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.
Writing in 1996, Norbert Gilmore noted that ‘little has been written about drug use and human rights. Human rights are rarely mentioned expressly in drug literature and drug use is rarely mentioned in human rights literature.’  Almost twenty years later, the literature examining drug control issues through the lens of international human rights law has grown, but the total body of peer reviewed commentary and analysis in this area would barely rank the issue as a footnote in the broader human rights lexicon.
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.
UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) unprecedented condemnation of the use of death penalty for drug-related offences is welcome if long overdue. The bigger question is whether INCB’s consideration of human rights can be extended into a proper human rights and evidence-based examination of UN’s entire drug control regime.
This week both the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna and the UN General Assembly 3rd Committee in New York discuss new drug control resolutions related to upcoming reviews of global drug policy. The high-level CND review in March 2014 and the Special Session of the General Assembly (UNGASS) on drugs in 2016 provide opportunities to change course and to ensure drug policy fully respects human rights.
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?
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 useful overview of UN endorsement of harm reduction measures; the legality of harm reduction services under the Drug Conventions; the obligation in human rights law to ensure access to harm reduction services and the global state of harm reduction, listing 82 countries and territories worldwide that presently support or tolerate harm reduction.
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.
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.
Read here the full text of the controversial statements on coca leaf included in this year's Annual Report of the INCB. Some highlights:
> "The Board calls upon the Governments of Bolivia and Peru to initiate action without delay with a view to eliminating uses of coca leaf, including coca leaf chewing" and "each party to the Convention should establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the possession and purchase of coca leaf for personalconsumption". > "The Board again calls on the Governments of Bolivia and Peru to consider amending their national legislation so as to abolish or prohibit activities that are contrary to the 1961 Convention, such as coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of mate de coca (coca tea)".
This new report, co-authored by the HR2 team, looks at the tensions between some aspects of the global drug control system and international human rights law. The report highlights that, despite numerous instances of human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of drug control, there has been little engagement with this issue by the responsible bodies, the UNODC, INCB and the human rights treaty bodies. The report was published by the Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme, and is co-authored by IHRA, Human Rights Watch and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
A report published in March 2007 by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Open Society Institute Public Health Program, strongly criticises the INCB. It accuses the Board of becoming 'an obstacle to effective programs to prevent and treat HIV and chemical dependence'. “Nearly one in three HIV infections outside Africa is among people who inject drugs. The International Narcotics Control Board could and should be playing a key role in stopping this injection-driven HIV epidemic — but it’s not,” said Joanne Csete, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and co-author of the report.