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.
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.
The Danish development minister, Christian Friis Bach (Radikale), has decided to cease providing financial support to a United Nations anti-drug programme due to revelations that Iran has been using the programme to execute hundreds of criminals every year. "It's a signal to Iran that the implementation of the death penalty is unacceptable and not something we can be involved with," Bach told Politiken newspaper.
This week, representatives from many nations will gather at the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna to determine the appropriate course of the international response to illicit drugs. Delegates will debate multiple resolutions while ignoring a truth that goes to the core of current drug policy: human rights abuses in the war on drugs are widespread and systematic.
Britain's funding of Iran's anti-drugs trafficking programmes has been called into question after a UN watchdog expressed alarm at a sharp rise in the number of narcotics smugglers executed in the Islamic state. A new report by Christof Heyns, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, spells out concerns that the flow of overseas aid to Iran has been followed by an increase in hangings.
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?
It is increasingly clear that there is a fundamental lack of oversight of how international aid – provided by the US, Europe and the United Nations to poorer countries – is used to pursue anti-drug efforts. In this article Damon Barrett highlights some of the systematic human rights abuses this aid is facilitating.
According to the Transform blog, it has been confirmed that the Russian diplomat Yuri V. Fedotov has been appointed as the new Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). What will be the implications? Russia has one of the worst records on drug policy and human rights: it ignores scientific evidence on effective HIV prevention among drug users and its punitive drug laws push drug users to the margins of society. Afghan opium poppy farmers could suffer from this appointment as well. The Russians hold them responsible for the 30,000 drug deaths in Russia every year.
A top Russian diplomat, Yuri V. Fedotov, has emerged as the front-runner in the race to become the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – the world's new drug czar, according to Colum Lynch, a longtime Washington Post correspondent who reports on the United Nations for Turtle Bay.
As the United Nations launches the 2009 World Drug Report this week, more than 40 international groups and experts worldwide today issued a call to action that presses governments to adopt a humane approach to drug policy.
The call to action, signed by the Transnational Institute (TNI), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, former president of Brazil Fernando Cardoso, and others, urges governments to enact policies that are based on scientific and medical research rather than politics.
A clear divide in drug control approaches became apparent at the end of the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on March 11-12 in Vienna, where countries gathered to review to progress since the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) and set a framework for the next 10 years through a Political Declaration and Plan of Action.
At one side of the divide a growing number of countries opt for pragmatic evidence-based harm reduction policies, while at the other side countries desperately cling to a zero tolerance approach that has failed to produce any significant result the past decade. Despite the diplomatic façade, the conclusion cannot be otherwise that the Vienna consensus on drug control that has paralysed progress in international drug control for decades, has fallen apart.
The review of the objectives and action plans agreed at the 1998 UNGASS on Drugs has reached a critical stage. Following the thematic debate at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and the five expert working groups held in Vienna over the summer, the attention now moves to the political process of negotiating the text of a political declaration to be agreed at the high level meeting in March 2009.
The "Beyond 2008" NGO Forum was held in Vienna, Austria from July 7-9, 2008. It was the final step in the global consultation of NGOs involved in responding to drug related problems and to provide civil society input for the 10-year UNGASS review.
Three draft resolutions and the draft declaration were subject to a line by line examination and intense debate. At the end of the Forum the Declaration and three Resolutions were adopted by consensus by all those participating in the Forum. This was an historic achievement and reflected the maturity and commitment of the global NGO community.
From 7-9 July, 2008, 300 delegates met in Vienna for the Beyond 2008 NGO Forum meant to provide civil society input for the 10-year UNGASS review. The goal was to produce a consensus statement on behalf of the global civil society to the high level governmental meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), to be held in Vienna in March 2009. The Hungarian Civil Liberty Union (HCLU) produced a 10 minute video interviewing the participants.
Today, June 26, is the official UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. At the TNI Drugs & Democracy programme we have always found it a difficult day to deal with, full of mixed emotions. Too often the day has been desecrated by countries eager to highlight their toughest anti-drug actions. That includes each year a high number of executions in China especially saved up for June 26th. Killing drug law offenders to celebrate a UN day, in spite of the General Assembly adopting last year a resolution opposing the death penalty.
Martin Jelsma, from the Transnational Institute, prepared an analysis for theLatin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, explaining the drug policy situation in the European Union and the current state of debate in the United Nations agenda. The commission is an initiative born of former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, from Brazil, César Gaviria, from Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo, from Mexico, to respond to concerns related to the problems of drug consumption and traffic in Latin America. The idea to constitute a commission capable of consolidating a debate concerning this problematic also responds to the necessity of reviewing the world drug policies in the scope of the United Nations, which began in March 2008.
During IHRA's 19th international conference this month the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) recorded a film which poses a series of questions to Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UNODC, from a range of user representatives, harm reduction experts and drug policy advocates.