The United Nations should overhaul the operations of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the quasi judicial body that monitors states’ implementation of their obligations under the UN drug conventions. The Board ignores UN policies and conventions which recognize the need to provide humane treatment to people addicted to injection drugs, according to a recent commentary in medical journal The Lancet.
Ignoring all the scientific evidence, Canada Health Minister Tony Clement will move to close Canada's only sanctioned safe-injection site, announcing it will appeal a British Colombia court ruling that Vancouver's Insite should stay open because reducing the risk of drug overdoses is a vital health service.
‘Human Rights, Health and Harm Reduction: States’ Amnesia and Parallel Universes’ is the transcript of a keynote speech delivered by Professor Paul Hunt (then UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health). The speech focused on human rights and drug policy and contained some of the strongest comments to date from a UN human rights expert both in favour of harm reduction and against drug policies at the international and national levels that violate the rights of people who use drugs.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) made some interesting video news items on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. In this one leading civils society spokespersons comment Mr. Costa, the UNODC Executive Director, opening speech. Costa's opening speech was somewhat surprising in that he coincided on some points that have been raised by civil society groups over the past years. He stressed that too many people in prison, and too few in health services; that there are too few resources for prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation; and that there is too much eradication of drug crops, and not enough eradication of poverty.
As in years past, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) highlights the problem of HIV epidemics fuelled by injection drug use in its 2007 annual report. The phrase harm reduction is used in the report without scare quotes but the Board cannot refrain from sounding cautionary notes.
This briefing paper brings together material and analysis from a number of recent reports that raise questions about the role and functioning of the INCB. The IDPC analysis is that the Board mixes a rigid and overzealous approach to some aspects of its mandate, while showing a selective reticence in others. These inconsistencies do not arise automatically from the structure or role of the Board, but from the operational and policy decisions of its officers and members.
The International AIDS Society (IAS) wrote a letter to the Chair of the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) to express concern about the absence of language on harm reduction in the draft outcome documents to be adopted by the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2009.
The International AIDS Society is world’s leading independent association of HIV professionals with over 11,000 members from 183 countries; and the custodian of the International AIDS Conference to be held in Vienna in 2010.
A report published in March 2007 by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Open Society Institute Public Health Program, strongly criticises the INCB. It accuses the Board of becoming 'an obstacle to effective programs to prevent and treat HIV and chemical dependence'. “Nearly one in three HIV infections outside Africa is among people who inject drugs. The International Narcotics Control Board could and should be playing a key role in stopping this injection-driven HIV epidemic — but it’s not,” said Joanne Csete, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and co-author of the report.
In a new report released in February 2008 by the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), the INCB comes in for some heavy criticism for being overly secretive, closed to external dialogue with civil society, and out of kilter with similar agencies in other UN programmes. IHRA also debunks the INCB’s defence that it is ‘unique in international relations’.
"We respectfully urge you to support syringe exchange, opiate substitution treatment and other harm reduction approaches demonstrated to reduce HIV risk; to affirm the human rights of drug users to health and health services; and to reject efforts to overrule science and tie the hands of those working on the front lines."
In this open letter to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, 334 organisations express their concern about U.S. efforts to force a UNODC retreat from support of syringe exchange and other measures proven to contain the spread of HIV among drug users.
The Bush administration is quietly extending a policy that undermines the global battle against AIDS. "The State Department's new leadership needs to end this bullying flat-earthism. It won't help President Bush's current effort to relaunch his image among allies. And it's almost certain to kill people."
Conflicting views and policies within the UN system on harm reduction have become a major concern. Consistency in messages is crucial especially where it concerns joint global programmes such as the efforts to slow down the HIV/AIDS epidemic; efforts in which harm reduction practices like needle exchange and substitution treatment play a pivotal role.