On 26th June, the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the INCB secretariat issued a press release focusing on this year’s theme: ‘Health for justice, justice for health’.

In its statement, the INCB raises concerns that ‘for many people affected by drug use and drug trafficking, justice remains elusive’, mentioning just a few of the many blatant human rights violations faced by people suspected of engaging in the drug trade: namely, ‘extrajudicial reprisals, disproportionate criminal justice responses, impediments to treatment and social reintegration or the legal and societal stigma which continues to be associated with drug use and dependence’.

The statement goes on to condemn extrajudicial responses, no doubt in the face of raising numbers of killings in the Philippines and neighbouring countries; the over-incarceration for drug-related offences, with one in five people held in prison for a drug offence, most of whom for minor offences; and the continued use of the death penalty.

The issue of the death penalty has come to the forefront of the debates in the past weeks with Sri Lanka threatening to put an end to a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty, while other countries continue to systematically execute people for drug offences, often of a minor nature.

The INCB’s call for more proportionate penalties, and drug policies ‘rooted in the respect for human rights and human dignity’ is therefore to be welcome, as is their promotion of ‘alternative measures to conviction or punishment’ and of ‘greater access to treatment, rehabilitation and aftercare measures’. The Board ends by highlighting ‘the importance of dismantling obstacles to social reintegration, including the continued stigmatisation of drug users’.

The positive and non-stigmatising tone and language of this year’s statement contrasts with those made in previous years  – most likely thanks to the change in leadership within the Board, and the election of Cornelis de Joncheere as President of the Board a few weeks ago. Many of the messages of this statement were reiterated by the INCB President at the occasion of the launch of the UNODC World Drug Report in Vienna.