Weaknesses in the United Nations drug control system have often been identified, related to the functioning of the key organs – the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) –, related to collaboration with the wider UN system – the World Health Organistaion (WHO), UNAIDS, UN Development Programme (UNDP), etc. – and related to the outdated character of several treaty provisions.
This note provides an overview of human rights and international law concerns raised by the 2011 Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board. These include questionable legal reasoning by the Board; the absence of broader human rights norms; problematic statements on specific issues; unqualified comments and support for policies despite human rights risks; and stigmatising language unbecoming a UN entity. These are patterns that are evident in previous Annual Reports.
The United States must not turn a blind eye to the recreational use of cannabis in states that liberalize drug laws, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said, urging the country to live up to its treaty commitments. Raymond Yans, president of the INCB, said assurances from the U.S. government in December that growing, selling or possessing the drug remained illegal under federal law were "good, but insufficient".
Peter Reuter (RAND), Franz Trautmann (Trimbos Institute) (eds.)
15 March 2009
This report commissioned by the European Commission, found no evidence that the global drug problem has been reduced during the period from 1998 to 2007 – the primary target of the 1998 UNGASS, which aimed to significantly reduce the global illicit drugs problem by 2008 through international cooperation and measures in the field of drug supply and drug demand reduction. Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries, while for others it worsened, and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially', among which are a few large developing or transitional countries. Given the limitations of the data, a fair judgment is that the problem became somewhat more severe.
The terms used in the preface to the 2011 INCB annual report leave no doubt as to the illness afflicting this UN body: a (deep) regret  is running through its old veins. Yet again, its poison is directed at Bolivia, that small country which dares to challenge and stretch what is allegedly firm and static, and all in the name of an old indigenous habit. This saga must come to a close sometime soon, both parties must have thought, but as yet no happy ending is in sight.
The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which monitors implementation of the global drug treaties, has trained its fire on Bolivia, this time accusing the country of threatening the integrity of the entire international drug control regime by defending traditional uses of the coca leaf.
A strong attack against the European practice of 'leniency' regarding cannabis use and possession took place at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) session (11-15 March, 2002) in Vienna. There was an orchestrated attempt to pass a CND resolution to put a dam against the 'leniency'.
On 29 June 2011, the Bolivian government denounced the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol, indicating its intention to re-accede with a reservation allowing for the traditional use of the coca leaf. This decision was triggered by Bolivia’s need to balance its obligations under the international drug control system with its constitutional and other international legal commitments. The move follows the rejection of Bolivia’s proposal to amend the Single Convention by deleting the obligation to abolish coca leaf chewing (Article 49) earlier this year.
David Bewley-Taylor, Martin Jelsma, Christopher Hallam
16 June 2014
Scheduling is mostly prioritised in its repressive pole, though present debates are increasingly highlighting the need to modify the balance of the system in order to affirm the importance of the principle of health.
We don’t ban beer and spirits because some folk abuse alcohol. Yet as part of its bid to stamp out illicit cocaine consumption, the United Nations drug watchdog is telling millions of indigenous South Americans to ditch their millennia-old coca-chewing and coca tea-making traditions — and calling on their governments to criminalize the activities.
A growing number of nations are developing policies that shift away from the prohibition-oriented failed approach to drugs control. Ultimately however nations will need to reform the overall UN based global drug control framework of which practically all nations are a part.
At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March 2008 in Vienna three resolutions on cannabis were tabled. They were all clearly against 'lenient policies' in some countries depenalising or decriminalizing the use of cannabis. One of the resolutions called for the criminalization of drug abuse that would have significantly expanded the UN drug conventions.
The 2007 INCB Annual Report shows some signs of a more balanced approach by the INCB to the policy dilemmas around proportionality of sentences and harm reduction. While this is welcome, the Board still falls a long way short of what is necessary for it to play a positive and objective role in helping governments to find the right balance between their drug control obligations, and wider policy objectives related to social development, public health, and human rights protections. On the issue of the coca leaf especially, the INCB shows complete intransigence towards the issue of indigenous uses in the Andean region.
A major international row with wide-ranging implications for global drugs policy has erupted over the right of Bolivia's indigenous Indian tribes to chew coca leaves, the principal ingredient in cocaine.
If you actually read the treaties, while they do set firm limitations on the legal, "non-medical" or "non-scientific" sale of schedule drugs — limits that Uruguay, Colorado and Washington ignored when legalizing cannabis — they don’t otherwise obligate countries to penalize drug use. Even the 1988 convention, the harshest of the three, which instructs countries to criminalize use, still provides an out for states, allowing such laws only as they are "subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system." This loophole has been used by the Dutch to argue legally for their coffee shops.
On several recent occasions, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has refused to offer an opinion on sanctions that violate international law, such as the death penalty. The following is a transcript from a Civil Society Dialogue with the President of the INCB, Hamid Ghodse, during the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs on 15 March 2012. For a commentary on the dialogue please see the article at Inter-Press Service titled, ‘Narcotics Watchdog Turns Blind Eye to Rights Abuses’.
Since 1909 the international community has worked to eradicate the abuse of narcotics. A century on, the efforts are widely acknowledged to have failed, and worse, have spurred black market violence and human rights abuses. How did this drug control system arise, why has it proven so durable in the face of failure, and is there hope for reform?