This note provides an overview of human rights and international law concerns raised by the 2011 Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board. These include questionable legal reasoning by the Board; the absence of broader human rights norms; problematic statements on specific issues; unqualified comments and support for policies despite human rights risks; and stigmatising language unbecoming a UN entity. These are patterns that are evident in previous Annual Reports.
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 2007 INCB Annual Report shows some signs of a more balanced approach by the INCB to the policy dilemmas around proportionality of sentences and harm reduction. While this is welcome, the Board still falls a long way short of what is necessary for it to play a positive and objective role in helping governments to find the right balance between their drug control obligations, and wider policy objectives related to social development, public health, and human rights protections. On the issue of the coca leaf especially, the INCB shows complete intransigence towards the issue of indigenous uses in the Andean region.
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. This struck many as odd. As a quasi-judicial entity, one would have expected the INCB to know that the death penalty for drug offences is not permitted in international law. Or that the UN Human Rights Committee, another UN quasi-judicial mechanism which oversees the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, had already called for its abolition in Thailand. Apparently not. In response to emails and letters of concern, the INCB said that criminal sanctions are the 'exclusive prerogative' of States.
This briefing paper brings together material and analysis from a number of recent reports that raise questions about the role and functioning of the INCB. The IDPC analysis is that the Board mixes a rigid and overzealous approach to some aspects of its mandate, while showing a selective reticence in others. These inconsistencies do not arise automatically from the structure or role of the Board, but from the operational and policy decisions of its officers and members.
In a new report released in February 2008 by the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), the INCB comes in for some heavy criticism for being overly secretive, closed to external dialogue with civil society, and out of kilter with similar agencies in other UN programmes. IHRA also debunks the INCB’s defence that it is ‘unique in international relations’.
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?
In 1945, the United Nations was established to 'save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.' Today, the language of war has been adopted for policy objectives. The 'war on drugs' is now more widespread and higher in financial and human cost than ever, and has impacted negatively across borders and across human rights protections. The war on drugs has left in its wake human rights abuses, worsening national and international security and barriers to sustainable development.
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.
The opening in September 2012 of the first centre for drug addicts in Bogota is a welcome first step towards more humane and effective drug policies in Colombia’s capital city, but to be effective needs to be integrated into proper overall drugs strategy.
Ernestien Jensema, Martin Jelsma, Tom Kramer, Tom Blickman
01 June 2014
TNI's indepth examination of the illegal drug market in the Golden Triangle, which has witnessed a doubling of opium production, growing prison populations and repression of small-scale farmers. This report details the failure of ASEAN's 'drug free' strategy and the need for a new approach.
The academic journal Nueva Sociedad recently released an issue to promote the debate in Latin America on drug policy reform. TNI contributed with the paper "Drug policy reform in practice: Experiences with alternatives in Europe and the US".
This is the second edition of the IDPC Drug Policy Guide aimed at national government policy makers. This publication is a collaborative effort by a number of members of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and partners, and brings together global evidence and best practices on the design and implementation of drug policies and programmes at national level.
IHRA’s HR2 programme released a report entitled ‘Harm Reduction and Human Rights: The Global Response to Drug-Related HIV Epidemics’. The report provides a concise overview of the global situation in terms of drug-related HIV epidemics worldwide, with a particular focus on the regions of Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and Sub Saharan Africa.
‘Human Rights, Health and Harm Reduction: States’ Amnesia and Parallel Universes’ is the transcript of a keynote speech delivered by Professor Paul Hunt (then UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health). The speech focused on human rights and drug policy and contained some of the strongest comments to date from a UN human rights expert both in favour of harm reduction and against drug policies at the international and national levels that violate the rights of people who use drugs.
Ernestien Jensema, Martin Jelsma, Tom Kramer, Nang Pann Ei Kham, Gloria Lai, Tripti Tandon
16 February 2015
The decision of the Myanmar Government to review drug laws is not only timely, but also offers a prospect to improve the drugs legislation and to ensure that the laws address drug-related problems in the country more effectively.
Drug control agencies have called the significant decline in opium production in Southeast Asia over the past decade a 'success story'. The latest report of the Transnational Institute (TNI). based on in-depth research in the region, casts serious doubts on this claim noting that Southeast Asia suffers from a variety of 'withdrawal symptoms' that leave little reason for optimism.
Criminalisation of drug users, excessive levels of imprisonment, and punitive sentencing practices, including mandatory sentencing, the death penalty and enforced ‘drug detention centres’, are some of the unintended negative consequences of the 50 year ‘war on drugs’, a policy with direct impact on the vulnerable, poor and socially excluded groups, including ethnic minorities and women. This PRI briefing paper discusses these consequences in detail and sets out what parliamentarians can do about it.
Tom Blickman, Paulo Jorge Ribeiro, Rosane Oliveira
01 March 2010
An examination of the rise of militias – well-organised private vigilante groups made up of rogue, dismissed or retired police officers, firemen and prison guards - in the recurrent episodes of extreme urban violence in Rio de Janeiro, which represents developments in urban security that spread far beyond Brazil.