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Europe: UN Drug Chief Talks Nice on Monday, Not So Nice on Wednesday

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As UN anti-drug bureaucrats, national delegations, and interested civil society groups converged on Vienna for this week's annual conference of the UN's Committee on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the head of one of the CND's sister organizations, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), was calm and reasonable on Monday, but may have gotten himself into hot water with some intemperate remarks Wednesday.
Vienna International Center, home of the UNODC
UNODC head Antonio Costa opened the CND meeting with a speech stressing the need for greater attention to alternative development, health, and harm reduction. Although he urged countries not to get caught up in semantic battles over harm reduction, he referred attendees to a UNODC discussion paper that supports pragmatic approaches like those in Australia and Canada.

Costa called health a basic human right and said the "health principle" should be the basis of drug control. Too many people were in prison and too few were receiving drug treatment, he said.

Costa was mealy-mouthed on the issue of the death penalty for drug offenses, suggesting but refusing to state outright that drug offenses are not serious enough to justify a death sentence, as UN human rights experts and outside critics have declared. "Although drugs kill, I don't believe we need to kill because of drugs," he said. Instead, he urged nations to "give serious consideration to whether capital punishment for drug-related crimes is a best practice."

While Costa's positions may not be in accord with those of ardent drug reformers, his presentation was professional. That wasn't the case on Wednesday, when he addressed a meeting of the Vienna NGO committee.

For reasons that so far remain unexplained, Costa used the event as opportunity to attack the very members of civil society -- drug policy reformers and activists--he was addressing, or at least their American cousins. Referring to his visit to the Drug Policy Alliance New Orleans conference in December, Costa took an unprovoked swipe at his erstwhile hosts.

"I attended the meeting of the drug alliance [DPA] in New Orleans last December," he said. "1,200 participants, 1,000 lunatics, 200 good people to talk to. The other ones obviously on drugs," according to a account of the speech made available by the British drug reform group Transform Drug Policy Foundation on its blog.

"By any standard this was an extraordinarily offensive, inappropriate and stupid remark for the head of the UNODC to make in any public forum, let alone an NGO forum in which many of those present were also present at New Orleans (including myself as it happens)," wrote Transform blogger Steve Rolles. "The audience in New Orleans were in fact very polite and respectful, both for the fact that he had made the effort to attend and engage and for some of his more conciliatory remarks (and in truth Costa hardly spoke to anyone in New Orleans that would enable him to form an opinion or label them). He has managed to offend a broad spectrum of opinion present at the DPA, the DPA itself, and indeed the drug user groups with whom the UNODC process is nominally engaging at a high level."

As for just who is the lunatic, NORML's Paul Armentano countered with a blog post detailing some of Costa's more sensational statements about marijuana. After reading them, it seems Costa would be well-served by not encouraging comparisons about who has the most preposterous notions about drugs and drug policy.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

durg enforcers rife with cultural biases, emotionalized crap.

Dear People,
What I have noticed is that as people llike Mr. Costa and the stupid brits get moved into a corner because their attitudes are not confirmed by the science and the sociology, they show their true emotional and personal colors. Hit back with this:
Vietnam magazine december 2002 on how it was that marijuana prohibition just led to the use of truly dangerously physically addictive drugs and distilled alcohol (I kept a combat vet alive on the streets for two years by keeping him away from needle drugs and alcohol while every nazi in seattle wouldn't house him because of a nonviolent felony, and 2); Lester Grinspoon MD's A-Z medical marijuana index.
Lyle Courtsal
18405 Aurora Ave.N.#H-6
Seattle, WA 98133 USA

The die was cast

sicntired These people,including mr.Costa come from the same mold.They let Ideology and dogma trump reason and science and become very frustrated when confronted by the rascist and religious basis for all drug legislation.If these laws were made to justify their existence on reason and science,they'd all fall into disrepute.These men know this but have to try to justify their jobs and feel that if drugs were legal they'd all be looking for real work.A scary thought for a UN delegate.Mr.Costa knows the UN is going beyond it's mandate in the drug war.The human rights violations alone make his comments unworthy of a man supposedly trying to make the world a better place.These remarks are beneath contempt.

The 'conservative syndrome'

Mr. Costa cannot remain blissfully unaware of the fact that the policies that he favors has destroyed the lives of countless millions of people around the world as part of his drug prohibition regime...causing far more damage than the drugs he rails against ever could. The interventions of nations practicing drug prohibitions within their respective civil societies that he has supported have included public executions (China, Saudi Arabia) for possession and use, and are hardly in standing with the lofty stated goals of the UN with regards to human rights.

But, I suppose, that is on par with the sort of organization the INCB actually is: another reactionary hold-over from the Cold War long in need of retirement.


The laws against drugs are a diversion from the very real problems in most societies ie poverty,inequality,racism,class that oppress and divide us.Now we have the added agenda of the thousands of people who are employed in the anti-drug agencies with their empire -building,careers and desire for status and glory driving them forward despite all reason and the mounting evidence of the carnage their policies are causing.Mr.Costa is of this mould,he knows deep down he is wrong but here is someone who cant admit this.Hence the vitriol of his attacks.What it tells us folks is that we are winning.

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