Pubdate: Tue, 12 Mar 2013
Source: Guelph Mercury (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 New York Times
Authors: Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ruth Dreifuss
Note: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former president of Brazil, is 
chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Ruth Dreifuss, a 
former president of Switzerland and minister of home affairs, a 
member of the commission. (The New York Times)
Page 7


This week, representatives from many nations are gathering at the 
annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 
Vienna to determine the appropriate course of the international 
response to illicit drugs.

Delegates will debate multiple resolutions while ignoring a truth 
that goes to the core of current drug policy: human rights abuses in 
the war on drugs are widespread and systematic.

Consider these numbers: Hundreds of thousands of people locked in 
detention centres and subject to violent punishments. Millions 
imprisoned. Hundreds hanged, shot or beheaded. Tens of thousands 
killed by government forces and non-state actors. Thousands beaten 
and abused to extract information, and abused in government or 
private "treatment" centres. Millions denied life-saving medicines. 
These are alarming figures, but campaigns to address them have been 
slow and drug control has received little attention from the 
mainstream human rights movement.

This is a perfect storm for people who use drugs, especially those 
experiencing dependency, and those involved in the drug trade, 
whether growers, couriers or sellers. When people are dehumanized we 
know from experience that abuses against them are more likely. We 
know also that those abuses are less likely to be addressed because 
fewer people care.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime recently described what it saw as 
the fallout of the war on drugs. A system seems to have been created, 
the agency said, in which people who use drugs are pushed to the 
margins of society. What the agency failed to note, and which is 
clear to those of us involved in harm reduction and drug law reform, 
is that these people's human rights have also been marginalized and 
are too easily ignored.

The UN's International Narcotics Control Board has refused to condemn 
torture or "any atrocity" carried out in the name of drug control, 
claiming it was not its mandate to do so. This is both shocking and 
contradictory: oversight of international drug control treaties is 
the control board's very mission.

Late last year, despite the evidence before it, the UN Committee 
against Torture failed to condemn the widespread abuse of people who 
use drugs in the Russian Federation. In Russia, drug users are 
routinely cramped into large numbers in one room in woeful 
conditions, with inadequate food, often tied to beds for periods of 
up to 24 hours. Those singled out as troublemakers are injected with 
haloperidol, which causes muscular spasms and spinal pain, and often 
are tortured and beaten to force confessions. Requests for medical 
assistance often results in more beatings.

While tolerating such abuses, the Russian government continues, 
inexcusably, to prohibit the prescription of oral methadone treatment 
to people who are injecting heroin or other opioids, fuelling the 
H.I.V. epidemic and risks of overdose.

In a new report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Special 
Rapporteur on Torture condemned abuses against drug users in 
detention centres across Asia and called for them to be shut down. 
But far more attention is needed. Just as we now view the war on 
terror through a human rights lens, we need to see drug control as a 
human rights concern. We need to acknowledge that not only are human 
rights abuses in the war on drugs widespread, but that they are 
systemic. They are an inevitable result of what governments do when 
they set repressive and unrealistic goals to eliminate supply and 
demand for widely available commodities and exhibit zero tolerance 
for human behaviour.

A systemic problem demands systemic change.

Recently, a UN General Assembly special session on drugs was 
announced for 2016. It is a chance to look again at the drug control 
system. This time, human rights must be at the forefront.

As we move toward 2016 and this important review, it is time for the 
human rights movement to take a leading role in calling for an end to 
the war on drugs and the development of drug policies that advance 
rather than degrade human rights.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom