On International Human Rights Day, UN drugs body silences UN human rights expert on ground-breaking report

From the IDPC and Harm Reduction International press release

In an unprecedented, last-minute decision, the lead UN drugs body has blocked the presentation of a report from a group of independent human rights experts that calls out governments for serious human rights abuses committed in the war on drugs.

The UN’s lead drug policy-making body has slammed the door on human rights expert Dr Elina Steinerte, Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who was due to present a watershed study on how drug control policies drive an epidemic of arbitrary detention across the world. She has been blocked from addressing the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs today, 10th December, which is coincidentally International Human Rights Day, and her statement has been merely published online. This last-minute decision, which led to a contentious exchange during the session, was reached through an opaque, closed-door process that kept the human rights experts in the dark about their exclusion until today.

The report sheds light on the arrest and incarceration of millions of people around the world for drug-related offences, including for drug use. People who use drugs are also routinely held against their will in so-called ‘rehab centres’, where they are often subject to degrading and inhumane treatment, including forced labour. With today’s decision, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs stands in defiance of the Human Rights Council – the main UN human rights body – which had asked human rights experts to produce the very same report that now has been stonewalled.

The move to block the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s presentation is particularly galling, given that it is happening on International Human Rights Day 2021, held under the themes of equality and non-discrimination. From stop and search practices to mass incarceration or the death penalty, evidence shows that repressive drug policies disproportionately target oppressed and marginalised people across the world, including racialised groups, Indigenous people, people living in poverty, women, and  LGBTQI+ people.

INCB message on Human Rights Day 2020

From the INCB press release

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has repeatedly expressed its concern over reports of grave human rights violations purportedly in furtherance of national drug control policies.

The Board reminds all States that the primary objective of the international drug control conventions is to safeguard the health and welfare of humankind, including respect for human rights.

INCB calls on States to adopt and pursue drug control policies that respect and protect human rights and that are consistent with international human rights instruments. Human rights are inherent and inalienable. The world drug problem cannot be lawfully addressed without ensuring the protection of human rights.

In addressing drug-related criminality, States must apply the principle of proportionality as a guiding principle in determining and applying criminal sanctions. The drug control conventions require governments to give special attention to the possibility of applying alternative measures to conviction, punishment and incarceration for drug-related offences, in appropriate cases of a minor nature, including education, rehabilitation or social reintegration, as well as, when the offender is affected by a drug disorder, treatment and aftercare.

Human Rights Day 2020 focuses on the need to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring that human rights are central to recovery efforts. The pandemic has affected patterns of drug use and drug trafficking, and also affected access to services for the treatment of people with drug use disorders. State parties to the drug control conventions are required to give special attention to and take all practicable measures for the prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons affected by drug use disorders. Such services should be accessible, evidence-based, free from discrimination and stigma and respect the human rights and dignity of clients.

Sustainable Development Goal 3 – to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages – entails, among other things, access to high-quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, high-quality and affordable essential medicines, including those medicines under international control, and strengthening the prevention and treatment of drug use disorders.

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INCB is the independent, quasi-judicial body charged with promoting and monitoring Government compliance with the three international drug control conventions.

 

Open letter to UNODC Executive Director

In an open letter, with the support from more than 100 civil society organisations, the International Drug Policy Network Consortium (IDPC) invited Ms Ghada Waly, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, to mark International Human Rights Day by calling on Member States to change drug policies and practices that violate human rights, and entrench exclusion and discrimination.

My Waly was invited to issue a strong statement that underlines UNODC’s commitment to rights-based drug policies, and calls for change in the laws and practices that threaten health and human rights. The 2020 International Human Rights Day, which will be held under the title ‘Recover better: Stand Up for Human Rights’, includes a thematic focus on the need ‘to apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination’. As such, it presents a key opportunity for UNODC to highlight its commitment to the promotion of drug policies that respect, protect, and fulfil human rights, in line with the UN System Common Position.

Drug Policy Network South East Europe is one of the civil society organisations which supported the letter.

To read the letter, follow this link>>>.