Side event: Human rights organs address drug policy

Side event organised by the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner and CELS.

Luciana Pol, CELS. This side event looks for a discussion on what has happened so far, contributions that are possible to do through human rights mechanisms, but also how this expertise can contribute to the UNGASS process, how these inputs can be incorporated in the CND and Vienna based organisations. We will also look at the next steps on how to share human rights knowledge for drug control. We would also like to discuss what could be the tools we need to guide states to develop drug policies that incorporate human rights. We have a very good panel with different contributions.

Ben Leather, International Service for Human Rights. My organisation has two aims: support human rights defenders who are at risk and help them interact with international mechanisms. In January 2015, we carried out a consultation in Latin America to ask them about the issues they work on and risks they are facing. It was clear that across the Americas human rights defenders are obliged to work on drug policy issues because the current policies in the region had grave impacts on human rights: increase in pretrial detention, in torture, extrajudicial executions, etc. There was an increased collusion between organised crime and governments in perpetuating these human rights abuses. The second thing that was clear was that these activists were at great risk for denouncing these abuses. While they had proposals on what the drug strategy could look like, they were finding themselves excluded from the debate. Analysing international drug policy is a big part of human rights defenders in the Americas. This is similar in other areas of the world: Afghanistan, Thailand, Indonesia. I worked in Mexico for 5 years, where the drug strategy was militarised with devastating impacts. Friends who had denounced abuses were threatened and murdered. And this is not just a Mexico issue, it is an issue from across the region and the world. We also analysed land rights issues. Following on from the consultation, we looked at what was going on at international level. We saw that in 2008 UNODC World Drug Report identified negative consequences, in 2009 and 2010 the rapporteurs on health and torture denounced these abuses. There has since then been more work done to denounce these issues. Last year, a resolution was passed unanimously at the Human Rights Council, committing the OHCHR to draft a report on the issue, and a panel discussion was held at the Human Rights Council in September on crucial issues at stake. It was thanks to a core group of states and NGOs that we managed to highlight the interlink between human rights and drug policy. UNGASS must incorporate the human rights angle. This is unclear for now whether this will be the case. The outcome document does not include this angle. It ought to refer to the OHCHR report and endorse it. It is the case of using the momentum created towards 2019. The UN must set the example that these issues can cross, that civil society can play a key role. The UN human rights mechanisms have a responsibility to investigate how to incorporate the drugs angle. There has been a proposal from civil society to create a UN special rapporteur on drugs – this may be a good way forward. Everybody working in either of those fields should also make sure that they reflect the connections between these two issues. To not do so is simply offensive to the victims of abuses throughout the Americas. Guidelines can be developed by the human rights mechanisms on how to develop drug policies with a human rights focus. And states should take on this responsibility as well. Human rights activists should be consulted, and should be protected. They are trying to input into the debate, they know what needs to change. But they are not being protected when attacked for doing their work.

Luciana Pol, CELS. I want to highlight the indirect consequences of how the drug control policies are set – military operations in the territory, and the issues of violence related to the presence of the military. This can be related to gender violence. Another issue is the two levels of relations between drug policies and human rights. One is the idea of guidelines and how to incorporate human rights principles into drug policies. There, the collaboration between drug agencies and human rights bodies is key. But monitoring of drug policies is the responsibility of human rights organisations.

Margarette May Macaulay, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I have been given the responsibility as rapporteur for women’s rights and the rights of Afro-descendants in the Americas. I am also rapporteur for 7 countries in the Americas. I am also a practising lawyer in Jamaica. From my rapporteurship on human rights, I very much focus on the impact of drug policies on women and girls. We all know the devastating impact this has had. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was the first international organisation to deal with the drug trade and drug policies from a human rights policies. It held a meeting on the issue during its 150th session. It also indirectly analysed the impact of drug policies on human rights of citizens in the region, when dealing with issues of migrants, health, potable water, corruption of state systems, and so on. It will also release a report on violence, children and organised crime, prepared with assistance with other human rights agencies. The OAS itself held a special session on the issue and produced a report in 2013. It also published a policy working paper on women and drugs in 2014, as well as a report on alternatives to incarceration for drug offences in 2015. This will go on. It has been recognised that the war on drugs is a big and complete failure. It has in fact introduced more problems into the respect and implementation of human rights. The use of the military, the criminalisation of everything related to drugs including simple possession and use have caused problems. The effect of poverty in the involvement of women in the drug  trade has not been properly been studied and highlighted. They have been criminalised instead of looking into the underlying issues of their involvement. According to WHO, when you have a rate of homicides over 10 per 100.000, you have an epidemic of violence. In Honduras, they have 65 out of 100.000 – it is endemic. The continent itself is plagued with high levels of violence. We cannot overlook this problem and set it aside. It has to be dealt with now. The issues of each country having areas within its borders that gather people involved in the criminal drug trade for profit without respect for human lives and conditions seem to come from the districts that have dilapidated infrastructure, they are forgotten areas without electricity, water, light. It is a vacuum in government presence, and they therefore create their own system. The justice system has been corrupted in so many countries. The commission, recognising this, has highlighted the fact that we cannot continue to ignore that people cannot enjoy their basic human rights in those areas. Existing policies over the past 50 years have focused on criminal law, it is not looked at as a health issue or alleviation of poverty or gender issues. In Jamaica, Dons in those areas, as a matter of right, assume full control over women and girls. And the parents cannot object. As a result, you have the rights of parents abused, and the rights of these young women abused who usually end up pregnant very young, are used as drug mules, and when they are caught in the net, the children they are forced to give birth to are left alone. This is a compelling violation of human rights. Policies focused on criminalisation have very little impact at all as they do not address the problems they have created, and exacerbate existing problems, as well as dangerously affect the rule of law. States must ensure that the concept of security must be centred on protecting people. We need to stop sending people needlessly in prisons. These are also perpetuating violations of human rights due to overcrowding and bad conditions. We must stop using a system of punishment for people who break the law, this simply does not work. The COmmission’s position is also that there must be a shift in drug policies for a new holistic, comprehensive and multisectorial approach focused on prevention, instead of coercion. It recommends that:

  • policies should no longer be militarised
  • ban minimum sentences
  • courts must consider the background of the person and the reasons for involvement
  • must ensure that states reinstate the age of criminal responsibility accepted in international human rights standards
  • develop community policing systems to end drug lord rules
  • establish violence protection at local level
  • special training for police on social coexistence problems
  • consider the gender repercussions and apply international standards on youth, and apply the principle of last resort in imposing prison sentences.

We cannot ignore this problem, it violates so many human rights. Please assist us in the Commission so that we can change the whole paradigm on how states manage this problem.

Robert Husbands, OHCHR. In 2015, the OHCHR produced its first report on human rights and drug policy. We also organised a panel discussion on the same project in September 2015. We sent the report to the CND to feed into the UNGASS. OHCHR’s role is mostly through the special rapporteur mechanisms. I want to look back at a review of human rights mechanisms and the report from 2015, and what happened since then.

Right to health: the issue has been addressed by successive Special Rapporteurs. In 2010, a report was released recommending decriminalisation, harm reduction measures – which was also recommended by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Criminal issues: we recommended that the death penalty for drug offences does not meet the threshold of most serious crimes. The working group on arbitrary detention has issues a series of report on arbitrary detention and disproportionate penalties. Arbitrary executions have also been raised as an issue of concern, with failure to investigate. In 2009, the Special Rapporteur on torture condemned this.

Discrimination issues: most information of the OHCHR came from other sources, not special rapporteur reports. Regarding the rights of the child, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concerns about drugs. In 2009, the Forum on Indigenous Issues raised the issue of the rights of indigenous peoples and drugs.

In August 2015, we released our report, but what happened next? The main effort has been on communicating the conclusions of the OHCHR report with high level briefings and events in Geneva, in New York (organised by the PGA), and in Vienna in December (organised by Colombia, Switzerland and Norway). In 2016, we participated in two events – one organised by UNU in early February, and then later in February organised by Colombia, Switzerland and Norway. It is unusual for OHCHR to have so many speaking engagements on our work at the highest political level. This is important.

Looking forward to UNGASS, OHCHR has showed interest in participating in Roundtable 3 on human rights. According to the rules, we can participate in the thematic debates in roundtables. Although we have not yet been informed of final decisions, we are hopeful we can participate. We will also participate in two side events – one on human rights, the other on the death penalty.

After UNGASS, we will work with UNDP on the issue of the death penalty. We will continue to be involved in the work of CND. Resolution 28/28 was supported by 20 states – this was very unusual to have so many states sponsoring a resolution. The resolution called for the panel and report. It was prepared in informals, the second of which didn’t want to have a report. It was not until the third informal that we agreed to have the report. It was aimed to be a one time contribution to the special session. There was therefore no follow up resolution at the Human Rights Council. I suspect that as the horizon of 2019 approaches, the Human Rights Council will once again see fit to engage again.

Luciana Pol, CELS. Some things have been done but more must be done to reflect the human rights aspect of drug control.

Council of Europe.  We have only been talking about one aspect of the human rights impact of drug policy, enforcement.  What about impact of the policies themselves?  If we look at the HR impact of the policies themselves, we would be able to trump?  We have some between 190K and 400K deaths due to drugs every year.  A considerable number are preventable.  We can avoid through different policies.  Transmission of Hep C etc.  Through different policies we can change the number of people infected, etc.  Becomes a duty of the state in hr terms.  Not an option. Assumption is that if we incorporate a hr dimension to drug policy at the base, it will have an impact on everything else we have said this morning.  Will trump that.

Margarette.  Totally agree that there has to be a new approach  Policies have to have its basis in HR. restorative Justice.

Robert Husbands.  In some of the interventions of High Commission, WHO has estimated that 67K people die every year from drug related deaths.  Harm reduction and naloxone could reduce that.  Very concrete way to address.

Daniel Joloy.  Amnesty International.  OHCHR report still not reflected in the outcome document.  What is the space to keep promoting the report especially in the outcome document.  Will address it today in the plenary.  Will be available.

Richard Elliot, Canadian HIV AIDS Network.  Notion of guidelines been floating around for a while.  Would there be a number of regional HR bodies joining with UN HR bodies to give guidelines more heft?

Margarette. that is a good way forward.  Commission working closely with UN agencies and systems to collaborate.  Would bring in European and African and Asian.  should be global.  if you do a region, not enough.  Will bring it up in the next session, starting on April 1.

Council of Europe. excellent idea.  Should be incorporated into outcome document.

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