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 execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran was illegal under international law according to advice provided to Julie Bishop, but Australia's request that Indonesia submit to the judgment of the International Court of Justice was ignored. The Australian ambassador asked Indonesia's consent on March 10 to explore the issue before the international court, but the Foreign Minister still has not had a reply. The Australian government had strong legal advice that the men's execution was illegal under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia signed in 2006. (See also: Bali nine execution: pair's lawyer describes 'machinery of death)
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 Brazil and the Netherlands had already withdrawn their ambassadors, following an earlier round of executions in January.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?
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Human Rights Watch called Mexico's anti-drug offensive "disastrous" in the report Mexico's Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored, that cites 249 cases of disappearances that the group says mostly show evidence of having been carried out by the military or law enforcement. The report says the "enforced disappearances" follow a pattern in which security forces detain people without warrants at checkpoints, at homes or work places, or in public. When victims' families ask about their relatives, security forces deny the detentions.
Human rights groups have urged the UK government to heed the recommendations of an influential parliamentary committee that has told the government to stop funnelling money into anti drug-trafficking programmes in countries that administer the death penalty. Over the past decade, the UK has given millions of pounds to help Pakistan, China and Iran combat drug smuggling. MPs and human rights groups are horrified by credible claims that the increased aid has met with a corresponding rise in arrests which, in turn, has led to more people ending up on death row, including several Britons.
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.
Millions of dollars in international aid for drug enforcement is spent in countries with extremely poor human rights records resulting in serious abuses, according to a new report by the non-governmental organisation, Harm Reduction International. Launched in advance of the UN day against drugs, on June 26, the report Partners in Crime: International Funding for Drug Control and Gross Violations of Human Rights tracks drug enforcement funding from donor states, often via the United Nations, to countries where executions, arbitrary detention, physical abuse and slave labour are weapons in the war on drugs.
Damon Barrett (Deputy Director at Harm Reduction International)
04 April 2012
When the UN's drugs watchdog, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), was asked recently about its official position on torture carried out in the name of drug enforcement, one would have expected an unequivocal denunciation. Instead, what was given was an unequivocal refusal to do so. In the light of documented cases of torture to extract information from suspects and to punish drug users and those convicted of drug offences, this refusal to condemn the most egregious of human rights abuses is cause for serious concern and highlights clear tensions between the UN human rights and drug control regimes.
On several recent occasions, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has refused to offer an opinion on sanctions that violate international law, such as the death penalty. The following is a transcript from a Civil Society Dialogue with the President of the INCB, Hamid Ghodse, during the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs on 15 March 2012. For a commentary on the dialogue please see the article at Inter-Press Service titled, ‘Narcotics Watchdog Turns Blind Eye to Rights Abuses’.
In a world where drug offences are punishable with the death penalty, torture or arbitrary detention, we must ask how far States can go to enforce the global prohibition on drugs. According to the so-called ‘guardian’ of the international drug control treaties – as far as they want. On several recent occasions, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has refused to offer an opinion on sanctions that violate international law – even if those sanctions are imposed in order to comply with the drug control treaties.
The International Narcotics Control Board yesterday presented its annual report for 2010. Every year the Board selects a thematic issue of focus, dedicating its opening chapter to that issue. This year it is corruption. In an earlier blog post we asked whether the INCB would have the impartiality to be able to look at the drug control system itself, and its role in the generation of corruption, as the UNODC had done in 2008. The answer is no. At no point is the international criminal market in drugs recognised as a creation of drug control.