International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

Responding to the harms associated with drug use and the illicit drug trade is one of the greatest social policy challenges of our time. All aspects of this challenge have human rights implications.

Drug control intersects with much of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In line with the 2030 Agenda, the UNDP Strategic Plan 2018 – 2021 and the HIV, Health and Development Strategy 2016 – 2021: Connecting the Dots, the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy provide a comprehensive set of international legal standards for placing human dignity and sustainable development at the centre of UN member states responses to illicit drug economies. The guidelines cover a diverse set of substantive issues ranging from development to criminal justice to public health.

The guidelines were developed by a coalition of UN Member States, WHOUNAIDSUNDP and leading human rights and drug policy experts. The Guidelines are an example of the support provided to practically integrate international human rights commitments into national, regional and global policy and programmes.

The drugs issue cuts across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and multiple Sustainable Development Goals, including ending poverty, reducing inequalities and, of course, improving health, with its targets on drug use, HIV and other communicable diseases. Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions is particularly important, requiring attention to human rights across the Sustainable Development Goals. Since the late 1990s, UN General Assembly resolutions have acknowledged that ‘countering the world drug problem’ must be carried out ‘in full conformity’ with ‘all human rights and fundamental freedoms’. This has been reaffirmed in every major UN political declaration on drug control since, and in multiple resolutions adopted by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.The reality, however, has not always lived up to this important commitment.

The Guidelines are based on both ‘hard law’ and ‘soft law’ sources – those that are legally binding and those that are authoritative but not binding per se. With very few exceptions, the general descriptions of rights are drawn from binding treaty provisions.

However, since very few human rights treaty provisions address drug control directly and since the application of general rights to specific groups requires a more in-depth analysis, much of the guidance presented throughout the document is based on UN resolutions and declarations, the general comments and concluding observations of UN human rights treaty bodies and the work of UN human rights Special Procedures. Findings of regional human rights courts and national courts are also cited. Such jurisprudence, which is binding for the relevant countries, is cited in the Guidelines as being persuasive of a particular application of a right.

The Guidelines are not a ‘toolkit’ for a model drug policy. The Guidelines are a reference tool for those working to ensure human rights compliance at local, national, and international levels, be they parliamentarians, diplomats, judges, policy makers, civil society organisations or affected communities.

This longer version of the Guidelines will be available on an interactive website where readers may search by specific rights, drug control themes, and other key words, as well as follow links to source material.

To read and download Guidelines on human right and Drug policy follow this link>>>

UNODC launched toolkit on synthetic drugs

UNODC launched the United Nations Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs, a web-based platform with a wide range of electronic resources that offer innovative and practical tools on how to approach challenges related to synthetic drugs and particularly opioids.

The toolkit is part of UNODC’s Integrated Opioid Strategy that was launched last year to deal with the deadly opioid crisis. UNODC is the lead UN Secretariat entity in providing assistance to Member States in addressing the world drug problem and in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and other international and regional organizations is coordinating the development of this toolkit to support countries in addressing the threat of synthetic drugs.

The Toolkit offers a selection of different topics critical in addressing the key challenges presented by synthetic drugs. Generally, these topics range from legislative approaches, forensic capacity, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, and access to medicines to regulation, detection and interdiction. Currently, three modules are complete and accessible: Legal, Forensics and Precursors. The remaining modules are in development and will become available soon. Moreover, the toolkit will be frequently updated and complemented with additional resources.

The toolkit was formally presented by Justice Tettey, Chief of UNODC’s Laboratory and Scientific Section, at a side event during the 62nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), co-organized by the governments of Canada, Columbia and the United States of America.

Justice TetteyMr. Tettey, Chief of UNODC’s Laboratory and Scientific Section, underlined, “the toolkit has been developed in an interactive and user-friendly way for the benefit of Member States. You can have a toolkit in your pocket.”  The U.S. Head of Delegation to the CND’s 62nd Regular Session, Mr. James A. Walsh highlighted the fact that “as an online platform, the toolkit will serve as a self-assessment tool that allows countries to identify and address the specific synthetic drug challenges they are facing.”

Over the past 150 years, humanity has experienced several opioid crises, but none as devastating as the present one. Opioids remain one of the most important classes of medicines, providing essential pain relief and palliative care for many millions of people in need. But the deadly consequences of non-medical use pose some of the greatest drug challenges we face today.

The Toolkit is available following this link>>>

Civil society disappointed with the Ministerial Declaration

The United Nations (UN) agreed to a new framework for global drug control: a Ministerial Declaration ‘Strengthening our actions at the national, regional and international levels to accelerate the implementation of our joint commitments to address and counter the world drug problem’. The text of the Declaration is available.

The International Drug Policy Consortium expresses disappointment following the UN’s adoption of a 10-year global drug strategy that fails to deal with the realities and the devastating impacts of punitive drug policies.

In the lead up to this Ministerial Segment, IDPC called repeatedly on Member States to formally and honestly evaluate progress made towards the overarching goal, in the 2009 Political Declaration, to significantly reduce or eliminate the illicit drug market, as well as in the implementation of the UNGASS Outcome Document. Unfortunately, a formal and comprehensive review of the past decade of drug policies was not conducted by governments or the UNODC.

In the statement issued, IDPC pointed that governments the world over have utterly failed to make any progress in achieving a drug-free world. Over the past decade, there has been a 31% increase in the number of people who use drugs and an unprecedented rise in the cultivation of opium and coca. Organised crime has also flourished, with the illicit drug trade estimated to now be worth between USD 426 to 652 billion.

In blindly striving for a drug-free world, drug policies have had devastating consequences:

  • Half a million preventable deaths by overdoses and from HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis in 2015 alone
  • A global epidemic of pain which has left 75% of the world’s population without access to pain relief
  • Severe human rights violations, including mass incarceration, 3,940 executions, and tens of thousands of extrajudicial and other unlawful killings.

Unfortunately, the so-called ‘Vienna consensus’ won out and has once again stifled progress in UN drug policy. Even though the document includes a bleak acknowledgement of the scale of the problem, it re-commits the international community to another decade focusing on the elimination of the illicit drug market.

Ann Fordham, IDPC Executive Director, said: “Although some progress has been made in the new Declaration compared to ten years ago, it is disappointing that governments cannot be honest about how repressive drug policies drive devastating harms, more so than the drugs themselves. The consensus-based UN drugs debate has led to the unfortunate recycling of failed and flawed rhetoric that must be called out. Governments would do well to reflect on the evidence before them from the UN system as well as civil society.

To read full IDPC statement follow this link>>>

UN Agencies endorsed decriminalisation of people who use drugs-test

The Chief Executives Board of the UN, representing 31 UN agencies, has adopted a common position on drug policy that endorses decriminalisation of possession and use. A new position statement on drug policy from the United Nations Chief Executives Board (CEB), chaired by the UN Secretary General and representing 31 UN agencies, has expressed strong and unanimous support for the decriminalisation of possession and use of drugs. The statement calls on member states to “promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use”.

While a number of UN agencies have made similar calls in the past, this CEB statement means it is now the common position for the entire UN family of agencies. Crucially, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime – the lead UN agency on drug policy – has also endorsed the position; finally clarifying their previously ambiguous position on decriminalisation.

The statement also supports the development and implementation of policies that put people, health and human rights at the centre, by providing a scientific evidence-based, available, accessible and affordable recovery-oriented continuum of care based upon prevention, treatment and support.

It welcomes and significant step towards ‘system wide coherence’ within the UN system on drug policy. This has been a key call of civil society groups long frustrated by the lack of coherence across the UN and the marginalisation of health, rights and development agendas by UN drug agencies whose historic orientation has been towards punishment, law enforcement and eradication.

The statement is especially important as it comes in the run-up to a ministerial-level meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week, which will review the 10-year UN global drug strategy and agree plans for the next one. The utopian goal to achieve a drug free world by 2019 was obviously not realistic and possible with outdated strategies and approaches. It will be interesting to see if a new approach will be taken.

To read full report from the meeting, including the position statement on drug policy, follow this link>>>>

UN Agencies endorsed decriminalisation of people who use drugs

The Chief Executives Board of the UN, representing 31 UN agencies, has adopted a common position on drug policy that endorses decriminalisation of possession and use. A new position statement on drug policy from the United Nations Chief Executives Board (CEB), chaired by the UN Secretary General and representing 31 UN agencies, has expressed strong and unanimous support for the decriminalisation of possession and use of drugs. The statement calls on member states to “promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use”.

While a number of UN agencies have made similar calls in the past, this CEB statement means it is now the common position for the entire UN family of agencies. Crucially, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime – the lead UN agency on drug policy – has also endorsed the position; finally clarifying their previously ambiguous position on decriminalisation.

The statement also supports the development and implementation of policies that put people, health and human rights at the centre, by providing a scientific evidence-based, available, accessible and affordable recovery-oriented continuum of care based upon prevention, treatment and support.

It welcomes and significant step towards ‘system wide coherence’ within the UN system on drug policy. This has been a key call of civil society groups long frustrated by the lack of coherence across the UN and the marginalisation of health, rights and development agendas by UN drug agencies whose historic orientation has been towards punishment, law enforcement and eradication.

The statement is especially important as it comes in the run-up to a ministerial-level meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this week, which will review the 10-year UN global drug strategy and agree plans for the next one. The utopian goal to achieve a drug free world by 2019 was obviously not realistic and possible with outdated strategies and approaches. It will be interesting to see if a new approach will be taken.

To read full report from the meeting, including the position statement on drug policy, follow this link>>>>

The lost decade in the global war on drugs

For the last three months, the IDPC Secretariat (with the invaluable support of the network), has been preparing a landmark report in advance of the 2019 UN Ministerial Segment. “Taking stock: A decade of drug policy” is launched on 22 October 2018.

This shadow report is, and will probably remain, the only comprehensive evaluation of the soon-to-expire 10-year UN Political Declaration and Plan of Action on drugs, which was adopted in 2009. The report unpacks the lack of progress towards the achievement of the so-called “drug-free world” targets – and sheds light on the catastrophic impacts on human rights, public health, security and development.

The report, Taking stock: A decade of drug policy – A civil society shadow report is a response by IDPC and its 174 NGO network to the failure by governments and the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime to comprehensively evaluate the 10-year plan based on a discredited ‘war on drugs’ approach that continues to generate a catastrophic impact on health, human rights, security and development, while not even remotely reducing the global supply of illegal drugs.

Using wide-ranging data from UN, government, academic and civil society sources, the report from the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) shows that this UN goal has been spectacularly missed.

Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, states in the report: “What we learn from the shadow report is compelling. Since governments started collecting data on drugs in the 1990s, the cultivation, consumption and illegal trafficking of drugs have reached record levels. Moreover, current drug policies are a serious obstacle to other social and economic objectives… and the “war on drugs” has resulted in millions of people murdered, disappeared, or internally displaced.

  • A 145% increase in drug-related deaths over the last decade, totalling a harrowing 450,000 deaths per year in 2015.
  • At least 3,940 people executed for a drug offence over the last decade, with 33 jurisdictions retaining the death penalty for drug offences in violation of international standards.
  • Around 27,000 extrajudicial killings in drug crackdowns in the Philippines.
  • More than 71,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2017 alone.
  • A global pain epidemic, resulting from restrictions in access to controlled medicines, which have left 75% of the world’s population without proper access to pain relief.
  • Mass incarceration fuelled by the criminalisation of people who use drugs – with 1 in 5 prisoners incarcerated for drug offences, mostly for possession for personal use.

To read full report follow this link>>>>

UN agencies statement on ending discrimination in health care settings

Discrimination in health care settings is widespread across the world and takes many forms. It violates the most fundamental human rights protected in international treaties and in national laws and constitutions. People we work for and with experience it very often.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had issues a Joint United Nations statement, signed by 12 UN agencies, on ending discrimination in health care settings. Recognizing that discrimination in health care settings is a major barrier to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations entities commit to working together to support Member States in taking coordinated multisectoral action to eliminate discrimination in health care settings.

The Statement is available at http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/ending-discrimination-healthcare-settings_en.pdf.

Among a number of measures, the statement called for the “reviewing and repealing punitive laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes” by member states, which includes “drug use or possession of drugs for personal use”.

The DPNSEE Office, in cooperation with SUPRAM – The Association of Lawyers for Medical and Health Law of Serbia, analysed the situation in the country and prepared a document which highlights some of the basic international documents and national legislation on discrimination, especially in the area of health care. Those who can understand Serbian can download the document presenting the situation following this link. We are in communication with our member organisations in Serbia, with the idea to make a public event to present the Statement and the document produced and call for full respect of the legislation and fight against discrimination. For this, we plan to partner with The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality and UN representatives in the country.

For others, we prepared the set of excerpts from the international documents which is in another document. Please feel free to have a look at the document linked here and if you think you can start a similar campaign like we plan for Serbia, analyse your national legislation which deals with discrimination, access to health and social care, quality of health protection, patients’ safety as well as strategies in these areas. Should you need any support, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

The Diamond CND Session

Sixtieth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was held in Vienna, Austria from 13-17 March 2017. It has been a session with the record number of participants and side events. Around 100 side events and numerous exhibitions were held during the session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which was attended by more than 1,500 people representing Member States, civil society, academia and international organizations.

The main topic of the discussions at the CND was focused on the implementation of last year’s UNGASS outcome document and planning for the upcoming review of the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action in 2019.

A resolution by countries in Eastern Europe directed to promote community, family and school-based prevention approaches and strategies was adopted. The resolution took an extensive standpoint on prevention, including the role of risk factors, the importance of families and communities in prevention and the need for culturally fitting, multi-component interventions to prevent drug use.

After the discussion at the plenary the Member States decided to schedule a number of New Psychoactive Substances and some precursors that are used in the production of the opioid Fentanyl, which caused a large number of overdoses in the USA and Eastern Europe in recent years.

Among other things discussed were a resolution to prevent HIV /AIDS and other blood borne diseases, principles for Alternative Development and the harms of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS).

Drug Policy Network South East Europe was first time present at the UN premises in Vienna, formally as part of the Diogenis delegation, supported by the EU project. It was a good opportunity to network with our peers from civil society organisations (including preparatory meeting organized by the IDPC and VNGOC meeting), to meet with representatives of the formal national delegations (Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, among others), and to hear a lot of good experiences at the side events.

Youth activists from member organizations of the DPNSEE, HOPS from Macedonia and Re Generation from Serbia, had presentations in the side event organized by the Youth Organisations for Drug Action (YODA) and Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe in the first year that YODA was present with the ECOSOC status. Side event was focused on the topic related to “Protecting the rights of young people in the areas related to drugs and drug policy, under international regulations” with aim of highlighting the real difficulties young people face under current drug policies.

A good insight in the Commission meeting can be found at the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) blog.