The mandatory-sentencing craze that drove up the prison population tenfold, pushing state corrections costs to bankrupting levels, was rooted in New York’s infamous Rockefeller drug laws. These laws, which mandated lengthy sentences for nonviolent, first-time offenders, were approved 40 years ago next month. They did little to curtail drug use in New York or in other states that mimicked them, while they filled prisons to bursting with nonviolent addicts.
Criminalisation of drug users, excessive levels of imprisonment, and punitive sentencing practices, including mandatory sentencing, the death penalty and enforced ‘drug detention centres’, are some of the unintended negative consequences of the 50 year ‘war on drugs’, a policy with direct impact on the vulnerable, poor and socially excluded groups, including ethnic minorities and women. This PRI briefing paper discusses these consequences in detail and sets out what parliamentarians can do about it.
Civil society groups from across the globe, including prominent human rights NGOs, have called on UN drug control authorities to urge an immediate stop to the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug offenders in the Philippines. Since 10th May 2016, more than 700 people have been killed by police and vigilantes in the Philippines for being suspected of using or dealing drugs, as a direct result of recently-elected President Duterte’s campaign to eradicate crime within six months.
The war on drugs is edging towards a truce. Half of Americans want to lift the ban on cannabis. America’s change of heart has led many to wonder if the UN conventions might be reformed to legalise some drugs and treat the use of others as a problem requiring health measures, not criminal or military ones. But as America has drawn back from prohibition, new drug warriors are stepping up to defend it. Russia is foremost among them. “The Russians have taken over the hard-line role that the US used to play,” says Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute.
The upsurge in violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle is often named in one breath with the drugs market. While violence clearly thrives from an illegal trade met with exclusively repressive state responses, assumptions on cause and effect are frequently flawed or blurred.
The Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), released today, calls upon States that ‘continue to impose the death penalty for drug-related offences to consider abolishing the death penalty for such offences’.
Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories
06 August 2010
The current international system of drug control has focused on creating a drug-free world, almost exclusively through use of law enforcement policies and criminal sanctions. Mounting evidence, however, suggests this approach has failed, primarily because it does not acknowledge the realities of drug use and dependence. While drugs may have a pernicious effect on individual lives and society, this excessively punitive regime has not achieved its stated public health goals, and has resulted in countless human rights violations.
In many countries around the world, drug control efforts result in serious human rights abuses: torture and ill treatment by police, mass incarceration, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, denial of essential medicines and basic health services. Drug control policies, and accompanying enforcement practices, often entrench and exacerbate systematic discrimination against people who use drugs, and impede access to controlled essential medicines for those who need them for therapeutic purposes.
The academic journal Nueva Sociedad recently released an issue to promote the debate in Latin America on drug policy reform. TNI contributed with the paper "Drug policy reform in practice: Experiences with alternatives in Europe and the US".
Ernestien Jensema, Martin Jelsma, Tom Kramer, Nang Pann Ei Kham, Gloria Lai, Tripti Tandon
16 February 2015
The decision of the Myanmar Government to review drug laws is not only timely, but also offers a prospect to improve the drugs legislation and to ensure that the laws address drug-related problems in the country more effectively.
This is the second edition of the IDPC Drug Policy Guide aimed at national government policy makers. This publication is a collaborative effort by a number of members of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and partners, and brings together global evidence and best practices on the design and implementation of drug policies and programmes at national level.
In December 2017, the Transnational Institute (TNI) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany (BMZ), in collaboration with the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) and the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage (MFLF), jointly organised the 9th Asian Informal Drug Policy Dialogue (IDPD) in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
At the end of 2008, about 1,500 persons were released who were in Ecuadorian prisons sentenced for drug trafficking. The measure, known as “pardon for mules,” singled out a specific group of prisoners who were victims of indiscriminate and disproportionate legislation that was in effect for many years. Although with this measure, the Government of Rafael Correa took an important step in the process of reforming draconian legislation regarding controlled substances in his country, it is still to be completed with new legislation.
The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment submits his third report to the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur focuses on the compatibility of the death penalty with the prohibition of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment discusses a human rights-based approach to drug policies.
The upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in 2016 is an unprecedented opportunity to review and re-direct national drug control policies and the future of the global drug control regime. As diplomats sit down to rethink international and domestic drug policy, they would do well to recall the mandate of the United Nations, not least to ensure security, human rights and development.
Indonesia executed eight convicted drug traffickers. The sentences have provoked outrage from the prisoners’ home countries, none of which hands down the death penalty to drug offenders. Brazil and the Netherlands had already withdrawn their ambassadors, following an earlier round of executions in January. Indonesia is rare in executing drug smugglers, who in most of the world are condemned only to long stretches in prison. Where else does trafficking earn a death sentence?
Patrick Gallahue, Ricky Gunawan, Fifa Rahman, Karim El Mufti, Najam U Din, Rita Felten
19 November 2012
Executions for drug offences have escalated in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia against a trend towards abolition globally, reveals a new Harm Reduction International (HRI) report The Death Penalty for Drug Offences, Global Overview 2012: Tipping the Scales for Abolition. The report reveals that over 540 people were executed for drug offences in Iran in 2011, a trend that continues in 2012 and represents a five-fold increase since 2008. At least 16 people were executed for drugs in Saudi Arabia in the first six months of 2012, compared with one person in 2011.