At a press conference in New York on Tuesday 26 October, 2010, at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly, one of the UN’s key human rights experts will call for a fundamental rethink of international drug policy. Anand Grover, from India, is the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, whose mandate is derived from the UN Human Rights Council.
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.
Calling it an issue America can’t afford to ignore, President Barack Obama laid out an expansive vision for fixing the criminal justice system. “In far too many cases, the punishment simply doesn’t fit the crime,” Obama told a crowd of 3,300 in Philadelphia. Low-level drug dealers, for example, owe a debt to society, but not a life sentence or 20-year prison term, he said. The United States needed to reevaluate an “aspect of American life that remains particularly skewed by race and by wealth.” Working in Obama’s favor: tentative but optimistic signs of common ground between Republicans and Democrats. (See also: President Obama for the prisoners)
The new report is the first to calculate the total number of females in prisons on drug offences in Europe and Central Asia. It provides an analysis of developments related to women drug offending and the criminal justice system in Europe and Central Asia, and also largely focuses on numbers of women convicted for drug offending (violation of drug laws) that are in prisons.
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.
The story of the Mexican drug war has generally focused on the violence perpetrated by drug cartels and the apparent inability to bring so many criminals to justice. Unfortunately—while it’s true many have evaded justice—there remain many more people who use drugs and those with very low levels of involvement in the drug trade, who have been swept up in recent crackdowns.
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 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’.
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.
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.
The case of the Australian boy arrested on drug charges in Bali offers the opportunity to review our nation's own response to drug use, both here and abroad. While empathy for the boy's family is warranted and genuine, the case should also raise the question of what would happen to someone in Australia caught with a similar small amount of cannabis or other illicit drug.
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?
Sentencing for drug offences in England and Wales has recently undergone a wide-sweeping review and public consultation. The purpose of this report is to examine and evaluate this mechanism for law reform, without the need for legislative reform, and to consider the specific discussion around sentencing for drug offences which it has led to.
Convinced that responses to the drug problem should be comprehensive, centering on public health and human rights perspectives, the Government of Colombia, with the support of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), is committed to encouraging the debate on alternatives which allow for a focus on the individual, moving beyond approaches solely based on repression.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales initiated a consultation process in order to produce definitive sentencing guidelines for drugs offences for the UK in the future. In order to feed into this process, IDPC, in collaboration with TNI, held an Expert seminar on proportionality in sentencing for drug offences, on 20th May 2011, in London, UK. The seminar was an important gathering of international experts on the subject of proportionality and provided a space for fruitful and in depth discussions on sentencing experiences from around the world. A draft report of the meeting was sent to the Sentencing Council as part of the consultation process on 20th June.
On June 2, 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy presented its report in New York, calling to break the taboo on debate and reform of international drug control policies. The high-profile panel calls the global war on drugs a failure and recommends a paradigm shift towards harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulation of cannabis. TNI has been closely involved in the initiative and its Latin American predecessor in an advisory capacity. Martin Jelsma of TNI’s drugs policy programme wrote a background paper for the Commission’s meeting in Geneva earlier this year: The development of international drug control: lessons learned and strategic challenges for the future.
The trend of "drug decriminalization" is quickly taking shape in Latin America. Increasingly, many countries are leaning toward decriminalization as an alternative approach, hoping that it will be effective both in reducing consumption and dealing with associated health problems.
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.