Mr President, Singapore is happy to be a participant at United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) 2016.
Building a Safe Society for Our People
2. To discuss the global drug problem, we need to start by asking a fundamental question: What kind of society do we want for our people? All of us want the same things: peace, prosperity, progress, equality of opportunity, and a good quality of life for our people.
3. These can't be achieved without safety and security, which are the key basic building blocks for any society. The question in this context is: What impact do drugs have, on the kind of society that all of us want? How do we deal with drug abuse in our communities? And, what is the best approach?
4. Over the next three years till UNGASS 2019, we will have to develop a consensus on this question.
5. We are now at a crossroads because of several factors. First, countries have tried to fight the scourge of drugs, and have been unsuccessful. They have had tens of thousands of their citizens killed. Their societies seriously impacted. Parts of their countries are controlled by drug lords.
6. Some other countries are not so fundamentally affected. Their drug situation is broadly under control, and the problem is contained to certain segments of the population. For countries in these situations, an acceptance of drugs in their societies seems attractive. Hence, harm reduction, or legalisation. Others, like Singapore, focus on tackling drug trafficking, through supply reduction, and tackling drug abuse, through demand reduction.
7. When you go down the route of harm reduction, I don't think we should be under any illusion – Drugs harm the abuser, his family, and the community. Period.
8. We have had experts from our Institute of Mental Health conduct a literature review on cannabis. Over a period of time, they studied articles from reputable medical journals.
9. The evidence was clear. Cannabis is harmful, and can cause irreversible damage to the brain and to cognitive ability. Cannabis is addictive. About 1 in 10 regular users develop dependence. This increases to 1 in 2 amongst daily users.
10. I heard a lot yesterday about a science-based approach to drugs. What I have said is science-based. Drugs harm you! You wouldn't knowingly and happily give drugs to your teenage children, would you? You might accept it and deal with it if they abuse drugs. But you wouldn't voluntarily give it. So let's be clear about the harmful effects of drugs.
Singapore's Approach to Tackling Drugs
11. Our approach is this. We are located in a difficult environment. We are near several major drug production centres. We believe that drugs will destroy our society. With 200 million people travelling through our borders every year, and given Singaporeans' purchasing power, a soft approach will mean our country will be washed over with drugs. This is why we have adopted a comprehensive, balanced, sustained and tough approach to tackling both drug supply and demand.
12. The results speak for themselves. We are relatively drug-free, and the drug situation is under control. There are no drug havens, no no-go zones, no drug production centres, no needle exchange programmes. Our stance on drugs has allowed us to build a safe and secure Singapore for our people.
13. Yesterday, I heard many speeches, both here and in the roundtables, soaring rhetoric on the rights of people to access narcotics. The argument was presented as a dichotomy: Human rights and dignity on the one hand, versus oppression. Maybe this rhetoric is based on the experiences in some countries. To us, it sounds like a lot of straw man arguments. Because it is not based on facts.
14. Demand reduction doesn't have to mean no compassion or consideration for the drug abuser. It doesn't have to mean that we lock up the abuser, throw away the keys, and condemn him to a life of criminality.
15. It is possible to be tough on traffickers, be tough on prevention, be tough on drug abusers. And, at the same time, help abusers psychologically, medically, economically, without having to feed them with drugs. It is possible to help many of them kick their habit and reintegrate into society.
16. We take a nuanced approach for abusers. First- and second-time young abusers are counseled and rehabilitated. There is a framework to help them kick their habit and reintegrate into society. They are not all treated as criminals. We place a lot of focus on working with these abusers, and on helping them. Sometimes, cold turkey and detention are necessary. But not always. We make an assessment.
17. So, there is a middle way, between locking everyone up, treating them as criminals, and feeding them with drugs.
18. It is possible to work with drug abusers to rehabilitate them. This is difficult and resource-intensive. But because every life is important, we do that. Legalizing and giving abusers drugs is the easier option. But not the better one. Believing in the individual, believing that he can be drug-free and can kick the drug habit, believing in human potential. That is the more difficult but better option.
19. Our approach has been successful for us. In the 1990s, we used to arrest over 6,000 drug abusers per year. Now, it's about 3,000 or so. This is against the backdrop of a more prosperous Singapore where people have more money to spend on drugs, and amidst a worsening regional drug situation where the supply of drugs has mushroomed.
20. We have actually halved the number of abusers. What this means is that 3,000 lives have been saved every year, for the past 2 decades. Recidivism rates have also halved from over 60% to 30%.
21. Let us also be clear on the effect of drugs on criminality. If you look at the crime statistics in most countries, including Singapore, many crimes will either be related, or their offenders will have drug antecedents.
22. How do we protect the victims of drugs abuse? Some babies are born with drug dependencies. Do we talk about their rights? In Singapore, we want the right to decide for ourselves, that anyone can walk safely, anywhere. A 10-year-old child can go on public transport. A lady can walk out at any time of the day or night.
23. These are amongst the rights that we value fundamentally. We have achieved that because we have fought a successful battle against drugs.
24. We have handed out some statistics on Singapore to give context to explain why we cherish what we have achieved, and why we are not prepared to give that up. We will change our position if people can show us, based on evidence, that drugs are good for the person taking it, or at least neutral, that the crime situation will not get worse, and that the rest of society will not pay a price for it.
25. We are not very impressed with rhetoric alone. Good speeches are one thing. Enjoying safety and security, to the level I have identified – letting your 10-year-old child take public transport alone – that is different.
26. I say to anyone with a different view – come forward. I am prepared to compare our experiences with any city that you choose. Show us a model that works better, that delivers a better outcome for citizens, and we will consider changing. If that cannot be done, then don't ask us to change.
A Global Consensus on Drugs
27. Between now and 2019, we need to come to a consensus on how we can move forward as one global community, to tackle drugs. Every country should have the right to choose the approach that works best for them.
28. For us, the choice is clear. We want a drug-free Singapore, not a drug-tolerant Singapore. We want to be part of a drug-free ASEAN.
29. This comes from a country, that over 50 years of development – is ranked #1 on the rule of law, is ranked highly on quality of life and where to be born indices, and has strong social achievements in health, education, and housing.
30. If you want us to change, show us a better way.
31. Thank you.
Handout for UNGASS National Statement at Plenary Session.pdf