Global Commission on Drug Policy Chair Responds to Release of UN’s 2011 World Drug Report

Former Brazilian President Concerned that Report is Being Presented by US and Russian Drug Czars. Calls on UN Leadership to Break the Taboo on Vigorous Debate About Alternatives to Global Drug Prohibition Regime

On Thursday, June 23, Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is holding a press conference in New York to launch the World Drug Report, the UN’s key annual report on progress in international drug control.

The UN’s report comes at an especially critical time, on the heels of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which has stirred worldwide debate with a report released earlier this month that condemns the drug war as a failure and recommends major reforms of the global drug prohibition regime.

The Commission – which includes Kofi Annan, Richard Branson, George P. Shultz, Paul Volcker and the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland – is the most distinguished group of high-level leaders ever to call for such far-reaching changes. These changes include not just alternatives to incarceration and greater emphasis on public health approaches to drug use, but also decriminalization and experiments in legal regulation.

On June 3, the Commission met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and presented the report to him accompanied by more than 600,000 petition signatures gathered by the global advocacy organization AVAAZ in support of the report’s recommendations. In the meeting, the Commissioners called on the UN to provide leadership in breaking the taboo on vigorous debate about drug policy – acknowledging the failure of repressive strategies, and accelerating the search for more effective and humane alternative strategies.

Now, just three weeks later, Mr. Fedotov will be joined at the World Drug Report launch by Ban Kimoon and the drug ‘czars’ of two of the most important countries in the international debate – Gil Kerlikowske of the US and Viktor Ivanov of Russia. The comments of these leaders will be of particular interest considering that they represent two countries that have relied heavily on repression, deterrence and imprisonment to achieve drug policy objectives, yet still experience significant and uncontrolled drug use and markets.

Earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy made the following recommendations in its report:

– End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.

– Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (especially cannabis) to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.

– Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available – including not just methadone andbuprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada.

– Apply human rights and harm reduction principles and policies both to people who use drugs as well as those involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers.

– Focus repressive actions on violent crime organizations to undermine their power and reach.

– Invest on prevention campaigns to reduce drug consumption.

“The era of repressive drug policy must end. It is time for UN leaders to acknowledge that the principles of human rights, public health and social development should guide the search for better alternatives,” said former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who serves as chair for the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Of particular relevance to today’s report is the Commission’s recommendation that the UN drug conventions be interpreted and/or revised to accommodate robust experimentation with harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulatory policies.

The global drug control regime involves three bodies to oversee the implementation of the conventions – the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). This structure is premised on the notion that international drug control is primarily a fight against crime and criminals. Unsurprisingly, there is a built-in vested interest in maintaining the law enforcement focus and the senior decisionmakers in these bodies have traditionally been most familiar with this framework.

Now that the nature of the drug policy challenge has changed, the Commission urges these institutions to follow. Global drug policy should be created from the shared strategies of all interested multilateral agencies – UNAIDS, WHO, UNDP, UNICEF, UN Women, the World Bank, and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, in addition to UNODC. The marginalization of the World Health Organization is particularly worrisome given the fact that it has been given a specific mandate under the drug control treaties.

While the Commission is concerned about the message that the UN is sending by launching the World Drug Report in collaboration with governments with such a poor track record, we do hope that these leaders will take the opportunity to declare their support for the Commission’s recommendations.