With the next UNGASS looming, Damon Barrett details the widespread human rights violations that stem from the War on Drugs and argues they are systemic and the shared responsibility of all governments. He suggests that only by acknowledging and discussing these violations at an international level can there ever be any hope of addressing them.
Over the years, there has been a real evolution in my thinking about human rights and the War on Drugs. In the beginning, it was about the sheer scale of the abuse in the context of drug control. Later, it was the systemic nature of that abuse and how the international regime fuelled it. But now, while these two ways of looking at the human rights dimensions of the War on Drugs remain entirely valid, I see something wider, affecting human rights itself. Others have no doubt reached these conclusions before me, but with UNGASS approaching, it seemed a good time to set them out.
It’s now trite to say this, but the human rights abuses committed in the War on Drugs are shockingly common, widespread and serious. For example (and I mean for example) this year, two or three people on average will be executed daily for drug offences. Billions of people, four-fifths of the world population, lack access to opiates for the relief of pain. These are people with cancer, late-stage AIDS, injuries from accidents and so on.
A lot of factors contribute to this, but everybody is clear that drug laws and a pathological concern with opiate addiction play a major role. Global HIV targets will be missed by decades at current rates because of ideological resistance to harm-reduction interventions and because much-needed resources are squandered on drug enforcement.
Hundreds of thousands of people are arbitrarily detained in drug detention centres, facing unbelievable abuses once inside. Hundreds of thousands more, if not millions, are displaced due to drug-related violence and crop eradication campaigns. It is truly frightening to think how many people, how many families, are now saddled with unnecessary criminal records for minor infractions of drug laws, with all the limitations this places on life chances.
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