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A human rights-based global drug policy

The ACLU is presenting this week at the Beyond 2008 Forum in Vienna, as part of the input toward the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 10 year evaluation of world drug policy.
Remember, 10 years ago, the UN proclaimed “A Drug Free World – We Can Do It” and they set goals of “eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by the year 2008.”
Obviously, that failed spectacularly, not that any of the players will be rushing to admit it — in fact, attempts to re-write history are already happening.
Fortunately, there are some mechanisms in place to at least provide some public response. I think that the ACLU’s presentation does a good job of tying in with the rest of the global drug policy reform efforts to shift UN drug policy. They realize that UN drug policy is not going to go away at this point and that the most likely areas to affect change is focusing on harm reduction and human rights. The human rights approach is particularly useful, since there is precedent in the U.N. indicating that, theoretically, U.N. drug policy must take a back seat to U.N. human rights policy.

A human rights-based approach to global drug policy would principally

prioritize prevention and treatment of negative health consequences of drug misuse over criminal justice responses and supply-side reduction measures, and
require that U.N. bodies measure effectiveness by assessing indicators of drug-related harm, rather than relying solely on drug use and interdiction statistics. Drug-related harm includes overdose rates, disease transmission rates, negative drug enforcement consequences as well as individual and communal criminal justice system-related consequences.

There is a huge global movement for reform that is being expressed through these forum opportunities. And it will be hard for the U.N. to ignore these voices entirely, especially while having to simultaneously ignore the documented abject failure of U.N. drug polcy (although they will try). It’s possible that some reform language will make it through into the next 10 year plan, but without (as the ACLU notes) reform of the International Narcotics Control Board — a particularly odious, corrupt, and unaccountable entity — it will still be an uphill battle for individual countries to adopt workable drug policies.
Update: ACLU’s Graham Boyd comments on the process.

Open Thread

“bullet” The New York Times editorial that I mentioned last week has generated some Letters to the Editor. Califano’s letter is so… Califano — he just can’t stop himself from making up bizarre statistics.
“bullet” Clarence Page phones in a column about the drug war Don’t forget the war next door. Come on, Clarence — what a waste of prime newspaper real estate! You could be a voice on the drug war, if you’d only grow a pair.
“bullet” On the other hand, Josh Strawn hits one out of the park with War on Drugs vs. War on Terror at Pajamas Media, explaining to conservatives why our drug policy doesn’t work.

Drug policy has been sculpted by notions of public morality, out of the supposed desire to maintain order and to preserve quality of life instead of letting it deteriorate. But the evidence proves that those objectives are not only failing to be met, the inverse is being accomplished. Drug policies in particular those defined by eradication of crops and draw-down of demand create more chaos than order, and destroy more lives than they save. This argument needs now to extend beyond the crack alleys of America and into rural Afghanistan, where farmers and their families our potential allies in the quest for peace and stability in Afghanistan are suffering because of our own stale ineffectual anti-drug policy.

[Via Radley]