Human Rights in the Drug War: NGOs Slam UN Drug Bureaucracies, Demand Compliance With UN Charter

Using the annual meeting of the United Nation's Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna as a springboard, an international consortium of drug policy, harm reduction, and human rights groups Monday slammed the UN drug bureaucracies for ignoring numerous, widespread human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of global drug prohibition. The UN must stand up for human rights in the drug control regime, the groups said.
Iranian CND display
The charge was made in a report released the same day,
"Recalibrating the Regime: The Need for a Human Rights-Based Approach to International Drug Policy," endorsed jointly by Human Rights Watch, the International Harm Reduction Association, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Program. It was presented this week in Vienna during a discussion of the worldwide human rights impact of the drug war conducted as part of a series of events countering the official CND meeting.

The CND, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), are the three UN entities charged with enforcing global drug prohibition as enshrined in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its two successor treaties. The CND was meeting this week to review whether the UN had met its 1998 10-year goal to achieve "measurable results" in the fight against drugs, including a "significant reduction" in the cultivation of cannabis, coca, and opium.

The Monday report cites murderous campaigns against drug suspects in Thailand in 2003 -- and the prospect of a repeat of that deadly drug war by the new Thai government -- the violent police campaign against drug dealers (and innocent bystanders) in Brazil, the grotesque Chinese habit of celebrating the UN's international anti-drug day by executing convicted drug offenders, the resort to the death penalty for drug offenders in more than 60 countries, the mass incarceration of drug offenders and the racially discriminatory enforcement of drug laws in places like the United States, and much, much, more as evidence that human rights comes in a distant second to the prerogatives of drug prohibition.
Thai officials attend human rights panel slamming Thai government
In the face of this litany of human rights abuses in the name of enforcing drug prohibition, the UN agencies have remained so quiet as to be almost "complicit" in them, the report argues. There has been "little engagement" with this issue by the CND, the INCB, the UNODC -- or even the UN's human rights treaties bodies, the report said.
"The UN General Assembly has stated repeatedly in resolutions that drug control must be carried out in full conformity with, and full respect for, all human rights and fundamental freedoms," said Mike Trace of the Beckley Foundation, which commissioned the report. "Delegations to this week's meeting must ensure that their obligations under international human rights law underpin all CND deliberations and actions."

"Despite the primacy of human rights obligations under the UN Charter, the approach of the UN system and the wider international community to addressing the tensions between drug control and human rights remains ambiguous," said Richard Elliott of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "This is inexcusable in the face of the egregious human rights abuses perpetrated in the course of enforcing drug prohibition, which in turn damages global efforts to prevent and treat HIV."

"Last week, INCB President Philip Emafo stated in the board's 2008 annual report that 'To do nothing [about drugs] is not an option'," said Rick Lines of the International Harm Reduction Association. "We are here today to state clearly that doing nothing about the human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of the drug war is also not an option. In this, the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, CND member states and indeed the entire UN family must speak out clearly that human rights must not be sacrificed on the altar of drug control."
Russian CND display
The new Thai government's repeated comments that it intends to go back to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's murderous drug war of 2003, in which some 2,800 were killed, aroused particular concern among the groups.

"As the UNODC has acknowledged, there are proven methods to address drug use while protecting human rights. Murder is not one of them," said Rebecca Schleifer, advocate with the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "As a member of the CND, Thailand must be held to account for its actions on drugs, and pressure brought by the international community to ensure that human rights violations are not repeated."

The Thai may be feeling the pressure. At the Monday afternoon "side session" organized by the groups, not one but three officials from the Thai government attended, all of them expressing the view that policies have "good effects and bad," and inviting advocates to provide information to help them improve policies. Time will tell whether it was a serious offer and whether they can influence their government in a positive direction if so.

Monday's report was only part of a broader onslaught directed at the UN anti-drug bureaucracies and their seeming disdain for human rights. Last week, in the wake of the release of the INCB's 2007 Annual Report, which called for "proportionality" in the enforcement of drug laws at the same time it called for criminalizing millions of people who chew coca leaf, that organization was critiqued in a response by the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global network of national and international groups specializing in issues relating to drug use, legal or illegal.

While the consortium congratulated the INCB for its call for proportionality and a slight retreat in its resistance to harm reduction, it warned that such good news "will be rendered meaningless if the Board does not consistently reflect these principles in its ongoing work with national governments and other UN agencies."

The consortium also harshly criticized the INCB for its call for the banning of the growing and consumption of coca. "Of greater concern is the continuing intransigence shown towards the issue of indigenous use of coca products in Bolivia," the consortium's response said. "Where there is an unresolved inconsistency within the drug control conventions, and between drug control and other international obligations and treaties, the role of the INCB should be to highlight these dilemmas and help governments to find a resolution, instead of issuing rigid and non-universal declarations."

The British drug charity DrugScope, a member of the consortium, called on the INCB to do more. "Drug users are vilified and marginalized worldwide," said Harry Shapiro, the group's director of communications. "Some nations feel that any action against them is justified, including murder. We are encouraged that the INCB recognizes this is unacceptable and that a balance must be struck between the enforcement of drug laws and the human rights and civil liberties of those with serious problems."

The INCB must match its actions to its words, Shapiro said. "But DrugScope and the International Drug Policy Consortium feel that the INCB, from their position of international authority, must follow their condemnation of human rights abuses through to its logical conclusion, The INCB must offer public criticism of particular countries with the worst human rights record in this area."

Instead of UN anti-drug agencies sticking up for human rights, they have now become the objects of criticism themselves. The official international prohibitionist drug policy consensus may be holding at the UN, but it is clearly fraying, and civil society is no longer willing to sit quietly in the face of injustice, whether in Bangkok or Baltimore, Rio or Russia.

(Look for in-person reports on the UN summit next week.)

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Where are the US NGOs in all of this???

Not to point fingers or make criticisms of something I don't understand, but why there is little representation by US NGOs and reformers in these Vienna deliberations? Can anyone enlighten me? (I've become a member of the european ENCOD group whose representatives I've met at DPA convos because they seem to be more engaged with the UN process and getting treaty reform or liberalization/localization than the many US NGOs I'm a dues paying member of).

How is it that DrugScope (UK), Beckley Foundation (also UK, interesting pro-psychedelic aristocratic lady who runs that outfit) and all of these other international entities (IHRC) show up in Vienna but our own reformers (e.g., DPA, OSI) keep such a low profile?

Is it because our "official" NGOs here are all of the prohibitionist yahoos like Calvina Fay & Sue Rusche type "Families in Action" left over has beens from the Reagan era and that they have a total lock on UN related policies re: drugs prohibiton?

OTOH, Ethan N. just got on the Colbert Report again so I shouldn't complain, they're doing what they need to win the WoD here: make it look ridiculous.

Delay in NGO approval

You asked:

Not to point fingers or make criticisms of something I don't understand, but why there is little representation by US NGOs and reformers in these Vienna deliberations? Can anyone enlighten me?

The answer is that the UN has dragged its feet in approving NGO status for us. NORML and several other drug reform organizations have had applications for NGO status pending for a year and a half. We've been informed that approval takes a minimum of three years. Of course, it's only in the last cpl of years that the UN has theoretically opened its doors to drug reform NGOs.
Dale Gieringer, California NORML

Dale and other Americans,

Dale and other Americans, asking themselves why not more of you are in Vienna or other holy cities for so called drug control meetings. Be sure that your presence or absence does not make any difference. These meetings are prepared well in advance, and collect the national delegates of UN Treaty member nations.
The only way NGO's will be able to influence these meetings is by influencing their national governments. Usually the agenda of these meetings is set by the heads of the UN Institutions, in which sometimes items are included suggested by member states. These member states have a way of establishing in advance their voting behaviour at the meeting, and delegates have liitle or no leeway to deviate from these nationally set decisions. The effect of all this is that nothing will influence these prohibition- bishops once they all together to sing their ritual hymns in Vienna or elswhere. The act of so called listening to NGO's is modern vaudeville theater, designerd to create impressions of openness and transparancy where there is none.
Peter Cohen

borden's picture

we were there

A number of us were present, thanks to the help of organizations already accredited for the UN that had extra slots. The main reason that it was European groups taking the lead on this particular effort is because they decided to make it a project. It's easy to think of things to do, hard to pick which ones to actually do...

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Thanks for the info, Dale... you know who else has applied for consultative NGO status? Why does it take so long? What (if any) are the criteria? Do the present US representatives (scary prohibitionist astroturfers like NFIA and various Narconon type treatment providers and experts) have a say on whether the newcomers get admitted? How transparent is the admission process?


sicntired I attended a meeting in Vancouver in January I think it was.David Borden got me the invitation but the UN or the meeting organizers sent him the invite.I don't know what the Vienna rule book was but it seems to be up to the organizers to send and process invitations.I attended as an individual that required no expenses or hotel/flight arrangements.I'm sure a trip to Vienna is out of most of our budgets.Personally,I can't even leave the country.

Matthew McDaniel has testified at the UN

Matthew McDaniel of photographed the bodies in Thailand (some still warm) when the government, drug-war, death squads killed thousands. See:

A Thai government panel in 2007 found that most of those killed had nothing to do with drugs. See

McDaniel has filed reports with the UN, and the International Criminal Court in the Hague. See
He has testified at the UN:

And since when is the use of drugs a green light for extra-judicial killing by government thugs? Why isn't Thailand's former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, on trial for crimes against humanity? See:

Chart for United States drug-war aid to Thailand during the worst time period of the killing. Chart below from Thailand's 2003 drug-war annual report:

This was in addition to massive amounts of other U.S. military sales, training, and aid to Thailand. For example; Task Force 399:


US NGO's DO need to MOBILIZE against the Drug War

It wasn't until this report that I realized the scope of what was going on in Vienna by people like Encod. I have been on the Encod list for two years and I have to make trips to Paris and Vienna for the UNESCO and trafficking cases.

But this report and what happened there really highlighted how important Vienna is.

Encod is doing a wonderful job of organizing internationally, but we need a much bigger agressive US movement.

To get status one has to sign onto someone else's ticket at first if necessary if they are not yet acreditted. Its different for all the meetings.

Find part of the network, don't wait for the "approval" process of consultative status, that can take a long time.

But there are lots of people on the Encod network who will help out and also Europe has the best stuff on monitoring like the Senlis council, etc. Lots of info on Afghanistan and why it isn't working, but the killing of those people goes on over Taliban and Opium.

The US and the UNODC folks from hell, they went to Laos and when they were done, hundreds if not thousands (we think it is in the thousands) died from Opium eradication - forced village relocations, but where does that Costa talk about this? No one knows so he is off scot free.

Hopefully, next year we will be in Vienna.

Matthew McDaniel
The Akha Heritage Foundation

We need "proportionality" in the creation of drug laws

not just enforcement. In other words, don't treat cannabis as a crime when far more dangerous alcohol isn't. The UN is really, really stuck on stupid when it comes to alcohol's status as a killer drug. WAKE UP, UN! Go visit some graveyards and back wards of hospitals where brain damaged alcoholics end their daze, and compare with cannabis. What a pathetic idea of justice the UN and other alcohol supremacist bigots have.

Prohibition and the Arms Trade

Prohibition ensures artificially inflated prices at the consumer level, and obscene profits at all levels of the drug business. This in turn provides terrorists -right and left, Jewish/Christian or Islamic, state or small-group-with a ready-made hard currency -hard drugs- to be used in illegal arms transactions, and the funding by states of covert actions and terrorism. There is not a single military power on the planet today that is not participating in this commerce. Too many people stand to lose too much money if prohibition ends. I can't help but wonder if some of these "experts" are on the payroll of various war-profiteers.

to treetment drug addicted person

i want to free treetment our countries drug addicted person

help us

i am from jana pradeepa organization in sri lanka

Drug Addicts

I worked in a hardcore drug and alcohol rehab place - people routinely died in their 50s.
If a drug dealer turns a person into a junkie, that person is likely to lose 20 years off his or her normal lifespan. (You're probably forgetting the crimes - knifings/murders/general emotional trauma that they commit on those around them) A drug dealer who turns 10 people into junkies is therefore causing 200 years loss of life. (He/she cannot pay back this amount of life!!) Thus killing him/her is correct. (He/she has no fear of you and would gladly kill you to continue dealing) The consequences of not killing him/her is potentially another 10 junkies losing 200 years of normal life - one of them could be SOMEONE YOU CARE ABOUT!!!
Anyway communities that execute drug dealers tend to be very safe and friendly and prosperous. The only thing you have to be concerned about is to know that the person you're executing is absolutely the drug dealer! When you know, there's no excuse for not killing them! Drug dealers are very good at making you forget about all the terror they've caused to innocent people because they don't happen to be around to speak the atrocities (knifings/murders/your son or daughter's "disappearance"/estrangement) drug dealers did.

Re: "Drug Addicts"

Your ideas are completely draconian. Executing drug dealers has not stopped the problem. Never has, never will. If prohibition were ended, the profit component would be eliminated and dangerous drugs would be taken off the streets, the cartels would go out of business and then we could concentrate on treatment for those with real drug problems (not pot smokers,either). Trouble is, drug profits can fund all manner of activities, including terrorism, gov't corruption and creating more folks to inhabit your rehab place.We're spending taxpayers' money for law enforcement bureaus and not treatment facilities. You should be one to support the end to the drug wars.

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