"There cannot be a penitentiary health system isolated from state public policy"

Juiz Martín Vázquez Acuña. (foto: UNODC)The Argentinean judge Martín Vázquez Acuña is one of the most prominent experts in the legal area related to drug policies.  He is part of the national committee for coordination of  public policies for control and prevention of drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and corruption, created by the Council of Argentinean Ministers, in order to develop and launch national and regional public policies that fight transnational organized crime, money laundering, corruption and drug trafficking, establishing institutional  interministerial, intergovernmental and interregional spaces to coordinate a joint action to improve public policies.

Vásquez came to Brazil to attend the 12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, held in Salvador, and gave the following interview to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC):

What good Argentinean practice have you showed to the Congress?
The good practice that we have been implementing in Argentina is made of concerted interventions between the Department of Health and the Department of Justice, in a program called "Health for Justice, Health for Inclusion".  In these actions, we are working with the Department of Labor and with the Department for Development, because we are talking about inclusion. When we talk about inclusion, we are talking about developing social plans of intervention in cases of drug abuse and of prisoners, who, when released, are already in touch with the healthcare system.  

Do you believe that health is a neglected aspect in the prison system?
There was paradigm shift. We came to understand that we must combine health policies in the prison system with the general Health Department policies, because there can't be a penitentiary health isolated from sate public policy. This is the paradigm shift. That implies certain coordination between the different programs: HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, mental health, reproductive health, supply of free medicines, and the prison services. There has been also a change in other interventions, such as the bioethics and human rights training to health professionals, because they are the ones responsible for the protection of prisoner's health, and they  must denounce if there is or if there isn't abuse.

How is the plan of action made by the commission that you participate?
We believe that there must be a plan of multiple actions. On one hand, a strong system of criminal justice for drug trafficking, money laundering and division of precursors.  On the other hand, a broad plan of assistance to the user, including harm reduction. As Mr. Costa, UNODC chief, said there must be an adequacy of penalties, there must be proportionality. Actually, there is no reason for punishing drug users, but we must put all Police and justice efforts on trafficking repression, noney laundering and division of precursors.  

Recently, a judicial decision in Argentina changed the juridical understanding about drugs illegal possession.  What did this decision mean? 
The decision about the Arriola case has two very important components. On one hand, it deals with each person's right to privacy, with the autonomy principle, the right to decide a way of life and the harm principle, in other words, self-injury is not punishable.  This is another basic principle of respect to another persons' decision to possess drugs, of course, without exhibiting or fostering consumption.  On the other hand, the decision call upon the state agencies to effectively define a broad policy to treat drug abusers and repress drug trafficking.

What is the importance of international cooperation with regard to drug policy?
International cooperation is always needed because drug trafficking is a transnational crime. There is someone who buys and someone who sells. And these two go through different jurisdictions. There is someone who makes profit out of it, someone who makes profit out of people's lives. That's why I think cooperation is crucial

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