative source of income within the war-torn country.

In 2002, future Senlis Council president Norine MacDonald, a Canadian lawyer who had worked for several other organizations, decided to head to Afghanistan with the express purpose of determining whether licensing opium would be a viable alternative to eradication and help bring stability to the country, as it had in India and Turkey, Mr. McCormick said.

"It was obvious almost right away," Mr. McCormick said of the potential for licensing poppy.

Behind Ms. MacDonald were a large number of financial backers interested in drug policy, including the Network of European Foundations, a group of charitable funds that pay for different projects aimed at bettering Europe as a whole. The network includes the King Baudouin Foundation (named after the former Belgian king), the Michigan-based Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Gabriel Foundation, of which Ms. MacDonald was part.

"It's a group of foundations throughout Europe that are very well endowed and they're doing very good work," Mr. McCormick said. "And within that group are some concerned people who don't like what's happening in terms of international narcotics trade."

One of those is a Swiss industrialist named Stephan Schmidheiny, who Forbes magazine ranked as the world's 221st richest person last year.

"He is a very active, thoughtful man who has the wherewithal and the generosity to look at an issue in a new way," Mr. McCormick said of the Swiss billionaire.

The Network of European Foundations founded the Senlis Council in May 2002 with its Drug Policy Fund, which itself was founded only two years earlier.

Four months later, a group of former European politicians, ambassadors, academics, civil society leaders and judges, including a former Portuguese president and a former British ambassador to Colombia, met in Arrabida, Portugal as the Network of European Foundations' Comité des Sages.

The group issued a statement on Sept. 20, 2002 that called for a radical change to international drug policies.

"Policies based solely on criminal sanctions have failed to demonstrate effectiveness," the statement reads.

"There is therefore an urgent need for a multidimensional and integrated approach, which aims at reducing both supply and demand, and which also integrates harm reduction strategies designed to protect the health of the individual drug-user as well as the wellbeing of society as a whole."

With such backers, the Senlis Council quickly established offices in Kabul, London, Paris, Brussels, and–just last year–Ottawa, with the expressed purpose of reforming global drug policies, though Mr. McCormick says there isn't anything unusual about the way it operates.

"All we are is a slightly better organized group of people that believe in an issue and are standing up for it, just like many people do when they stand on Parliament Hill and disagree with something and say so," he says.

The organization, Mr. McCormick said, is also extremely active in Brazil, though it doesn't have an office there.

It has published several reports on both subjects, and expanded its mandate last year to include security and development in the country. It has worked with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the Italian Red Cross.

The group has three offices in Afghanistan, in Kabul, Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, with 50 Afghans working for it and a number of foreigners. Mr. McCormick, a former paramedic in British Columbia who worked on health care reform, was hired in January and manages the Afghanistan team, which includes researchers and film and media teams.

'Eradication Didn't Work': Official

Mr. McCormick strongly dismissed allegations the organization is funded by pharmaceutical companies, saying the Senlis Council's recommendations are that harvesting and processing of opiates take place within villages so local Afghans reap the maximum benefits.

"We actually have nothing to gain by whether it succeeds or fails except that if we succeed," he said, "we have the satisfaction of knowing we changed history, we stood up to the likes of the United States, which believes it's got the only answers and can push around countries like Canada and the EU and everybody else even though it continues to fail and fail and fail in South America."

The organization's efforts have started to yield results in Europe, where the idea is being publicly debated, especially in the United Kingdom, Mr. McCormick says. Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion has also publicly backed the group's recommendations.

At the same time, its proposals are continually evolving as evidence is put forward that certain ideas won't work and the issues are to be rethought, he added.

"We need to have people say to us that our argument is flawed for the following reasons," he said. "We don't have some stone tablets from on high that say this is the way to go. What we do know is eradication didn't work."

Barnett Rubin, who served as special advisor to Mr. Alexander's predecessor, Lakhdar Brahimi, during the negotiations that produced the Bonn Agreement and advised the UN on the drafting of the Afghan constitution, defended the Senlis Council last week.

"The Senlis Council has carried out valuable research on various aspects for the situation in Afghanistan and particularly on the damaging effects of the way counter-narcotics policy is implemented there," he wrote in an email. "I have yet to be convinced by their proposals for licensing of opium, but they are constantly developing and modifying these proposals in the light of discussions and new information.

"I wish that the Senlis Council's critics would devote as much energy to trying to find innovative solutions to the narcotics problem in Afghanistan as they do to criticizing the Senlis Council's proposals."

Mr. McCormick invited skepticism in examining the Senlis Council's proposals for licensing.

"We want debate," he said. "And a huge measure of success for us has been moving the debate internationally away from this unilateral belief that eradication is the way to go, to the consideration of alternatives."

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