A drug-free world: could we do it?
In 1998, the representatives of governments gathered in New York at the United Nation’s General Assembly’s Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS). The meeting was dominated by the slogan: “A Drug-Free World: We Can Do It”. Governments adopted a 10 years action plan with ambitious targets, including a significant reduction in the demand and supply of drugs. Today a drug-free world seems more distant than ever before: heroin production has doubled, cocaine production has grown by 20%, and the prevalence of illicit drug use has been increasing in almost all countries since 1998.
What is even more appalling is the terrible cost we are paying for unsuccessful drug control efforts: millions of drug users are behind bars and hundreds of thousands of injecting drug users are infected with HIV and Hepatitis C (because goverments are concernd with punitive measures rather than harm reduction). There has been an escalation of violent crime on the streets of our towns because of the drug black market. Corruption has infected law enforcement agencies and political institutions because of the profitability of illegal drugs. In many countries the human rights of people who use drugs are violated not only in the name of drug control, but also in the name of treatment and care: they are too often placed in labor camps, forced detoxifications, and other punitive, inhumane facilities in the name of “drug treatment”. Access to effective forms of drug treatment and Hepatitis C and HIV prevention (for instance opiate substitution treatment or needle and syringe exchange) is very low in most regions of the world. Potential users of such services suffer not only from criminalization but from stigmatisation, discrimination and social exclusion.
High Level UN meeting on drugs: what is at stake?
Recently, governments are reviewing the global drug control efforts of the past ten years. High level government officials from around the world will meet in Vienna from 11 to 12 March, 2009 to draw conclusions and adopt a new Political Declaration. Altough a radical (policy) shift is unlikely (like drug legalization), the new declaration can shape future drug policies to be more responsive to the needs of our communities or something. The document must reflect the need for the respect of human rights of drug users and growers, broader access to harm reduction services and a greater and meaningful involvement of civil society.
Global NGO Forum: the voice of civil society
The Vienna NGO Committee organized a global NGO forum with the purpose of monitoring the implementation of goals set by the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 1998. In July 2008, more than 300 NGOs from all over the world were invited to the Beyond 2008 Forum to discuss three objectives: NGO achievements, NGO involvement, and drug policy principles.
Where can I learn more?
The UNODC has a website where you can find the official documents related to the 1998 UNGASS, the sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the 2009 High Level Segment. Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UNODC has his own blog, Costa’s Corner, with his personal views on the international narcotic control system – unfortunately, he does not allow comments.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UNAIDS produced many documents in favor of harm reduction and the human rights of people who use drugs.
A number of non-governmental and academic initiatives from all corners of the world are now attempting to articulate the problems of current drug policies on the global and national levels. Their analysis will be made available for to governments and the UN itself. NGOs and researchers have made excellent reports and other papers highlighting the anomalies of the international drug control regime.
The Transnational Institute (TNI), a Dutch drug policy think tank, created a website on the UNGASS review. On this site you can find the key documents of the 1998 UNGASS on drugs, reports on the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB) and NGO responses to its annual reports, and a lot of information on harm reduction, and the control of coca leaf, opium and cannabis. It is also the best news update on the UNGASS review process.
The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) is a global network of NGOs that specialize in issues related to illegal and legal drug use. Its website is an outstanding knowledge hub with a lot of information on UNGASS issues. The HCLU is also a member of this network.
The International Harm Reduction Development Program (IHRD) of the Open Society Institute works to reduce HIV and other harms related to injecting drug use, and to press for policies that reduce stigmatization of illicit drug users and protect their human rights.
The International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) recently published a global report on the state of harm reduction and many other important documents related to the UNGASS process. Their harm reduction & human rights blog (hr2) provides very interesting news. Paul Hunt, the human rights commissioner of the UN made a powerful speech on the drug control system at IHRA’s conference in Barcelona - watch our video and learn more!
Following a review of currently available evidence, the International Drug Policy Consortium members have agreed to promote the following 5 principles in our advocacy work with governments and international agencies.
In order to illustrate what the implementation of these principles mean in practice we attached a short video to each point.
1. Drug Policy Decisions Should be More Informed by the Best Available Evidence.
2. Drug Policies Should Shift Focus and Priority from Reducing the Scale of the Drug Market to Reducing its Negative Consequences.
3. Efforts to Reduce the Supply of Drugs Should Not Focus on the Punishment of Growers.
4. Efforts to Reduce the Demand for Drugs Should Not Focus on The Punishment Of Users.
5. The UN System Should Develop a More Co-ordinated and Cohesive Approach to Drug Policy Issues.
What can the HCLU do?
There is a very moderate interest by the media about the UNGASS review process. It is imperative that a broader public understands of what is at stake to be manifested: will future global drug policies doomed to failure or can they shift to a more humane and evidence-based approach?
It is important that we reach out to the national and international press to inspire a discussion about the failures and successes of the last 10 years.
The HCLU initiated the following actions – please take part and add your support to those who have already raised their voices:
• We provide scholarships for journalists from EU countries to report on the UN High Level Meeting in Vienna and its side events;
• We launched a poster and video contest to collect materials illustrating the unintended consequences of global drug control efforts – the best submissions will be be exhibited in Vienna;
• We are organizing a demonstration and press conference at the Vienna International Center (VIC) on March the 11th to raise awareness on the failure and costs of global drug control efforts. As a part of this event, we ask activists from different countries to send emails to the UN, as an act of protest against the violation of human rights of people who use drugs;
• We are organizing press conferences in several EU countries with the help of local NGOs before the High Level Meeting to provide the media with basic information via fact sheets and press releases;
• We created an online campaign space which includes videos and multimedia material to mobilize people to provide their video comments to national governments and the UN on restrictive drug policies.
• We created a YouTube profile for those who want to send their videos and messages to the governmental delegates of the High Level Segment and the CND.
Posted by Peter Sarosi