Crisis and division at UN drug summit: Unprecedented pro-reform coalition led by Colombia challenges “war on drugs”

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Crisis and division at UN drug summit: Unprecedented pro-reform coalition led by Colombia challenges “war on drugs”

14 March 2024

Thursday 14 March 2024, Vienna (Austria) - For the first time since 2019, world leaders gathered in Vienna today to assess the state of international drug policy, amidst a global drugs crisis that claims hundreds of thousands of lives every year, and drives systematic violations of human rights.

In an unprecedented development, a coalition of 62 countries led by Colombia took the floor at the opening of the event to call for the reform of the international drug control system, which has remained unchanged since the height of the “war on drugs”. The joint statement sounded the alarm on the catastrophic consequences of punitive drug policies, which fuel violence, corruption and environmental devastation, whilst undermining health, development and human rights.

The joint statement was preceded by a strong intervention by Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who described the current international system as “anachronistic and indolent”, and by an address by the United Nations own human rights chief, Volker Türk, urging “transformative change in global drug policy”.

H.E. Ms Laura Gil, Ambassador of Colombia to the United Nations in Vienna, said: “This is a moment of reckoning for UN drug control. The price of failed drug policies has been too high and political inertia here in Vienna is costing lives. It is time to transform the system and we pledge to bring pragmatism to an environment marked by denial”.

This unprecedented call for global reform is the result of heightened frustrations over the current state of global drug policy. Despite overwhelming evidence on the devastation brought about by “war on drugs” policies, UN drug control bodies have refused to conduct a meaningful evaluation of the current approach. As a result, the UN summit started with the adoption of a weak politically negotiated document that mainly recycles commitments from the past decade - mostly because of the outdated tradition of adopting all UN political documents on drugs by consensus.

Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC - a global network of 190 NGOs) said: “After months of negotiations, member states have adopted a watered-down political document that fails to evaluate progress to date, truly acknowledge the failings of the ‘war on drugs’, or call for meaningful change, despite hundreds of thousands of people dying every year as a result of harmful policies. However, we are encouraged by the growing voices of dissent that call for a transformation in global drug control”.

These developments have occurred during the first day of the high-level segment of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which is taking place in Vienna on 14th and 15th March 2024 with the presence of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Bolivian Vice-President David Choquehuanca, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, and various other ministers.

Key contact

Marie Nougier | Head of Research and Communications
International Drug Policy Consortium
mnougier[@] | +447807077617

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