Statement of Luiz Guanabara of the Brazilian NGO Psicotropicus for the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs
16 March 2009
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Distinguished Chairwoman, members of the Commission on Narcotics Drugs and delegates of the Member States, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First we would like to thank the Commission and the delegates of the Member States who are present at this meeting for their wise decision to work in partnership with Civil Society and listen to what it has to say. As non-governmental organizations and mem bers of civil society, we intend to work with you to find a way to overcome the impasse caused by the failure of the goals that were set in the 1998 UNGASS Political Declaration on the World Drug Problem. As part of the endeavor to review the past ten years of this policy, we present the following statement:
In the same decade of the 60s, while the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was approved in Vienna in 1961, the world celebrated, by means of its two first specifically regulatory instruments, the beginning of a new phase in international human rights Law. While the preamble of the 1961 Single Convention states that, in case of certain psychotropic substances, “drug addiction is a […] social and economic danger to humanity”, Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, declares that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family or home” and that “everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks”. While Article 36 of the 1961 Single Convention states that “the possession” and “purchase […] of a narcotic drug will be considered an offense […] and that serious infractions will be adequately punished, particularly with a prison sentence or other deprivation of freedom, Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also adopted in 1966, recognizes “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” and declares States Parties’ obligation to achieve “the creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness”.
Even today, after almost forty years of the global “War on Drugs” and ten years after UN General Assembly declared Member States’ determination to eradicate some psychoactive drugs from the world, that same old paradox from the 1960s still persists within the organization that should, above anything else, protect the human rights that ensue from each person’s inherent dignity, as so many of the UN’s regulatory and declaratory documents proclaim. Today, although human rights are the only universal moral consensus of the international society, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and most Member States seem to have chosen, at least on the issue of drugs, to blindly and deliberately favor moralizing over ethics, obscurantism over rationality, paternalism over freedom and repression over health.
To expand on this tension we would like to make the following observations:
1. The end of the prohibition of drugs is only a matter of time. But if nothing is done to facilitate the transition from the current repressive model to a tolerant model, the price will be high: the end of prohibition will be the result of the unbearable level of violence and crime that the War on Drugs will have reached. This will result in even greater problems than already exist today in the implementation of public health measures for drug users.
2. Millions of people who have some involvement with drugs are daily persecuted in Brazil and elsewhere in the world. The idea that these people are evil or harmful and should be removed from society or their families is a perverted way of thinking. We can no longer allow this simplistic moralizing to feed the prejudice and stigma that surround these people. We can no longer allow this blind intolerance to transform these people into criminals.
3. Criminalization pushes drug users away from health services, out of fear of discrimination or a fear that they will be reported to the police or receive poor treatment from health care professionals. The criminalization of people who use drugs also hinders the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other health conditions, as many new infections occur among people who use drugs. Current drug policy of prohibition is not sound public health policy, including for the prevention of HIV and viral hepatitis. The statement by UNAIDS at last year’s session of the CND made this very clear.
4. Consider as well what drug prohibition does to our young people: when a young person uses an illegal substance, even for the first time, he or she is no longer considered “our most precious asset”, to use the language of the first paragraph of the CND Political Declaration 2009, but instead becomes an enemy who should be persecuted, repressed or imprisoned. The prohibition of drugs is used to weaken and oppress youth.
5. Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the world. By order of the UN drug conventions, the laws of Member States prohibit the use of marihuana, criminalizing millions of people. A law that is violated by millions of people every single day is a law without moral authority, a meaningless law.
6. The current system of drug control doesn’t actually control anything. Who controls illicit drugs are those who produce, distribute and sell it. The current system has handed the monopoly of these products to the illegal drug industry, more commonly referred to as the drug trade or in Latin America, the “narcotráfico”. Delegates at the international conferences that were held over the course of the last century decided to prohibit certain drugs and plants. They probably had no idea of the violence, misery and destruction that would be caused and continues to be caused by the regime that they were creating.
7. The 1998 UNGASS resolutions to achieve significant quantifiable results in reducing drug supply and demand have not been accomplished. In some regions, such as Latin America, the drug problem has only been exacerbated, as the report from the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy reveals.
Therefore we recommend the following:
1. UNODC should be separated into one agency for drugs and another one for crimes. It doesn’t make any sense to unite both drugs and crime under one agency. This association gives the absurd impression that drugs are criminal by nature, not by human discretion. Furthermore, this association furthers the stigmatization and criminalization of drug users. This should be completely undone. Drug misuse is a health and social problem and should not be subjected to interventions from the criminal justice system.
2. The conventions that rule the UN system of drug control should be revoked. Each Member State should have the freedom to develop its own drug policy, determining in light of domestic conditions the best ways in which to prevent and minimize the adverse health and social consequences of the problematic use of drugs.
3. The new system should encourage this decentralization, respecting the geographic and cultural differences and supporting the way each Member State chooses to deal with the drug industry, recreational and medicinal drugs.
4. The new system should also encourage harm reduction services and approaches as a way to deal with the use and misuse of drugs. Of the existing strategies, harm reduction seems to have the most significant, proven impact on promoting the health of people who use drug and preventing a number of diseases, including HIV and viral hepatitis, and associated social, health and economic consequences.
5. The score of the war on drugs – with all the destruction, violence and misery that it has inflicted on humanity and the environment – needs to be settled. Farmers should be compensated for the financial loss that is the result of forced crop eradication. Their governments and the countries that have interfered in their livelihoods in the name of “the war on drugs” should be held accountable. The negative impact on the economy, the violation of human rights, the displacement of people and poisoning of the soil should be rectified. The negative consequences of the war on drugs on the health of these populations and other vulnerable groups should be compensated.
6. Above all else, the UN system for drug control must be based on respect for fundamental human rights. All drug policies that violate human rights should be denounced.
At this 52nd CND session, we wish that the delegations of the Member States can finally set a new course on drug policy, far from the incomprehensible punitive prohibition that, contrary to what it professes, actually promotes violence and crime, and claims innocent lives.
(produced by Psicotropicus – Brazilian Drug Policy Center with invaluable help from many Brazilian NGOs representatives and individuals – special thanks to Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch and Richard Elliot.)
Luiz Paulo Guanabara
[Psicotropicus – Centro Brasileiro de Políticas de Drogas
Av. Presidente Vargas 590 – sala 515
20.071-000, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil