Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice - 31st Session
16 - 20 May 2022
Oral statement on tackling arbitrary detention through decriminalisation and broader drug law reform
Statement delivered by Gloria Lai (Regional Director: Asia), International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).
Agenda Item 6. Integration and coordination of efforts by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and by Member States in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice: (e) Other activities in support of the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in particular activities of the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice programme network, non-governmental organizations and other bodies.
Good day, ladies and gentlemen.
This statement is made on behalf of the International Drug Policy Consortium.
In June 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released a study on arbitrary detention and drug policies, which contains a set of policy recommendations to align drug policies with the universal prohibition of arbitrary detention under international law.
Arbitrary detention connected to drug policies is prevalent in countries around the world. The so called ‘war on drugs’ has fuelled incarceration, and led to widespread human rights abuses, which include the following:
- the practice of interrogating suspects under the influence of drugs and subjecting persons to testing without their consent;
- the overuse of detention lasting sometimes months or years, and physical and psychological violence to detainees, including withholding opioid agonist therapy from people dependent on drugs;
- the overincarceration of people who use drugs, including through disproportionate sentences for drug-related offences, bans on parole, and mandatory minimum sentences;
- the confinement of people who use drugs in state-run or private compulsory drug treatment centres
- the targeting of groups in situations of vulnerability and marginalisation by law enforcement;
- the misuse of drug control to target human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents;
- the criminalisation of indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers cultivating illicit crops for religious, medicinal and ancestral purposes or subsistence; and
- the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences.
In addition, the 2021 Global Drug Policy Index has shown how criminal justice responses and arbitrary arrests and detention worldwide, disproportionately affect people living in situations of poverty, women and specific ethnic groups.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recommends, among other things:
- that States urgently decriminalise drug use and possession for personal use and drug paraphernalia;
- that courts discontinue orders of forced drug treatment;
- and that provision of drug treatment is always based on informed consent and managed by health professionals.
The study by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reinforces a global consensus in favour of decriminalisation as a policy that protects and promotes health and human rights, as outlined in the UN System Common Position on Drugs adopted in 2018, and the UN System Common Position on incarceration adopted last year in 2021.
We call on members of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to take steps to implement the recommendations of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in relation to drug policy.