At Davos, a Drug Policy Tipping Point?

Against a backdrop of furtive networking and tinkling champagne glasses at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, something truly remarkable happened. In a packed convention hall, four global leaders gathered on stage to debate the future of drug policy. For more than an hour they discussed the pros and cons of decriminalization and regulation, bringing a once politically toxic issue into the veritable heart of the economic establishment. The mood was relaxed, but the commentary was intensely focused. At least five take-away messages are worth singling out.

First, focus on the destructive and devastating effects of misguided (drug) policy on people. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke passionately about the ruinous impacts of the global war on drugs. He called for an updated approach based on promoting public health and education. The criminalization of small-time users, particularly poor African Americans and Latinos, is intolerable. Annan described how lives are destroyed, families are impoverished, prisons are packed to bursting point, and development is denied by wrong-headed efforts to crack down on drugs.

Second, make science central to debate and action on drugs. The lone dissenter on the Davos panel was the governor of Texas, Rick Perry. While signaling his staunch opposition to the legalization of drugs, he seemed open to sensible decriminalization. The governor also stressed the central place of evidence and data-driven approaches to dealing with narcotic trafficking and consumption. Not surprisingly, he offered-up Texas’ controversial drug courts as an exemplary model of good practice. His emphasis on evidence-based approaches was a surprising but welcome contribution.

New Survey Finds Syrians Want Peace, But Still Far Apart on Terms

“Perhaps our most important and surprising finding is the breadth of support among Syrians themselves for a negotiated settlement,” said Craig Charney, president of Charney Research, speaking to the Global Observatory about the results of a new survey of Syrians conducted for the Syria Justice and Accountability Center. 

Mr. Charney, who said the survey used Syrian interviewers to contact people in seven different locations around Syria, said there is a caveat: “Almost everyone said no end to the conflict was in sight.” 

He said this is because the sides still seemed quite far apart on what the terms of a settlement might be. “For instance, we found that many—but not all—the government opponents we talked to would accept the exile of President Assad as part of a settlement, but that was a price that no one we spoke to on the pro-government side was willing to pay.”

Mr. Charney said the survey found that Syrians on both sides have an intense feeling of nationalism, as well as suspicion and resentment of foreign manipulation. “Of course, in the circumstances where so many outside powers have been involved in their affairs, this may be understandable,” he said.

The survey covered topics such as Syrians' sources of information, and Mr. Charney said he found that the information war in Syria is an air war, and above all, a TV war. “There are different stations watched by people on each side, both government and opposition,” he said. “The polarization among these stations, though, disturbs Syrians, who recognize that they're not getting the whole story… Many of them are also quite active on the Internet where they feel they can at least put together the different sides for themselves.”

Mr. Charney said that one striking result was how startled people were by the speed and depth of Syria's "descent into the inferno," and that "this was true on both sides. They were appalled at the conditions. I've been in this business for 17 years now, and we've never before done a study anywhere in any of the 45 countries where we've worked where every single individual we talked to was extremely negative on the state of the country. They didn't see it coming.” 

“The world should listen to the Syrian people themselves,” Mr. Charney said. “We hear quite clearly that Syrians want accountability, that they want to live together, and they see the rule of law sine qua non for a peaceful and postwar Syria.” 

“Many of them were very frightened when we spoke to them, but they were pleased to have the opportunity to speak out. I hope their voices are heard,” he said.

The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Warren Hoge: With me in the Global Observatory today is Craig Charney, president of Charney Research, a survey research firm with a specialty in polling countries in crisis and conflict. Craig has conducted surveys in places like Iran and Lebanon for IPI, and today we want to talk about a new survey he has just done for the Syria Justice and Accountability Center on what people within Syria are thinking. 

Craig, I want to ask you at the outset a question about how you did this survey; after all, Syria is in the midst of a brutal civil war, and the population is deeply polarized. How did you elicit information in these circumstances that you, as a proven professional in assessing public opinion, trust as accurately reflecting attitudes within the country?

Craig Charney: We worked with trained and experienced Syrian interviewers, speaking Arabic, reaching out to people all around the country. We tried to tap all the main strands of Syrian opinion. Thus, we spoke with people in seven different locations around Syria, including Damascus and Aleppo, the two largest cities; both people in their homes and internally displaced persons; and we also spoke with refugees outside the country in Jordan and Turkey. We spoke with both men and women. We tried to reach all the different confessional and ethnic groups, and we also made a point of getting a mix of government supporters and opponents. And we did in-depth individual interviews with all these people. 

The Crisis in the Central African Republic: Will a Woman at the Helm Be Enough?

Renewed international attention to the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the change of leadership in the violence-torn country bring new hopes of putting an end to the CAR’s spiraling sectarian violence that wracked the country during the disastrous ten-month tenure of former interim president Michel Djotodia. The election of Catherine Samba-Panza, the country’s first female president, who was sworn in on January 23 to lead the second transition after the military coup that toppled former president François Bozizé in March 2013, constitutes a singular and historic choice for the central African nation.

For the Central Africans, the election of a woman to the highest office in the land permits fresh hopes for a better future, notwithstanding the country's unprintable woes. However, despite widespread declarations of support by her fellow CAR nationals, regional actors, and the international community, the newly-elected interim president faces an insurmountable task, should these well-wishers not follow through with concrete actions. 

Key Conclusions

  • Given the potential of central African women to be actors for peace, and the new president’s commitment to gender parity, every effort should be made to ensure that these women are enabled to actively participate in the next elections as informed voters and motivated candidates.
  • Disarmament of the various armed groups is a priority for the new president. However, for this effort to be sustainable, it must be accompanied by a credible job creation program and vocational training activities, targeting in particular the radicalized youth among these groups.
  • Addressing the dire security, human rights, and humanitarian situation is urgent. Equally urgent is the rebuilding of key state institutions and the restoration of basic social services to the population. Unless concerted regional and international efforts, combined with a clear, unified and effective engagement by all national actors, quickly materialize in support of the new and acclaimed female leader, these challenges will remain insurmountable.


In her first brief and improvised statement shortly after being elected as the first interim female president of the embattled Central African Republic (CAR) on January 20, Catherine Samba-Panza had this to say: “I would like as a mother to be able to pacify the minds… I could detect a lot of hatred in your hearts… a great deal of rancor… Only a mother has the capacity to bring her divided sons and daughters together…” The announcement of her election brought rare cheers among Christians and Muslims alike who have known her as the indefatigable, incorruptible mayor of the capital city Bangui during the height of the sectarian strife that continues to pit their communities against each other. As she outlined the priorities for her devastated country, women across the various divides hailed her election as honoring the female population that constitute nearly 51 % of the country. “I am happy,” one was heard saying. “Men have failed...from now on, women will manage the country.”

Could Syrian Civil Society Tilt the Odds in Favor of Peace?

Syrians outside the Syrian peace process discuss the need for the participation of women and civil society in the talks, Geneva, Switzerland, January 17, 2014. (UN Women)

Despite the data demonstrating that peace deals that include civil society groups are 64 percent less likely to fail, the Geneva II peace talks appear to be falling into the trap of exclusion. The vast middle ground in Syria, including human rights groups, religious groups, and the mosaic of unarmed actors that are already working for peace, is not represented in the Geneva process that got underway this week. And international actors’ efforts to get Syrian women a seat at the table have so far failed.

A gathering of women from Syrian civil society groups issued a call for participation in the talks at a conference convened by UN Women and the Netherlands in Geneva last week. This call was taken up by EU foreign secretary Catherine Ashton and British foreign minister William Hague, among others, in their official speeches at the opening of the talks in Montreux on Wednesday. Hague appealed for a “formal role” for Syrian women’s groups and civil society at the meeting. “There can be no lasting settlement in Syria that does not involve Syria’s women at every stage of the process,” he said. 

Hague’s was one of 40 or so speeches made by foreign ministers as part of the process. The talks’ organizers are rightly concerned about including a diverse spectrum of international actors to give the process international legitimacy. As the heated dispute over Iran’s participation demonstrated, they also consider the presence of key regional actors to be vital for securing regional buy-in for any outcome in what has clearly become a proxy war. 

When it comes to buy-in within Syria, however, only two Syrian sides are thus far represented at the talks. And both suffer from tenuous legitimacy at home. The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition representing the opposition is present on the basis of shaky links with rebel groups on the ground in Syria. At the other side of the table, the Syrian regime faces new evidence of gruesome torture and killings on an “industrial” scale, released by a team of international prosecutors just before the talks began. 

Deadly Mosquitoes Add to Social Tensions and Security Concerns in Rio

The inauguration of the 18th Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) in Mangueira, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, March 11, 2011.
(André Gomes de Melo/SEASDH/Flickr)

While Rio de Janeiro gears up to host the 2014 World Cup and 600,000 foreign tourists, health disasters such as the dengue fever epidemic in 2007 and 2008 loom large over discussions of human security. The epidemic totalled about 300,000 cases of this mosquito-borne illness, including 240 deaths, and I witnessed first hand how inundated hospitals closed their doors and left sick people to seek treatment at ad-hoc hydration tents scattered throughout the city. 

The calamidade, or calamity, as locals called it, inflamed anxieties about personal health and safety in the city. Dengue fever, also called “breakbone fever” for the excruciating muscle, joint and bone pain it causes, is the world’s most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne viral disease. The number of dengue cases in Rio in 2013 was double that of 2012, and in 2014 the city is headed for a “situation of risk” for a dengue epidemic, according to Brazil’s minister of health. 

It also exposed long-standing social cleavages: middle-class residents blamed the scourge on inhabitants of favelas from which waves of dengue supposedly emanated. State health agents with tools to stem the tide of infections either could not or would not access favelas controlled by outlaw regimes of narcotraffickers. The impasse exemplified how decades of political abandonment of Rio’s poor crippled the state’s ability to maintain order in favelas and hindered public health responses to serious disease threats. 

Yet Rio’s dengue crisis also signaled an inflection point in the government’s stance towards favela communities. At the height of the epidemic, authorities ushered in new assemblages of public security in favelas in the form of Pacification Police Units (UPPs). With UPPs, Rio pivoted from a policy that historically neglected favelas, to one that intensely engaged them. Today, as the UPP project enters its sixth year, its public relations campaign circulates images of a friendly police force and claims that UPPs benefit more than 1.5 million residents in the pacified areas. 

Critics dispute these numbers, however, and pacification policing is increasingly controversial. Nevertheless, UPPs reconfigure established practices of managing social difference in resource-poor settings of Rio de Janeiro, and offer a window into cultural assumptions about collective health, social control and the social worth of the poor in a post-authoritarian democracy.  

Key Conclusions

  • While threats to public safety in the favelas often capture the limelight, public health concerns are also contributing to high levels of human insecurity. Middle-class Brazilians have been able to fortify their houses against violence, but not against mosquito-borne illnesses.
  • Improvements in sanitation, healthcare, and social services appear more likely in favelas where Rio’s new Police Pacification Unit (UPP) project is underway. The project aims to re-establish state access to politically abandoned urban areas, so that state authorities can deliver social services while also addressing the cycles of violence in these urban areas. 
  • Healthworkers say UPPs makes their job easier, and other services such as trash disposal have improved in these areas, yet claims are on the rise of human rights abuses at the hands of UPP officers. The presence of the officers is also creating new social disparities.
  • The UPP unit does not address the larger issues of entrenched inequality, health problems, and other fundamental causes of human insecurity, and Brazil must face the limits of militarized approaches to addressing urban fragility and the gamut of human security concerns it encompasses.


Twenty percent of Rio’s 6.3 million residents, or approximately 1.3 million people, live in the city’s poorest, most densely populated communities, known as favelas. For the most part, the communities are tight-knit and vibrant, though many middle-class residents of Rio regard them as hives of disease and drug-related violence. This is because in the early 1980s, the Andean drug trade expanded into Brazil, and drug traffickers began competing with established favela resident associations, which for many years had secured votes for politicians in exchange for state services. As narcotraffickers consolidated their power in favelas—in part by employing local residents and helping the poor—hundreds of favelas across Rio became no-go zones for ordinary police.

As violence increased, a chronic sense of vulnerability pervaded favelas. Innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire during gunfights between Rio’s Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) and traficantes practically constituted an epidemic: stray bullets hit an average of one person per day in Rio in January 2007. 

What Comes After the Bombs Stop Falling in Syria?

Syrian refugees watch news about the Geneva II peace talks from inside a makeshift tent home in an unofficial refugee camp on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, January 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

Representatives from Bashar al-Assad’s government and the Syrian political opposition gather in Montreux, Switzerland, today for second-stage peace talks to end the conflict in Syria and agree on the broad parameters of a political transition. 

Expectations are low for the Geneva II peace conference, and it is in fact off to a rocky start. Although discussions are likely to focus on ending the current conflict, improving the delivery of humanitarian aid, and on whether and how the current regime will participate in political reform, it is not too early to give some thought to what needs to happen in Syria’s social and economic sphere for a peaceful transition to take hold. Lessons from previous Middle East transitions can offer some insights here.

Key Conclusions

  • While some elements of the Syrian regime may need to be dismantled, a robust Syrian state and strong institutions will be needed to promote stability and economic growth in a postconflict Syria.
  • Some will push for rapid privatization in Syria, but this would likely come at the cost of stability and sustainability in the country’s economy and economic institutions.
  • Where other political transitions have institutionalized sectarianism, Syrians should focus on establishing a cohesive national identity.
  • Regional cooperation and action will be essential to supporting Syria’s 2.4 million refugees and critical to long-term security and stability in the Middle East more broadly.


The architects of the Geneva Commuique and what comes after it need not look far for inspiration and important lessons as to how to reconstruct Syria peacefully and sustainably.  There are many recent examples of postconflict transition in the Middle East, and particularly in places of complex socio-religious composition and high international strategic interest: immediate postconflict reconstruction in Iraq (2003–2005), the Taif Agreement in Lebanon (1990), and the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative in Yemen (2011). 

In a recent paper, Planning Ahead: Lessons for a Post-Conflict Syria, I drew lessons from these experiences to inform policymakers’ efforts to support political transition in Syria—particularly when it comes to shoring up the state, revitalizing the economy, rebuilding the lives of those marginalized or displaced, and fostering regional cooperation.  

While Key Players Seek Peace, Some Communities Build It Themselves: Interview with Fleur Just

The Peaceful Change Initiative hosts a meeting in Benghazi, Libya. (David Wood/

Modern conflicts involve many different fighting parties, yet peace processes often focus only on the key players, leaving communities with unresolved conflict, said Fleur Just, Director of Impact and Learning at the Peaceful Change Initiative.

Ms. Just, who has worked in Libya, Syria, South Caucasus, Liberia, and Sudan, among others, said it takes community-based approaches to really address the multiple conflicts that are occurring.

And community-led processes, she said, can benefit the state at large. For example, Libya is suffering grave security problems, but at the community level, “it is possible to find [human security] solutions on a case-by-case basis.” She said these changes make a big difference in people's everyday lives, and “ultimately [can] actually start shifting the overall security picture within the state, and therefore create more room for addressing the national security issues.”

Ms. Just has seen that all communities want the same thing: an end to the violence, and “some kind of transition to stability, to democracy, to justice, human rights, and so on.”

She said she has often seen communities distrust processes that are led by the international community or a civil society that is external to the setting, causing a sense within the affected community of “we want to do it our own way and on our terms.” 

However, she said, many actors at the community level feel stuck. “They know that they want to reach out; they know that they want to be, for example, in dialogue with the other side. But they don't know how.” She said the international community can play a very useful role in these situations by providing a space for people in conflict to have a conversation with each other. 

Ms. Just said that one of the challenges she has seen—and this has been a personal challenge for her—is that “sometimes people in conflict arrive at solutions that seem very strange,” but “because they make sense at a local level, they are probably more likely to hold and more likely to be respected and implemented than solutions that I could have offered that were textbook.” 

“This is what the processes of reconciliation are and should be. So, it’s about leaving space, I think, for local imagination.”

The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: I'm here today with Fleur Just, Director of Impact and Learning at the Peaceful Change Initiative, an NGO that works on change management and peacebuilding in the South Caucasus region as well as in Libya and Syria. Over the past decade, Fleur has worked on reconciliation and peacebuilding in many parts of the world, from Liberia and Sudan to Georgia and Timor-Leste. She is currently mapping community-level “peace resources” in Syria to enhance the participation of communities in Syrian peace processes.  

Fleur, community-based approaches to security and peacebuilding are increasingly recognized as important for stability and sustainable peace. What do local peacebuilding activities bring that may be lacking in national and international processes?  

Fleur Just: I think community-based approaches to peacebuilding enable the peace processes to really respond to the needs of people who have been at the front of the conflict. What we often see in modern conflicts is that it's not just a conflict between a state party and a rebel group or between two rebel groups. Often there are multiple conflicts taking place actually within a conflict. And so if you have a process that just involves the key fighting parties, you might get an agreement between those, but that agreement will not necessarily address all the other conflicts that are actually occurring on the ground. And so you do need community-based approaches to really address the multiple conflicts that are occurring.

2014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena

Francesco Mancini, Senior Director of Research at the International Peace Institute, has compiled a list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014. This list will be published in two installments: (1) the top ten issues to watch in 2014 at the global level (below), and (2) the top issues to watch in each region of the world.

1. Regional spillovers of crises
With no political solution on the horizon, Syria’s almost three-year conflict will likely cause more instability and violence in the region. Terrorist attacks will continue in Lebanon, while the economic and social pressure from refugees in Jordan will further drain that country’s limited resources—the United Nations has estimated that Jordan will need $5.3 billion by the end of 2014 for this humanitarian crisis. Regional extremist groups will continue their cross-border operations, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has taken up arms against Baghdad but also against Damascus. 

Another source of concern is Afghanistan, where the drawdown of coalition forces by the end of 2014 and the presidential elections in the spring threaten to increase the level of violence and exacerbate instability across the border into the FATA region of Pakistan. 

A third region at risk of a spillover crisis is central Africa. The weak Central African Republic (CAR) government has collapsed, triggering a serious humanitarian crisis, with 400,000 displaced and nearly half the population in need of assistance. Horrible violence has been taking place, and some UN officials have described the situation as ripe for genocide. The crisis is more political than religious, but since Christian militia were the ones who organized revenge attacks against the mostly Muslim rebel coalition Seleka as retribution for killings and looting, religious extremism might be further reinforced in the region. Instability has already spilled over the Cameroon border, and CAR’S porous borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo are a guarantee for continuing flows of weapons in both directions. 

2. Iran-US: BFF?
2014 will tell if Iran’s talk on the nuclear issue can produce tangible results, and it has the potential to redraw the geopolitics of the Middle East. The stakes are high. Some have emphasized the dangers in the Obama administration’s bet, saying a failure in the negotiation could cause a spike in oil prices, or worse: a shift in power toward hardliners in Iran and a consequent acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program, which could lead to a greater threat of Israeli military strike and Saudi’s search for nuclear capability. 

Others, such as Gary Sick of Columbia University, are more optimistic. “Reduced hostility between the United States and Iran could potentially have a constructive influence on virtually every major issue in the region,” wrote Sick. The most obvious is Syria, but other areas of mutual interest include stability in Afghanistan and Iraq; the defeat of al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups; access to new energy sources; and countering drug traffic. 

The more likely scenario will be a “messy middle.” Progress may be made on the nuclear side, but many difficult issues will remain open, such as the Iranian support for Hezbollah and its fierce anti-Israel stance. Opposition to a final deal will come from hardliners in Iran and in the United States. Israel and Saudi Arabia, so far the closest allies of the United States in the region, will remain the strongest opponents to any deal that would “rehabilitate” Iran and lift sanctions.

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What to Watch in 2014

Key Global Events in August
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2013-multilateral-602014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.