Drug policy pitfalls highlighted in talk with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon


Drug policy pitfalls highlighted in talk with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

2 March 2016

A group of human rights organizations met today in Geneva with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. During the encounter, CELS and Conectas Direitos Humanos stressed the scale and seriousness of human rights violations related to the international drug control system, along with the importance of next month’s UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs. Ban seconded some of these concerns and responded positively overall.

Luciana Pol of CELS, speaking on behalf of both organizations, underlined the growing violence in Latin America linked to police and military action to combat drug trafficking. This complex problem is particularly severe in Mexico, where there have been thousands of deaths and disappearances, and in many Central American countries. The policy focus on criminalization, enforcement and punishment has led to the mass incarceration of drug users and nonviolent small-scale offenders, including more and more women. Meanwhile, the decades-old international drug control regime has failed to achieve its stated goals: every day more drugs are produced, trafficked and consumed.

UNGASS, which will be held in New York on April 19-21, represents a unique opportunity to rethink our approach to drug policy and align measures with human rights and international law (read more about the process here). We told Secretary-General Ban that we appreciated the progress made by the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) to illuminate relations between drug policy and human rights. However, this expertise has not been taken into account sufficiently by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the Vienna-based UN agency that leads the UNGASS process, revealing a lack of cohesion between the UN system’s various branches (on drugs and crime, health, human rights and development). On this point, Ban responded: “I share your concern.”

For his part, Ban spoke about the need to stop criminalizing drug consumption and using the death penalty to punish drug-related offenses. He also highlighted the importance of UNGASS and said that despite the resistance seen among many countries, he hopes the session will be productive.

Tuesday’s meeting with Ban was coordinated by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and attended as well by representatives of Amnesty International, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, FORUM-ASIA and Human Rights Watch – who addressed several worrisome country situations, restrictions and attacks on civil society and human rights defenders, and other timely topics.

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