Home » The Impact of UN Drug Control Systems on the Mandates of other UN Bodies

The Impact of UN Drug Control Systems on the Mandates of other UN Bodies

Organized by the United Nations Development Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNAIDS.

Michel Kazatchkine

I’ve been hearing many voices calling for an open debate on the drug problem at the UNGASS next year. I would hope that this discussion starts and results in an assessment of whether our drug policies have achieved their stated objectives.

What I have seen from recent CNDs is a broader understanding of the harms of drugs, focused on individual and public health, and human rights. It is also about development, youth, gender, social violence, among others. This is why the secretary general has called on all UN agencies to contribute to the debate on drugs.

It is important all UN agencies have a voice at the UNGASS discussions so that we can help the 2016 debate as one UN family, not solely because drugs impacts on several areas of society.

We couldn’t accommodate all UN agencies here, but we do have three relevant agencies here: UNAIDS, OHCHR and UNDP.

Alison Crocket, UNAIDS

The drug control system does impact on our specific mandate due to our target to reduce HIV transmission among people who inject drugs by 50%.

We are in the process of reflection at the moment also because of the UNGASS on HIV in 2016.

There are some things we are doing well, and others not so well and the drug control system does impact on this.

The lack of harm reduction services in the world is concerning, particularly as it pertains to OST. There are a low percentage of people on anti-retrovirals and a lack of needle exchanges, in addition. If we take public health approaches to these issues we can make real progress.

An area where our approaches conflict [with organisations upholding drug control system] is concerning criminalisation of drug use. This is not least because going to prison increases potential to contract HIV, but also because drug users may not access services due to fear of being arrested. Many people are in prison for minor drug offences, and as such are exposed to the health implications imprisonment has.

Connected to this, and something which UNAIDS has worked alongside UNODC on, is in the area of law enforcement. Our assessment has been that law enforcement interventions on drugs are often very expensive and not particularly efficient in achieving what they aim to. Law enforcement should work in partnership with health officials, not in place of them, in order to ensure people get the health services they need. In this area, we can work with other UN agencies together to alleviate difficult situations and create healthier, safer communities.

80% of opioids used for pain relief are concentrated in a handful of countries meaning huge numbers dies without sufficient pain relief medication. This is something we want to address and we believe we can make more inroads into this problem.

Finally, when interdiction efforts are scaled up and trafficking routes move, so do HIV epidemics as the market moves. We have very strong evidence for the efficacy of public health. We hope that we start to understand that we need an additional perspective on drug control based on public health and human rights. We all are interdependent and we cannot achieve our objectives without collaboration from our partners who are aiming for different objectives but which are interlinked with ours.

Robert Husbands, OHCHR

I’d like to summarise some of the human rights concerns with regards to drug control policy. As a general principle, OHCHR favours an approach based on human rights and public health against a repressive approach taken by many states.

Drug related offences should not have the death penalty imposed, it’s been concluded by several bodies. Nevertheless, a number of states continue to execute drug offenders.

Another key human rights issue is the right to health. Criminalisation of drug users inhibits people from accessing treatment services as they fear arrest.

In many states, access to proven harm reduction measures is limited or non-existent. This facilitates transmission of blood-borne and other viruses.

There are also concerns over the access to essential medicines, particularly opioids.

Concerning rights to children, The Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that better public education around drugs should be provided, children should not be criminalised and harm reduction services should be offered. However, they’ve found many states don’t follow these recommendations.

In some states, there is forced detention in the name of ‘rehabilitation,’ which in certain cases may result in the torture of drug users. Despite UN efforts to close these centres, they remain. Other human rights violations in these centres include forced labour; experimental treatments; sexual abuse, among others.

Known drug use may significantly hinder right to custody for parents and impact on employment opportunities. In certain areas, minorities are disproportionately targeted in the name of drug control.

Clifton Cortez, UNDP

UNDP recognises that parts of the illicit drug use problem impact on development. We can’t lose sight of the fact that the UN’s involvement in drug policy is part of the work towards its goals based on human rights.

We need to ensure drug control policies do not undermine other goals of the UN, particularly development. Policies  countering illicit drug use and trafficking both impact on human development.

We have to address root causes of what sustains cultivation of illicit crops. These issues concern food security and land tenure issues.

We’re also focused on combating inequality. Drug policy to date disproportionately impacts on the already marginalised populations, be they socio-economically marginalised, or ethnic minorities.

UNDP is already engaged on the overlap between development and drugs. This is leading to practical actions, for example, gun free zones, keeping young people off the streets, improving infrastructure.

We have to move toward a sustainable human development approach toward drug policy; this will offer more rights-based solutions.

We are developing a paper that examines the impacts of drug use and trafficking on development. There is currently a briefing paper on this.

Milton Romani, Uruguay

It’s an honour for me to share this panel, because as a government representative it’s important for me that the various opinions here are represented in debates. It’s very important for us that we call attention to the relevance of public health in designing drug policy.

The first human right that we must defend is the right to debate. We do not agree with a unique, dogmatic way of thinking.

Many of you know that Uruguay has been in the news because we’ve decided in our sovereign interest to regulate cannabis from a public health and human rights perspective.

As you may know, Uruguay positioned itself since the 2008 CND to work with civil society organisations to promote a declaration which is today known as 51/12 to integrate human rights into the drug policy framework.

I remember that in 2008 the debate came to the point where people said “Human rights are discussed in Geneva, drugs are discussed in Vienna.” My country does not agree with this separation, despite countries still insisting on it.

Human rights conventions are a part of drug policies as well as the conventions on drugs. Those who have a flexible interpretation of the drug conventions so they can apply the death penalty are contravening other conventions on human rights. This is equally the case with states pursuing forced treatment for drug users.

As a technical person, but also as a politician, it’s hard for me to understand that we continue to differentiate between addicts and people. People addicted to drugs are people.

As an academic, one of the first distinctions I made was that addiction is only one type of drug use.

Comment from ambassador from [unstated country]

It is so important that in relation to the UNGASS, governments are able to deliver as one, not just UN bodies. If we are to have a successful result next year, we really have to integrate these perspectives.

I’m grateful you mentioned access to pain medication around the world.


We will collect these contributions and work to make them into something robust ahead of the UNGASS.


We have a paper developed that is on the UNGASS website on the role of the WHO and its mandate with regards to drug control.

UNICEF, Eastern Europe & Central Asia

The issue of drugs in regions where there are HIV epidemics is unavoidable. When you look at the issue of drugs, it impacts on so many areas that UNICEF engages in. We’re preparing a paper that will review the different experiences of UNICEF around the world with regards to how drugs and children are connected. There are lots of issues where things are unclear.

We’re also working with the WHO and other agencies to understand other lessons on key affected populations, among which are people who use drugs.


It’s extremely important to talk about an inclusive debate ahead of the UNGASS. I’m rather optimistic as I’m hearing we have a lot in common in terms of objectives of other groups. None of us would deny that we have to work with the human being at the centre of our policies.

I think that the 2015 World Drug Report is exemplary; it will have a chapter on health and treatment, so a lot of the issues laid out here will be taken into consideration in that chapter. What’s more there will be a chapter concerning development issues.

Post 2015 development gives us the opportunity to come to an understanding between all of us as we move toward the UNGASS.

In conclusion, the fact that we have 60+ side events this year is promising. It’s the inclusive process we were hoping for.

Pain relief is an outstanding issue which we haven’t sufficiently resolved.

I would love to see more UN agencies in preparation of the UNGASS working on policy papers on this issue so we know how it impacts on all organisations.

Comment by L.E.A.P

I’m concerned about the number of children and teenagers who are condemned to die because they have no other option but to work in the drug trade. What UN agency is addressing this issue, that children have a job option that gets them killed because of prohibition? Is there an agency I can direct my thoughts to on this?

Reply from OHCHR

It’s a difficult issue because it goes to both international arenas and state responsibility.

Reply UNDP

This is something we’re addressing in our work. It has to do with providing economic opportunities and keeping children engaged and directing them to alternatives.


I don’t believe prohibition will be properly raised at the UNGASS, and we need to realise that the drug that kills far more people is alcohol.

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