A coalition of groups including the International Harm Reduction Association, Human Rights Watch and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, have published a report taking the United Nations drug control policies to task for not being in compliance with essential human rights principles — principles which, by United Nations charter, take precedence over other United Nations treaties.
The report is: Recalibrating the Regime: The Need for a Human Rights-Based Approach to International Drug Policy (pdf).
Here’s an extended quote from the Executive Summary that I think makes some strong points:
Historically, policies aimed at prohibiting and punishing the use of certain drugs have driven the international approach to drug control and dominate the approach of most countries, guided as they are by the three UN drug control conventions and the dominant policy directions emanating from the associated international bodies. Such an approach is usually defended with moralistic portrayals that demonise and dehumanise people who use drugs as representing a ‘social evil’ menacing the health and values of the public and state. Portrayed as less than human, people who use drugs are often excluded from the sphere of human rights concern.
These policies, and the accompanying enforcement practices, entrench and exacerbate systemic discrimination against people who use drugs and result in widespread, varied and serious human rights violations. As a result, in high-income and low-income countries across all regions of the world, people who use illegal drugs are often among the most marginalised and stigmatised sectors of society. They are a group that is
vulnerable to a wide array of human rights violations, including abusive law enforcement practices, mass incarceration, extrajudicial executions, denial of health services, and, in some countries, execution under legislation that fails to meet international human rights standards. Local communities in drug-producing countries also face violations of their human rights as a result of campaigns to eradicate illicit crops, including
environmental devastation, attacks on indigenous cultures, and damage to health from chemical spraying. At the level of the United Nations, resolving this situation through established mechanisms is complicated by the inherent contradictions
faced by the UN on the question of drugs. On the one hand, the UN is tasked by the international community with promoting and expanding global human rights protections, a core purpose of the organisation since its inception. On the other, it is also the body responsible for promoting and expanding the international drug control regime, the very system that has led to the denial of human rights to people who use drugs. All too often, experience has shown that where these regimes come into conflict, drug prohibition and punishment has been allowed to trump human rights, or at least take human rights off the agenda. […]
Despite the primacy of human rights obligations under the UN Charter, the approach of the UN system and the international community to addressing the tensions between drug control and human rights remains marked by an ambiguity that is inexcusable in the face of the egregious human rights abuses perpetrated in the course of enforcing drug prohibition.
The report goes on to describe some of the human rights violations around the world explicitly or implicitly endorsed by U.N. drug policy, from execution of drug prisoners in various countries, to the mass murders in Thailand, to the racially unbalanced incarceration of drug offenders in the U.S., etc.
This is just one of many important efforts being taken in this important year for international drug policy as the U.N. evaluates its last 10-year-plan (you know, the drug-free by 2008 nonsense) and develops its next one.
To a greater degree than ever before, the international drug war hawks are facing extensive and organized opposition — probably not enough to stop international prohibition regimes now, but perhaps to less some harms and mark the beginning of the end.
Transform says that “the next ten year UN drug strategy could be the last under absolute prohibition.”
“We are witnessing a crumbling in the consensus behind a dogmatic prohibitionist approach to drug control. The dramatic failures of global drug prohibition over the last ten years, during which time the problems associated with drug misuse and illicit production have worsened dramatically, demonstrate that the current punitive enforcement led approach to drug control cannot continue for another ten years.”