UN Briefing: Pushing ahead to incorporate human rights into drug policy

We debated about what the UN can do to introduce human rights in the implementation and monitoring of drug policies during a briefing in Geneva.

Representatives of more than 40 state delegations attended a UN Human Rights Council briefing today, where participants expressed a renewed commitment to using a human rights perspective to debate drug policy in the wake of last year’s United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). They also discussed the role that the UN human rights system can play to introduce rights in the implementation and monitoring of drug policies, ahead of a global drug strategy review by UN agencies in 2019.

UNGASS had been viewed as a potential watershed moment for moving toward reform of the international drug control system, embodied by the failed “war on drugs” that has caused widespread violence and rights violations, especially in the global South. But little progress was made at the April 2016 special session, due in part to the dogmatic defense of international drug conventions by some countries and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), which led the process. Although other UN bodies, including the Human Rights Council, contributed their analyses and recommendations, these were largely ignored in the outcome document.

During Wednesday’s briefing, Ambassador Valentin Zellweger, the permanent representative of Switzerland in Geneva, said the first human rights analysis of drug policy crafted by UN agencies grew out of the innovative mandate that the Human Rights Council approved in 2015. He also noted that the UNGASS implementation process encourages further cooperation among UN agencies, and emphasized the challenges of integrating drug policy, criminal justice, human rights, health and the principle of dignity to shift from a purely repressive approach.

One important role that the UN human rights system can play lies in documenting rights violations and providing technical expertise to develop human rights metrics and indicators to measure policy outcomes. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) presented its work on indicators and their strong links to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The UN Development Program (UNDP) highlighted the importance of developing guidelines for member states on how to implement drug policies that are aligned with human rights principles and sustainable development. Academics and organizations promoting these efforts, such as CELS and Penal Reform International (PRI), also made presentations.

During the briefing’s concluding remarks, Ambassador Ana Korka, the permanent representative of Greece, and Ambassador Beatriz Lodoño, Colombia’s permanent representative, called on states to analyze the positive developments that UNGASS set in motion and to move forward on achieving better policies through inter-agency cooperation and research-based facts.

The event was hosted by the Permanent Missions of Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Portugal, Switzerland and Uruguay, along with CELS, Corporación Humanas, PRI and the Quaker UN Office. In addition to state delegates, the briefing was attended by representatives of the OHCHR, Special Procedures, the UNDP and members of other civil society organizations.

For more information, see our joint report on The Impact of Drug Policy on Human Rights in the Americas and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report presented to the Council ahead of UNGASS.