WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Pablo Aneli)

22 Aug 2018 | Commentary

Debating the Future of Alternative Development

The concept of alternative development has been a staple of UN drug policy debates for the past several decades. The topic has renewed prominence and urgency in the wake of the Outcome Document of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, which incorporates the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the concept of adapting alternative development to urban settings. In March 2018, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs approved a resolution calling for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to convene an Expert Group Meeting to advance discussions on the alternative development issue. WOLA and the Transnational Institute were among the few civil society organizations invited to participate.

Titled The Future of Alternative Development, the meeting took place in Vienna, Austria, from July 23–26, 2018. It was convened by UNODC, the Government of Thailand, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Office of the Drug Commissioner of the Federal Government of Germany and the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage. Over 100 participants from 35 countries participated, making it one of the most well-attended such meetings to date.

WOLA was invited to speak on the first panel, The evolving context of alternative development: Expert Insights. We took advantage of the opportunity to explore the implementation of alternative development from a gender and human rights perspective, and we began with a frank, and perhaps uncomfortable question for many in the room: To what extent have the advances in the discussion among experts translated into changes on the ground? In reality, key human rights-based principles—such as ensuring that farmers have an alternative source of income before their primary source of subsistence is eradicated—remain lofty ideals, rarely and barely put into practice.

Our presentation covered three principal themes:

  • Gender mainstreaming is now firmly rooted in the drug policy discourse and official documents, but the gap between discourse and practice remains vast.
  • The “challenge” of implementing alternative development and repressive drug control efforts simultaneously: In reality, the two are incompatible, and governments frequently pay lip service to alternative development as they pursue repressive policies that doom those very efforts to failure.
  • The challenge of shifting the debate on human rights and alternative development to recognize that states have the obligation to ensure that its citizens’ human rights are not violated. This includes the right to an adequate standard of living and to be free from hunger.

The full presentation can be found HERE.