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14/03/2008 00:00:00

NGOs Slam UN Drug Bureaucracies, Demand Compliance With UN Charter

Using the annual meeting of the United Nation's Commission on Narcotic
Drugs (CND) in Vienna as a springboard, an international consortium of
drug policy, harm reduction, and human rights groups Monday slammed the
UN drug bureaucracies for ignoring numerous, widespread human rights
abuses perpetrated in the name of global drug prohibition. The UN must
stand up for human rights in the drug control regime, the groups said.

The charge was made in a report released the same day,
"Recalibrating the Regime: The Need for a Human Rights-Based Approach to
International Drug Policy," endorsed jointly by Human Rights Watch, the
International Harm Reduction Association, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal
Network, and the Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Program. It was
presented this week in Vienna during a discussion of the worldwide human
rights impact of the drug war conducted as part of a series of events
countering the official CND meeting.

The CND, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the UN
Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), are the three UN entities charged
with enforcing global drug prohibition as enshrined in the 1961 Single
Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its two successor treaties. The CND was
meeting this week to review whether the UN had met its 1998 10-year goal
to achieve "measurable results" in the fight against drugs, including a
"significant reduction" in the cultivation of cannabis, coca, and opium.

The Monday report cites murderous campaigns against drug suspects in
Thailand in 2003 -- and the prospect of a repeat of that deadly drug war
by the new Thai government -- the violent police campaign against drug
dealers (and innocent bystanders) in Brazil, the grotesque Chinese habit
of celebrating the UN's international anti-drug day by executing
convicted drug offenders, the resort to the death penalty for drug
offenders in more than 60 countries, the mass incarceration of drug
offenders and the racially discriminatory enforcement of drug laws in
places like the United States, and much, much, more as evidence that
human rights comes in a distant second to the prerogatives of drug

In the face of this litany of human rights abuses in the name of
enforcing drug prohibition, the UN agencies have remained so quiet as to
be almost "complicit" in them, the report argues. There has been "little
engagement" with this issue by the CND, the INCB, the UNODC -- or even
the UN's human rights treaties bodies, the report said.
"The UN General Assembly has stated repeatedly in resolutions that drug
control must be carried out in full conformity with, and full respect
for, all human rights and fundamental freedoms," said Mike Trace of the
Beckley Foundation, which commissioned the report. "Delegations to this
week's meeting must ensure that their obligations under international
human rights law underpin all CND deliberations and actions."

"Despite the primacy of human rights obligations under the UN Charter,
the approach of the UN system and the wider international community to
addressing the tensions between drug control and human rights remains
ambiguous," said Richard Elliott of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
"This is inexcusable in the face of the egregious human rights abuses
perpetrated in the course of enforcing drug prohibition, which in turn
damages global efforts to prevent and treat HIV."

"Last week, INCB President Philip Emafo stated in the board's 2008
annual report that 'To do nothing [about drugs] is not an option'," said
Rick Lines of the International Harm Reduction Association. "We are here
today to state clearly that doing nothing about the human rights abuses
perpetrated in the name of the drug war is also not an option. In this,
the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
CND member states and indeed the entire UN family must speak out clearly
that human rights must not be sacrificed on the altar of drug control."

The new Thai government's repeated comments that it intends to go back
to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's murderous drug war of
2003, in which some 2,800 were killed, aroused particular concern among
the groups.

"As the UNODC has acknowledged, there are proven methods to address drug
use while protecting human rights. Murder is not one of them," said
Rebecca Schleifer, advocate with the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program
at Human Rights Watch. "As a member of the CND, Thailand must be held to
account for its actions on drugs, and pressure brought by the
international community to ensure that human rights violations are not

The Thai may be feeling the pressure. At the Monday afternoon "side
session" organized by the groups, not one but three officials from the
Thai government attended, all of them expressing the view that policies
have "good effects and bad," and inviting advocates to provide
information to help them improve policies. Time will tell whether it was
a serious offer and whether they can influence their government in a
positive direction if so.

Monday's report was only part of a broader onslaught directed at the UN
anti-drug bureaucracies and their seeming disdain for human rights. Last
week, in the wake of the release of the INCB's 2007 Annual Report, which
called for "proportionality" in the enforcement of drug laws at the same
time it called for criminalizing millions of people who chew coca leaf,
that organization was critiqued in a response by the International Drug
Policy Consortium, a global network of national and international groups
specializing in issues relating to drug use, legal or illegal.

While the consortium congratulated the INCB for its call for
proportionality and a slight retreat in its resistance to harm
reduction, it warned that such good news "will be rendered meaningless
if the Board does not consistently reflect these principles in its
ongoing work with national governments and other UN agencies."

The consortium also harshly criticized the INCB for its call for the
banning of the growing and consumption of coca. "Of greater concern is
the continuing intransigence shown towards the issue of indigenous use
of coca products in Bolivia," the consortium's response said. "Where
there is an unresolved inconsistency within the drug control
conventions, and between drug control and other international
obligations and treaties, the role of the INCB should be to highlight
these dilemmas and help governments to find a resolution, instead of
issuing rigid and non-universal declarations."

The British drug charity DrugScope, a member of the consortium, called
on the INCB to do more. "Drug users are vilified and marginalized
worldwide," said Harry Shapiro, the group's director of communications.
"Some nations feel that any action against them is justified, including
murder. We are encouraged that the INCB recognizes this is unacceptable
and that a balance must be struck between the enforcement of drug laws
and the human rights and civil liberties of those with serious problems."

The INCB must match its actions to its words, Shapiro said. "But
DrugScope and the International Drug Policy Consortium feel that the
INCB, from their position of international authority, must follow their
condemnation of human rights abuses through to its logical conclusion,
The INCB must offer public criticism of particular countries with the
worst human rights record in this area."

Instead of UN anti-drug agencies sticking up for human rights, they have
now become the objects of criticism themselves. The official
international prohibitionist drug policy consensus may be holding at the
UN, but it is clearly fraying, and civil society is no longer willing to
sit quietly in the face of injustice, whether in Bangkok or Baltimore,
Rio or Russia.

Author: Drug War Chronicle via UKCIA

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