Introduction

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain a number of important commitments made by 193 UN Member States. These include ending poverty and hunger, ensuring health and well-being, fighting gender and societal inequality, protecting the environment and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, as well as the pledge to leave no one behind. In the Outcome Document of the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016), UN Member States acknowledged that efforts to achieve the global goals and to address the ‘world drug problem’ were ‘complementary and mutually reinforcing’.

Illicit drug markets and efforts to address them cut across almost every one of the SDGs and the commitment to leave no one behind. Ensuring that drug policy and the 2030 Agenda are coherent is essential to the achievement of the commitments made by UN Member States.

The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) Strategic Plan 2018–2021 and its HIV, Health and Development Strategy 2016–2021 highlight the role UNDP can play in supporting governments to attain the SDGs. This includes addressing the structural barriers and discriminatory laws, policies and practices that marginalize vulnerable population groups, including people who use drugs. In June 2015, UNDP released a discussion paper reviewing the impacts of drug enforcement policies on public health, safety and security, and human rights of poor and marginalized populations. These include indigenous peoples, people who use drugs, including for drug dependence or pain treatment, poor farmers who cultivate illicit drug crops, and people who live in the communities where drugs are trafficked or sold. In April 2016, UNDP published a report describing initiatives undertaken by a range of countries and by civil society to address the harmful consequences of certain drug policy approaches, particularly for the poor and marginalized individuals and communities mentioned above.

In November 2018, the United Nations system adopted a common position committing to support Member States in developing and implementing ‘truly balanced, comprehensive, integrated, evidence-based, human rights-based, development-oriented and sustainable responses to the world drug problem, within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’.

In March 2019, the UN system coordination Task Team, of which UNDP is a member, issued its first report. The common position and the Task Team report echo the UNGASS 2016 Outcome Document position that the international drug control conventions are sufficiently flexible to allow countries, consistent with international law, to design and implement national drug policies according to their priorities and needs. The publication of the Task Team report coincided with the launch of the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy, co-sponsored by UNDP, the World Health Organization, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy. With 27 principles capturing the expansive human experience of drug control, the Guidelines are a critical resource to advance the common position at the international, regional and country levels.

This discussion paper reviews some of the ways that countries throughout the world continue to use the flexibility available in the drug conventions to promote inclusive development, human rights and public health-driven, evidence-informed approaches. In this context, this discussion paper presents innovative steps taken by UN Member States in implementing commitments undertaken at the 2016 UNGASS, and with respect to the 2030 Agenda.