Drug policies: profound failures, urgent reviews



There is growing recognition that the so-called war on drugs has completely failed to achieve a drug-free world and to reduce the size and scope of illegal drug markets.

On the contrary, punitive drug policies and practices have caused countless human rights violations, harmed the health of millions of people, and undermined the security, economy, and social fabric of communities around the world. This punitive approach has also unnecessarily restricted the availability of controlled medications that are essential for pain relief, while preventing people who use drugs from accessing the most basic health services. In the 21st century, 80% of the world’s population does not have access to pain medications.

That was, essentially, the focus of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration (Vienna, UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs) in setting the international community’s objectives on global drug policies for the next 10 years. Five years have passed since that ministerial declaration and the States will carry out a “mid-term” review of the declaration in 2024.

The results, almost five years later, are brutally discouraging, which is why this review is transcendental. Progress would have to be made in a transparent analysis of reality based on evidence. And take into consideration progress expressed in recent times in the UN itself: General Assembly, Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the Human Rights Council.

It should be that occasion, 2024, one in which a drug policy is defined aligned with the sustainable development goals of 2030 and consistent with the rights to health, human rights and development.

Throughout my career as a lawyer, inter-American judge, minister of state, and human rights expert, I have seen firsthand how in Latin American countries and around the world highly punitive drug control efforts have been a key driver of violence and mass incarceration, especially for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people living in poverty. I have also witnessed how drug prohibition has undermined the traditional, cultural and ancestral rights of indigenous peoples, especially in coca-growing areas.

On the eve of the so-called “mid-term review” in 2024, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) has prepared an (alternative) “shadow report”. This, presented publicly this Tuesday, December 5, aims to evaluate the results of what was adopted in the 2019 Ministerial Declaration. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, of which I am proud to be a part, is a leading voice on the policy issue. of drugs and contributes to the work of the IDPC

IDPC’s stark report is particularly strong and shocking. It shows, with solid evidence, that drug policies have not been effective in prohibiting and eradicating illegal drug markets or in impacting their connection with citizen insecurity, violence or organized crime.

The “mid-term” review that the States will carry out next year is, therefore, transcendental. For that occasion, progress would have to be made in a transparent analysis of reality based on evidence. And taking into consideration progress expressed in recent times in the UN General Assembly, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the UN Human Rights Council.

It should be that occasion, 2024, one in which a drug policy is defined aligned with the sustainable development goals of 2030 and consistent with the rights to health, human rights and development.

It is encouraging to see that these calls are growing among member states and within UN bodies itself. These include important recent steps by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a wide range of human rights mechanisms within the organization.

In October 2022, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights produced a general comment on the “impact of drug policies on economic, social and cultural rights.” The committee analyzed how prevailing drug policies permeate multiple aspects of life and pose challenges that have to be addressed.

In December 2022 a so-called “omnibus resolution” was adopted in the General Assembly. It contains important advances in human rights, particularly in indigenous rights and racial justice. It is the first official UN document that abandons the obsolete illusion of a “drug-free world.”

The UN Human Rights Council, for its part, has adopted three resolutions on the subject. The most recent -2023- on the repercussions of drug policies on human rights (A/HRC/52/L.61). It was the most ambitious and progressive step taken to date within the UN on drug policy. Explicitly use the terms “damage control.”

Despite positive steps within the UN, we are still far from a global review of drug policies. The first challenge is to ensure that the mid-term review at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2024 allows for an honest debate on the international approach to drugs that recognizes failings and highlights recent progress taking place across the world. world and within the UN system itself.

The 2024 “mid-term review” should lay the foundation for a deep and systematic reform process that breaks down the punitive global paradigm and protects the health, well-being and human rights of people around the world, in line with the Goals. of Sustainable Development of the United Nations.

Global Commission on Drug Policy

The Global Commission on Drug Policies was created in 2011 by a group of personalities from different regions of the world to analyze and formulate proposals on drug policies. It is currently made up and led by a diversity of former heads of State and Government, Nobel Prize winners and prominent figures in public affairs. Its mission is to “change course”, to move from drug prohibition to regulation by the State, effectively respecting human rights obligations. In its latest report on “HIV, Hepatitis and Drug Policy Reform” it shows, for example, how detention does not help in the face of health epidemics and, rather, affects the right to health of people who use drugs.

Currently chaired by Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, it has among its members a variety of former presidents and former heads of government. Among them stand out Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil); Geoff Gallop (Australia); Cesar Gaviria (Colombia); Aleksander Kwaśniewski (Poland); Ricardo Lagos (Chile); Kgalema Motlanthe (South Africa); Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria); George Papandreou (Greece); Michèle Pierre-Louis (Haiti); José Ramos-Horta (Timor-Leste) and Nobel Prize winner; Juan Manuel Santos, (Colombia) and Nobel Prize winner); Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and Javier Solana former High Representative of the European Union for a Common and Security Policy.

In addition to former heads of state or government, there are also prominent personalities such as Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and Nobel Prize winner; Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Mohamed El Baradei, Nobel Prize winner and former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency; and Jane Philpott, former Minister of Health of Canada

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