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.
Drug Courts are Not the Answer finds that drug courts are an ineffective and inappropriate response to drug law violations. Many, all the way up to the Obama administration, consider the continued proliferation of drug courts to be a viable solution to the problem of mass arrests and incarceration of people who use drugs. Yet this report finds that drug courts do not reduce incarceration, do not improve public safety, and do not save money when compared to the wholly punitive model they seek to replace. The report calls for reducing the role of the criminal justice system in responding to drug use by expanding demonstrated health approaches, including harm reduction and drug treatment, and by working toward the removal of criminal penalties for drug use.
This paper aims to set out some of the policy and public health issues raised by the appearance of a wide range of emergent psychoactive substances of diverse origin, effect and risk profile (commonly referred to as ‘legal highs’). It will start by considering what is meant by the term ‘legal highs’ and consider the historical context that has framed their appearance and must inform any response. It will then consider some of the approaches that have been adopted by different nations to control their availability and associated harms, including a preliminary assessment of their consequences, both intended and not.
In determining the seriousness of a drug offence the courts should focus on the quantity of the drug involved (or the scale of the operation) and the role of the offender; the Panel advises a starting point of 12 years custody for the most serious cases. Offences will be aggravated where offenders used a young person as a courier, supplied or offered to supply close to schools, targeted premises used by vulnerable people or supplied to prisoners.
There has in recent years been a renewed interest in the principle of proportionality in sentencing policy for drug offences. There has been official analysis of the issue by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and several national initiatives that have inscribed a requirement for proportionality when sentencing in statute or penal code, asserted it through the courts, or, as with the UK Consultation on sentencing for drug offences by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales, are continuing to explore the concept through policy processes.
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 use of illegal drugs is often associated with a wide range of health, social and community problems, substantial drug-related crime, and stigma and marginalization of people who use drugs. In response, policy-makers have relied heavily on law enforcement, despite evidence that certain law enforcement practices actually worsen the impact of drug use on individuals and communities, and sometimes lead to human rights violations.