On March 27, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) took a fundamental step toward ensuring that a human rights perspective is present at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS), to be held in April 2016.
The Council approved by consensus a resolution—co-sponsored by 47 countries from Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania—that convenes a panel of experts to discuss drug policies and their rights impact. It also requests that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights produce a technical report on this issue.
In the debates that gave rise to the resolution, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)—along with Latin American and international allies—sustained that the Council, as the top UN human rights body, should participate actively in the UNGASS 2016 and stressed the need for a paradigm shift in drug policies so their central aims are protecting human rights and reducing violence.
The so-called “War on Drugs” has failed in its stated objectives and caused widespread violence. It has also had a severe impact on judicial and security systems and on prisons. State responses have led to a growing militarization that has been used to justify the role of the Armed Forces, the occupation of lands, and the displacement of people.
CELS is working to address these problems at the various UN offices involved, in Geneva, New York and Vienna.
Last week in Vienna, the sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) concluded. The CND is the UN body that is charged with defining international policies on illicit substances and planning the UNGASS.
Although the CND has generally resisted dialogue with other actors, the resolution it adopted in this latest session opened the way for civil society and academic organizations to participate in the preparations for and the realization of the UNGASS. This decision lays the groundwork for a broad debate to reevaluate the objectives of current drug policies, analyze alternative measures, and find a way to put an end to the criminalization of consumption.
CELS followed the negotiations at the CND closely and co-organized a side event on “The Human Rights Impact of Drug Policies in the Americas,” along with the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH in Spanish), Conectas Human Rights from Brazil, Corporación Humanas from Chile, Dejusticia from Colombia and Intercambios, also from Argentina.
Some countries are questioning the global system that prohibits narcotic substances, and its consequences. Latin America has taken a leading role in this discussion and developed some alternative experiences and policies. The debate needs to be broadened to include human rights and health perspectives, and the UNGASS 2016 may be just the place to do that.