The impact of drug policy on human rights is gaining attention worldwide. The violence linked to trafficking worsens while prisons strain at the seams due to the prohibitionist approach toward drugs that targets minor players for prosecution. At the same time, the problem´s health and social ramifications are largely ignored. In this context, the UN General Assembly´s Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) in 2016 represents a crucial opportunity to explore new approaches and center the global debate on the respect for human rights. CELS and many other groups are working toward this, and drug policy is being actively discussed in forums such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Last Friday, the OAS held its first-ever Special General Assembly to analyze the impact of the global drug problem on the region. The Assembly passed a resolution reinforcing that this problem must be addressed from a broad human rights perspective. The resolution also calls on States to assess the results of innovative policies in the region, such as those of Uruguay; it requests that the organization´s Committee on Hemispheric Security investigate the structural causes that contribute to violence and crime; and it proposes that the resolution itself serve as a contribution to the UNGASS in 2016.

The document also references a resolution presented by Argentina and Uruguay and adopted by the OAS General Assembly in June, which specifically addressed the need to promote and protect human rights while working toward new, effective policy solutions to the drug problem in the region. In this resolution, the General Assembly underscored the important role that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) can play on the issue of drug policy.

Now the region must broaden this debate and take action to contribute to meaningful reform. Countries should rethink policy objectives and current norms, working to reduce violence and militarization while also strengthening public health responses. Latin America has suffered the consequences of the failed “War on Drugs” in the last 50 years, and the region´s experiences must inform the global debate.

At the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday, Argentina and 15 other countries from various regions made a statement urging the body to take a leading role in preparations for the UNGASS. “It is important to analyze the different dimensions of the issue beyond the traditional approach, which still relies heavily on the reduction of drug demand and supply through prohibition, law enforcement and criminal justice,” the countries stated, emphasizing the "pressing need to take into account a human rights and public health approach.”

The process leading up to the UNGASS represents a unique opportunity to reflect on the existing model, evaluate its successes and failures, and propose new strategies or alternatives. The ongoing debate on drug policy must be expanded, incorporating other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, scholars and scientists to discuss profound changes and insist upon a human rights focus. Latin American countries are playing a key role in promoting this debate and should continue supporting efforts to reassess policies rooted in criminal prosecution. Human rights groups from the region have participated constructively in these discussions and will keep working to reduce the damage done under the current, misguided approach.

Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert