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Human Rights Council holds panel discussion on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON

28 September 2015

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a panel discussion on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights. 

Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening remarks, referred to the first comprehensive report of the High Commissioner on the impact of the world drug problem on human rights, which addressed five main areas: the right to health, rights relating to criminal justice, the prohibition of discrimination, in particular against ethnic minorities and women, the rights of the child, and the rights of indigenous peoples.  

Ruth Dreifuss, former President of the Swiss Confederation and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and panel moderator, said that the aim of the panel was to understand whether the international conventions in this area were being implemented, and the role of adopted policies in the area.  Some countries had adopted measures which, because they fell short of respect for human rights, failed to provide health and social benefits for the population. 

Javier Andres Florez, Director of Drug Policy of the Ministry of Justice of Colombia, said nothing could justify stigmatization and exclusion of drug users, discrimination against minorities, torture or the death penalty.  Drug policies should not be assessed on their good intentions, but on their effectiveness.  The devastating effect of drug trafficking in Colombia had also stoked armed conflict and had sapped resources which could have otherwise been invested into health, education and development. 

Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, said it was deeply concerning that certain States executed drug offenders in ever-increasing numbers.  The negative impact of the criminalization of drug use also continued to be of grave concern.  The fear of criminal sanctions drove people using drugs away from lifesaving harm reduction services, leading to avoidable infection and premature deaths.  The burden of highly disproportionate sentences for drug offences had largely been borne by vulnerable groups, including women and racial or ethnic minorities. 

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Deputy Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, and Commissioner on the West African Commission on Drugs, highlighted the macro-economic impact of drug production on society and alternative illegal crop production by farmers, as well as the impact on the rights of individuals.  The majority of those who produced drugs were poor and did not become rich due to that production, while those who used drugs were socially stigmatized, of low income and from bad family environment. 

Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization, said that drug users and people with drug use disorders experienced discrimination in accessing appropriate health care services, due to lack of adequate treatment, the significant stigma they faced, prejudices, non-professionalism of medical health, and general lack of information and training on meeting their healthcare needs and rights.  Drug use disorders were health conditions and people affected by them should not be punished.

Aldo Lale-Demoz, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said there was a need to recognize that drug use and related complications were public health issues that had to be addressed by qualified and trained personnel.  Imprisonment in these cases was ineffective, it led to prison overcrowding, and exacerbated the transmission of HIV and other diseases.  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime promoted the free provision of legal advice, the rational use of controlled medicines and opposed the death penalty in all circumstances. 

Arthayudh Srisamoot, Ambassador of Thailand to the United Nations Office in Vienna and Chairperson of the fifty-eighth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, said that at its most recent session in March 2015, the Commission emphasized the importance of human rights on various topics, such as evidence-based treatment and care for children with substance use disorders, equality and reliability of drug analysis results, as well as alternative development.  It was the responsibility of the international community to address the lack of access to medicines for pain relief in many countries. 

During the discussion, speakers noted the negative impact of drugs and drug trafficking on public health, safety and security, but underlined the necessity to combat drugs through a comprehensive and human rights-based approach that protected victims and drug users’ rights to health, non-discrimination and access to justice.  Some speakers firmly condemned the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses, and expressed support for alternative sentences to detention, while others defended the necessity of tough repression policies to address the drug problem.  Speakers welcomed the holding of a General Assembly Special Session on this issue, and emphasized the importance of international cooperation.  Some speakers raised the need to create a Special Procedure mandate on the issue of the world drugs problem and human rights.

Speaking were Switzerland on behalf of 16 countries, Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Arab Group, European Union, Ecuador on behalf of the Community of Latin-American and Caribbean Countries, Uruguay on behalf of the Union of South American Nations, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Algeria on behalf of the African Group, Colombia on behalf of a group of States, Portugal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Mexico, Australia, France, Egypt, Council of Europe, Paraguay, Tunisia, Kirghizstan, Austria, Nicaragua, India, Sweden, China, Bolivia, UNAIDS, Albania, Greece and El Salvador. 

Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Harm Reduction Association in a joint statement, Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Genero, Penal Reform International, Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, and International Educational Development.  

The Human Rights Council is having a full-day of work today from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.  At 6 p.m., it will conclude its general debate on follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, followed by a general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

Opening Statement

FLAVIA PANSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, referred to the first comprehensive report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the impact of the world drug problem on human rights.  The report addressed the impact of the world drug problem in five main areas: the right to health, rights relating to criminal justice, the prohibition of discrimination, in particular against ethnic minorities and women, the rights of the child and the rights of indigenous peoples.  Access to essential controlled medicines was far too limited, particularly in developing countries.  It was often restricted for fear that they would be diverted from legitimate medical use to illicit purposes.  The Special Rapporteur on the right to health had already called for decriminalization of the possession and use of drugs in his 2010 report to the Council, whereas the World Health Organization and UNAIDS had taken similar positions.  That was because criminalization of possession and use had been shown to cause significant obstacles to the right to health.  As for criminal justice, it was estimated that 33 countries or territories continued to impose the death penalty for drug-related offences, resulting in approximately 1,000 executions annually.  In some States, drug-related offences accounted for the majority of executions carried out.  However, according to the findings of the Human Rights Committee, the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on torture, drug-related offences did not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes.”

In some States, convictions for drug-related offences resulted in disproportionately harsh sentences for relatively minor offences, and adversely affected a range of rights or entitlement to benefits, including custody of children or visitation rights, access to public housing, food assistance, student financial aid, or eligibility for certain types of employment.  Consideration should be given to alternatives to prosecution and imprisonment of persons for minor, non-violent, drug-related offences.  Ethnic minorities and women could be particularly subject to discrimination in law enforcement efforts, particularly for the use or possession of drugs or for their role as “micro-distributors.”  Children should not be subject to criminal prosecution.  Instead, responses should focus on health and education, treatment, including harm reduction measures, and social re-integration.  As for indigenous peoples, they had the right to follow their traditional, cultural and religious practices, and where drug use was part of these practices, it should in principle be permitted.  Ms. Pansieri expressed hope that human rights would be addressed in a constructive and specific manner in order to address human rights violations relating to the world drug problem, and to ensure that the protection of human rights was better integrated into State law and practice in the future.

Statements by the Panel Moderator and the Panellists

RUTH DREIFUSS, former President of the Swiss Confederation and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and panel moderator, said that this event placed an emphasis on developing a far-reaching cooperation within the United Nations family and analysing the complexity of drug use.  The aim of the panel was to understand whether the international conventions in this area were being implemented, and the role of adopted policies in the area.  The contribution of the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would allow the setting up of a general framework to provide consistency and show the path towards greater consistency and effectiveness of those policies.  This was important because some countries had adopted measures which, because they fell short of respect for human rights, failed to provide health and social benefits for the population.  Also, by now, it was obvious that national and international drug policies could have unintended consequences.  The High Commissioner’s report drew attention to the consequences of drug use on the most vulnerable, including women and children.

JAVIER ANDRES FLOREZ, Director of Drug Policy of the Ministry of Justice of Colombia, welcomed the study by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the unwanted consequences of the use of drug policies.  In the name of the fight against drugs, numerous rights had been violated, and yet nothing could justify stigmatization and exclusion of drug users, discrimination against minorities, torture or the death penalty.  Drug policies should not be assessed on their good intentions, but on their effectiveness.  Colombia found it unacceptable for hundreds of thousands of individuals to languish in prisons on life sentences or even death sentences for drug-related crimes, or that forced labour was imposed on drug users.  The consequences of punitive measures on women and children could not be over-estimated.  The devastating effect of drug trafficking in Colombia had also stoked the armed conflict and had sapped resources which could have otherwise been invested into health, education and development.  Internationally, Colombia had proposed an agenda for the protection of rights and freedoms, aiming to eliminate the death penalty, decriminalize drug use, adopt harm reduction measures, and implement alternative measures to detention.  It was important to recognize in the fight against drugs that the international system could not continue with using the same guidelines to address different realities; the problems had changed and it was not possible to use a universal approach with a focus on punishment.  Public health, development and human rights could not be placed on the side lines in the fight against drugs.

ANN FORDHAM, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, said the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs would be an important opportunity to have an open and honest debate regarding the challenges and shortcomings of the global response to drug control, and to acknowledge the widespread and devastating consequences of punitive laws and repressive law enforcement practices on human rights.  It was encouraging that the links between drug policies and human rights were being increasingly addressed within the United Nations.  It was deeply concerning that the right to life was frequently compromised by aggressive supply reduction activities that led to death sentences for drug offenders.  The death penalty may under international law only be applied for the most serious crimes, and drug offences did not fall into this category.  A number of States nevertheless executed drug offenders in ever-increasing numbers, while others had sought to reintroduce capital punishment for drug crimes.  There were also serious concerns about extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions carried out in the name of drug control efforts.  The negative impact of the criminalization of drug use also continued to be of grave concern.  Individuals had a right to access lifesaving health services without fear of punishment or discrimination.  But the fear of criminal sanctions drove people using drugs away from lifesaving harm reduction services, leading to avoidable infection and premature death from HIV and Hepatitis C.  Such criminalization also served to justify harsh measures, including torture against drug users, denial of due process and compulsory drug detention centres for the supposed treatment and rehabilitation of people who used drugs.  Finally, the burden of highly disproportionate sentences for drug offences had largely been borne by vulnerable groups, including women and racial or ethnic minorities.  Incarceration fuelled poverty and social exclusion.  The Council should create a Special Procedure on drug policies and human rights, and mandate other Special Procedures to produce a comprehensive joint report on the impacts of drug policies on their mandate.

MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU, Deputy Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, and Commissioner on the West African Commission on Drugs, explained that drug policies were generally lacking in most areas and were not as elaborate as they should be.  Drug-related issues were understudied and there were new patterns of complexity, which called for more research and efficiency.  Whereas previous initiatives focused on the external perspective of drug demand and neglected the local market demand, the West African Commission on Drugs launched in 2012 took into account the local demand.  Mr. Ould Mohamedou highlighted the macro-economic impact of drug production on society and alternative illegal crop production by farmers, as well as the impact on the rights of individuals.  The majority of those who produced drugs were poor and did not become rich due to that production.  Such situation entailed the question of employment.  Those who used drugs were socially stigmatized, of low income and from bad family environment.  Drug policies focusing on wide arrests and harsh sentences exacerbated the issue and drove offenders further to the margins of the society.  For example, female drug users were forced into abortion, whereas indigenous communities also suffered from misguided drug policies.  Disregard for human rights had led to worse drug policies when in fact more intelligent policies were needed, Mr. Ould Mohamedou concluded.

SHEKHAR SAXENA, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization, said that drug users and people with drug use disorders experienced discrimination in accessing appropriate health care services, due to the lack of adequate treatment, the significant stigma they faced, prejudices, non-professionalism of medical health, and general lack of information and training on meeting their healthcare needs and rights.  Drug use disorders were health conditions associated with substantial mortality, morbidity and social problems, and were both preventable and treatable.  Harm reduction interventions such as needle exchange programmes for injecting drug users or outreach prevention services had proven to be effective in the prevention of drug-related blood-borne infections.  People with drug dependence should not be punished for their drug-taking behaviour, which was a result of their disease, and as such should not be treated as a criminal behaviour and result in criminal sanctions and imprisonment.  Female drug users often failed to receive appropriate care and support for their drug use disorder, in particular during pregnancy, because of stigma, lack of timely referrals and often discriminatory attitudes of health professionals and societies at large.  It was sometimes said that the United Nations drug conventions were an obstacle to achieving the right to health; their ultimate goal was to protect the health and welfare of the humankind and there was nothing in those conventions that requested Member States to introduce policies that violated human rights of public health.  The conventions envisaged the use of public health measures to reduce the health and social harm due to drug use.  In conclusion, Mr. Saxena stressed that just because a person was a drug user or had a drug use disorder, the person should not lose the right to health and the right to appropriate, timely and effective health care.

ALDO LALE-DEMOZ, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said there was a need to recognize that drug use and related complications were public health issues that had to be addressed by qualified and trained personnel.  Drug use required treatment, not punishment that led to violations of the drug users right to health.  Member States should use alternatives to imprisonment for drug-related offenses of a non-violent nature.  Imprisonment in these cases was ineffective, it led to prison overcrowding, and exacerbated the transmission of HIV and other diseases.  Alternatives to detention increased recovery and reduced recidivism.  Attention had to be paid to the particular vulnerability of women drug offenders.  Women in prison for drug-related offenses were often those recruited or coerced to perform low-level and high risk tasks.  The use of alternatives were particularly appropriate for women charged with minor drug-related offenses.  Explicit measures were also required to protect children from the illicit use of drugs and to prevent the use of children in illicit drug production and trafficking.  More protection among the health, child protection and justice systems were still required to promote the rights of children with substance abuse problems.  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime also promoted the free provision of legal advice to those who had no means to afford their criminal defence, as well as the rational use of controlled medicines that was essential to the relief of pain related to health conditions.  Finally, it opposed the death penalty in all circumstances and encouraged every country to join a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

ARTHAYUDH SRISAMOOT, Ambassador of Thailand to the United Nations Office in Vienna and Chairperson of the fifty-eighth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, said that full compliance with human rights law and with the international drug control framework went hand in hand.  At its most recent session in March 2015, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs emphasized the importance of human rights in a number of resolutions on various topics, such as evidence-based treatment and care for children and young people with substance use disorders, the equality and reliability of drug analysis results, as well as alternative development.  Respect for human rights was rightly identified as one of the cross-cutting issues in preparations for the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Drugs, which included drugs and human rights, youth, women, children and communities.  The health and welfare of mankind should be protected against risks associated with drug use through the implementation of scientific-based and health-oriented prevention, treatment, social rehabilitation and reintegration programmes.  It was necessary to ensure access to treatment for people who used drugs, including those in prisons.  Children were to be protected from the illicit use of drugs and psychotic substances, and they should not be used in the illicit production and trafficking of drugs.  It was also the responsibility of the international community to address the situation in which three quarters of the world’s population lived in countries where access to medicines for pain relief was low or non-existent.  Drug-related organized criminal activities and violence undermined legitimate economies, stability and security of people, Mr. Srisamoot concluded.

Discussion

Switzerland, speaking on behalf of 16 countries, said the question of the right to health was key and had to be guaranteed by the States for all without discrimination, including drug users, and underlined that public health strategies led to reduced HIV transmissions.  Saudi Arabia, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, underlined the negative impact of drugs and drug trafficking on peace, human rights, stability and security.  European Union said the absolute priority was the universal abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances, including for drug-related crimes, and underlined the importance of ensuring access to health services, including safe and affordable medicines, for drug users.  Ecuador, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, welcomed the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs and called for strengthened international cooperation to address the issue of drug-related crimes.  Uruguay, speaking on behalf of the Union of South American Nations, said drug policies should respect all human rights, including access to health and justice and the principle of non-discrimination, and underlined the importance of proportionality, alternatives to imprisonment and the abolition of the death penalty.

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, stated that the world drug problem constituted a challenge to safety, national security, the health and well-being of populations, socio-economic and political stability and sustainable development, especially because of the illicit activities of criminal organizations connected to it.  Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, stated that drugs remained a problem for the African continent, which was a major drug transit.  African countries were increasingly concerned about the interconnectedness between the narcotics traffic, organized crime and terrorism.  Colombia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, stated that in dealing with the drugs problem, policies should focus on the rights of individuals and their access to treatment and social services.  The death penalty for drug-related crimes should be abolished.  Portugal stated that drug use was harmful, but that the means to counter it were not equally effective, proportionate and legitimate.  It therefore opposed the death penalty in all cases and under all circumstances.  Sierra Leone stated that it was identified as one of the major of gateways in West Africa for cocaine trafficking, and due to the fact that traffickers were paid in drugs, there was an increased cocaine use.

Singapore said it was situated close to the Gold Triangle region, and reiterated its commitment to adopt a zero tolerance approach, with the use of the death penalty as an efficient deterrent for drug trafficking, and with a view to respect the rights of all, including drug abusers.  Mexico underlined the importance of addressing the drug problem through a holistic and human-rights based approach, as well as of balancing the rights of all, including drug offenders.

International Lesbian and Gay Association, in a joint statement with, International Service for Human Rights, highlighted the vulnerability of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and particularly trans-women to drug related problems; they faced discrimination leading to lack of access to health services because States failed to recognize their gender identity.  International Harm Reduction Association, in a joint statement, said people who injected drugs had a much higher risk of contracting HIV, and regretted that efforts did not focus on the protection of drug users and their access to health.  Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Genero, in a joint statement with, International Service for Human Rights; Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales; Intercambios Asociación Civil; and Washington Office on Latin America; Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, Asociación Civil; and Harm Reduction International, noted that drug control policies could lead to brutal outcomes and highlighted the particular vulnerability of women, children, indigenous people and human rights defenders, and supported calls for this issue to remain at the Council’s agenda, including through the creation of a new mandate.

Response by the Moderator and Panellists
 
RUTH DREIFUSS, former President of the Swiss Confederation and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and panel moderator, said that certain speakers had underlined regional differences when it came to designing drug policies.  All countries were part of a chain in drug production and usage and thus shared responsibility.  The African region, for example, had also become a consumer region.  The world was, nonetheless, facing a situation with some regional nuances and differences.   Ms. Dreifuss supported a scientific approach on the effect of drugs on individuals.  The United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in six months would certainly be a consequential event.

ANDRES FLOREZ, Director of Drug Policy of the Ministry of Justice of Colombia, said that Colombia had done a lot to prepare for the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, which had been proposed by the Colombian President with partners.  Future challenges could lead to different approaches.  Colombia had decided to spearhead the process in the Latin American region and had decided to work in as many international fora as it possibly could.  The authorities had consulted a wide range of stakeholders with an interest in redefining the drug policy.  An evidence-based public policy on drugs was something that Colombia was supporting.

ANN FORDHAM, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, stated that it was crucial to ensure that the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs was an open debate that would consider all options.  Member States should be open about challenges, processes and different paths to follow.  It was also important that different parts of the United Nations system made their voices heard.  Civil society taskforces would play an important role in collating opinions of the civil society worldwide.  Ways needed to be found to have stakeholders meaningfully engaged.

MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU, Deputy Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, and Commissioner on the West African Commission on Drugs, said on engaging with West African region that it would be important to avoid the militarization of drug policy, and balance the need for security and public health considerations, particularly in the areas of harm reduction initiatives.  There was no need to reinvent the wheel.  Treating drug users as a public health issue and not as a criminal justice matter could be done and required again balancing between public health needs and security needs.

SHEKHAR SAXENA, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization, welcomed the emphasis in the discussion on the public health dimension of the drug problem and said that clear guidelines were needed on how to assist individual States.  The Executive Board of the World Health Organization had accepted to deliberate the world drug problem in January 2016, and Member States should participate.

ALDO LALE-DEMOZ, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, stressed the need to ensure that care was given to users, alternatives to incarceration should be provided, as well as free legal assistance to drug users. Further, powers should be given to judges to rule on the basis of extenuating circumstances.

Discussion
 
Australia said that more could be done to remove barriers in accessing medical drugs, if there was the political will for it.  Persons convicted of drug offences should not be punished by the death penalty.  France said that the scourge of drugs remained a major threat to the well-being of individuals and security.  The death penalty contributed nothing to the extermination of drugs, and addiction was an illness, not a delinquency.  Egypt said that the global drugs problem was a shared challenge.  The principles of cutting both supply and demand needed to be reinforced, while the sovereignty of States had to be respected.  Council of Europe said that the Pompidou Group was its main body fighting drug abuse.  Human rights had been brought to the forefront of the drug policy.  Was there evidence that different drugs policies could prevent undesirable situations?  Paraguay considered that the scourge of drugs was one of the key issues on the regional and global agenda.  The forthcoming Special Session of the General Assembly on Drugs would provide a great opportunity to define a holistic global response with people at its core.  Tunisia supported the integration of human rights in national and international responses to the drugs problem, which was a globally shared challenge.  The idea that illicit drugs could be consumed safely was dangerous.  The rights of drug addicts had to be protected.

Kyrgyzstan said it was implementing a comprehensive and a balanced approach to the drugs problem, focused on reducing the demand for drugs, the supply of drugs and harm reduction.  Austria said that more focus on science and evidence could assist in addressing critical issues without the ballast of ideological controversies and political disputes.  Nicaragua said that drugs continued to undermine its society, they gained ground with ever increasing impunity, and warned that the public health-human rights nexus must not lead the world to be more permissive in their approach to drug control.  India said it had a robust and effective legislative mechanism supported by targeted programmes to address the drug problem in the country, and a strong political will at the highest level to tackle the drug menace in a holistic and coordinated manner.  Sweden asked how to ensure in the United Nations General Assembly Special Session process that drug policies were formulated in close cooperation with those affected, and how the important element of prevention could be integrated.  China stressed that the international community should maintain the identity of the current drug-control regime and firmly oppose the legalization of drugs.

Penal Reform International said that the enforcement of overly punitive laws for drug offences had not proven effective in curbing the production, trafficking and consumption of illicit substances.  Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, Asociación Civil regretted that there was minimal acceptance in Mexico to admit civil society participation in the discussion and preparation of drug-related policies, which favoured an aggressive military approach.  International Educational Development Inc, in a joint statement, voiced concern about the large number of executions for drug-related crimes in Iran, where more than 506 persons were executed in 2015 alone.

Bolivia stated that it was making a great deal of effort to strengthen its drug-related policies, on the basis of national sovereignty and without foreign interference, and taking into account the rights of indigenous peoples and their use of coca leaves.  UNAIDS said that more than 1.5 million people who injected drugs lived with HIV and it called for the decriminalization of drug use in order to reach out to abusers and provide them with the necessary health services.  Albania noted that the forthcoming discussion about the drug problem had to include an appropriate approach and accurate science-based information in order to prepare better and reality-based policies.

Greece said there should be an increased focus worldwide on public health,  prevention, treatment and care, as well as on economic, social and cultural strategies when it came to drug policies.  El Salvador stated that the discussion should focus on a common point in an open and transparent way in order to make a profound change in the current system.

Concluding Remarks

ANDRES FLOREZ, Director of Drug Policy of the Ministry of Justice of Colombia, answering the question posed by the delegation of Mexico, said that Colombia had made significant progress with regards to strengthening institutions.  There had been consistent policy-making in the country, leading to positive examples.

ANN FORDHAM, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, said that there was not enough time to discuss positive examples of criminal justice reforms in relation to drugs.  Ms. Fordham noted a study which had shown that drug use was largely irrelevant to the policy response, but it was known that harm and human rights violations of drug users could be managed by policy.  The global drug policy was heavily focused on harsh and punitive measures, so it was important for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs to ensure that the global drug response was solidly built on human rights, public health and development principles.  Further, the Special Session must ensure a system-wide coherence in the approach to drug use.

MOHAMMAD-MAHMOUD OULD MOHAMEDOU, Deputy Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, and Commissioner on the West African Commission on Drugs, said that drug trafficking networks in many regions had established footholds by exploiting already weakened governance systems, and overworked and weak justice systems.  The most difficult challenge was to balance between the sense of efficiency and the sense of justice, in order to achieve rights.

SHEKHAR SAXENA, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization, said that capacity-building workshops in India for health providers was a good example of dealing with drug users because it decreased the possibility of human rights violations.  People should receive evidence-based treatment.  Clean syringes would make a significant difference in the treatment of drug abuses.  Health-care prevention was extremely important in improving the living conditions of people, Mr. Saxena concluded.

ALDO LALE-DEMOZ, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, emphasized that access to medicines should be a major goal.  As for Iran, there was a new country programme towards prevention and harm reduction in prisons.  That programme was devised in cooperation with the Government of Iran and countries that had the best practices.

RUTH DREIFUSS, former President of the Swiss Confederation and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and panel moderator, noted that many delegations wished to assess measures to counter the drug problem.  Tangible measures with tangible outcomes were sought.  Importance had to be given to scientific evaluation and the scientific community had to be very closely involved in policy-making.  Likewise, the effects of those policies had to be measured because the current range of indicators was insufficient.  Pilot projects needed to be followed closely and carefully in order to see whether they could be more mindful of human rights.  The proportionality of sentences for drug-related crimes and limiting of contamination and spread of diseases among drug users also had to be closely monitored.  Flexibility and applicability of conventions in drug-related issues were therefore key to addressing the issue.  The participation of civil society was essential, especially of those who were directly involved, in order to allow for better implementation of human rights approaches in drug-related policies.  Drug policies had to be aligned with other policies and instruments of the United Nations.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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