A Shared Illusion of the Drug Free World
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is the annual meeting where representatives of UN member states come together to discuss the barriers and challanges of drug policies. Last year, on the 50th anniversary of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the HCLU organized a protest at the entry of the Vienna International Centre, where fictional drug lords thanked the entering representatives for their efforts to keep the illicit drug market in the hand of criminal organizations. This year there is another anniversary: 100 years ago the American narco-diplomacy made its first great success by organizing the first international opium conference in The Hague. The 1912 opium convention was the first step to build up an international drug control regime.
100 years later, the 55th CND (12-16 March, 2012, Vienna) highlights shared responsibility as a key message. All governments agree that they have to share responsibilities, both in the supply and the demand side, to implement succesful drug policies. But what is it we are responsible for? How succesful is the international drug control regime after 100 years? What would be a more effective way to tackle drug problems? And actually what constitutes the drug problem? These questions divide the international community and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs today.
The entrance of the Vienna International Centre
Inside the plenary
Mr. Yuri Fedotov, head of UNODC
At the press brefing of the UNODC today afternoon
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UN member states still aim at eliminating or significantly reducing the production and trafficking of drugs – in spite of the clear signs of growing scale of the illicit drug market and growing criticism from civil society. If you enter the CND, the first thing you see is the exhibition booth of the Iranian government with an ambitious slogan: „Our Shared Responsibility for Drug Free World”. The representative of Laos also spoke of a drug-free society. This resonates the slogan of the Special Session of the UN General Assembly 14 years ago: „a drug-free world we can do it”. Most professionals and organizations in the field, including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), recognized that a drug-free world is an unrealistic goal at best, a harmful utopia at worst.
Yuri Fedotov, the head of UNODC, spoke more carefully about the successes of the 100 years of global prohibition: he emphasized that the results are limited only to certain areas. He acknowledged for example that opium production is increasing, as well as drug related crime, corruption and political unrest. He called the attention of delegates to the missing balance between supply and demand reduction: most countries still focus on law enforcement measures but these are not enough to the success. We need alternative development, which is not only a fiction, it can contribute to greater security and economic development. He referred to the increasing efforts of his office to turn attention to public health interventions, training health professionals, introducing programs to help children and young people, treatment centers for drug addicts.
The anti-drug minister of Iran said in his speech at the opening session that the aim of drug control is to reduce human suffering related to drugs. However, many experts point out that today drug control policies are often the source of human suffering themselves: millions of people are imprisoned, tortured, executed, illegally detained, forced to labour camps and denied acccess to effective social and health care every year. These human sufferings are rarely mentioned at the CND meetings – but are documented by our movie below.
This year marks the first joint statement of UN agencies, including UNODC, to urge Asian governments to close down drug detention camps and release the estimated 400.000 people who are detained there without their informed consent. At a press conference I asked Mr. Fedotov to explain why they support the closure of these camps. He answered that human rights is in the forefront of their efforts. We praise Mr. Fedotov’s courage to speak out against the detentaion camps and we praise those officials and activists who worked tirelessly to make this possible.
However, there is still room for improvement. Let’s have a look, for example, at UNODC’s position on harm reduction. While UNAIDS has been advocating for harm reduction to stop the HIV epidemic, UNODC avoids to use the term and fails to give a strong guidance for countries on harm reduction measures. At the same press conference I asked Mr. Fedotov to clarify his position on harm reduction. He said countries did not give a mandate to UNODC on harm reduction so they don’t think they can do anything. Well, I don’t think UNODC got a clear mandate from member states to advocate for the closure of dentention camps neither – but they got a mandate to support evidence- and human rights based drug policies. And access to harm reduction services is a human right!
When asked about methadone at the press briefing he said let's allow individual doctors decide whether to prescribe methadone or not, this question is not to be decided through political debates. We can ask back: so why is it that some countries, including his own, the Russian Federation, is still prohibiting opiate substitution treatment? Why do they not let doctors decide?
Mr. Fedotov said something else which is important too: when he came to office one of his first aims was to build a strong culture of evaluation in the agency. Actually our campaign, Count the Costs, is to take him at his word and urge him to evaluate the impacts of the international drug conventions. First of all, let's define what is the indicator of success. All delegates of the CND referred to police seizures today as an evidence that their control measures work. However, drug seizures do not prove that drug supply is reduced. If we would like to measure success we should look at the drug prizes and other indicators of availability. Not a single speaker mentioned these indicators at the CND.
Other posts & videos are coming soon!
Posted by Peter Sarosi