Consensus crumbling: report from the UN general assembly special session on drugs


Consensus crumbling: report from the UN general assembly special session on drugs

6 May 2016
Richard Elliott

It was a surreal exercise that unfolded at the UN in New York last week — a pretend consensus, and a terrible dereliction of duty by some of the world’s governments. And yet, paradoxically, I left the event at the end of the week feeling profoundly encouraged.

On April 19, the assembly president opened the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on “the world drug problem.” It had been hoped the UNGASS process could be an opportunity for a wide-ranging and open debate about what is and isn’t working around the world in responding to drugs. Indeed, more than 1000 leaders from around the world had called on the UN not to squander this historic opportunity to end the failed drug war that has wasted so many resources, led to gross and systemic violations of human rights, and done terrible damage to public health, including fuelling the HIV and hepatitis C epidemics. Yet moments later, the General Assembly adopted by consensus the text of aresolution negotiated, with considerable acrimony, a month before at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna.

And what a resounding failure that formal outcome document is in 2016 — as civil society organizations and theGlobal Commission on Drug Policy have pointed out. It fails to acknowledge the harm done by decades of punitive prohibition, and the mounting evidence of much more effective, humane approaches. Of course, this outcome is not particularly surprising, given the active and successful efforts of a number of countries to block or significantly weaken any language committing countries to harm reduction approaches or to respecting human rights. (We’re looking at you, Russia — one of the leading offenders.)

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