Side event. The impact of drug policy on economic, social and cultural rights: Overturning decades of neglect

Organised by the International Drug Policy Consortium with the support of Colombia, Czechia, Ghana, Norway, Portugal, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Dejusticia, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association, Harm Reduction International, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the International Network of People who Use Drugs, and the Transnational Institute

Susan Eckey, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Norway: (…)

Laura Gil Savastano, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Colombia: (…)

Seree Nonthasoot, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: (…)

Kassandra Frederique, Drug Policy Alliance: (…)

Sandra Bermúdez, Corporación Viso Mutop: I was invited to speak about the consequences of current drug policy on economic, social y cultural rights in Colombia. ¿How have drug policies been implemented on hundreds of coca-growing communities in Colombia with whom we have worked for 2 decades We hope that our experience can contribute to this debate. The human rights violations in the name of drug policy that are inflicted upon this specific population are many and are historical. Most of these affected communities are already living under extremely vulnerable conditions and exclusion. To begin with, I am going to use a phrase from the Vice Shanslord Laura Gil said yesterday in the plenary session for the installation of this CND, as a reference. That in our country more than 2 million hectares, were fumigated with glyphosate. The simple measure of land says nothing. The things is that…In the midst of the war on drugs, the state and the armed groups expelled 9 million people from rural areas as displaced by the armed conflict, a conflict in which aerial spraying with pesticides contributed to victimizing populations, contaminates water sources, soil desertification, and its affecting food security. Women and men, LGBTI+Q, migrants, people in street situation, people with pain conditions and suffering from chronic diseases and young people, prison population, farmers, fishermen, indigenous people and Afro-descendants, moreover consumers. All them in the global south have been affected in their economic, social and cultural rights, also the fundamental rights. Erradication is also militarization: It causes damage to food crops and food insecurity, contaminates water, soil, and ecosystems, affects health, and forcibly displaces families. This strategy has produced the birth of children with genetic malformations, it has increased the militarization of the territory, causing internal violence, without respecting the principle of distinction between actors enshrined in International Human Rights treaties and without applying proportionality in the use of force. I have been reviewing the effects caused by drug policies on vulnerable and marginalized populations in Latin America, and their fundamental rights. In my work, I accompany regional processes of organized communities where coca or marijuana is cultivated as part of farmers economies, that is, as an economic support for families that, due to the lack of access to land and the crisis of agricultural have opted for the planting of prohibited plants. Latin America has led international discussions on drug policy reforms, as in the case of UNGASS 2016, however, its policies continue to be designed and implemented based on International Conventions and Treaties that define frameworks, guidelines and specific approaches for countries specify their institutional programs. This approach includes the militarization and penalization of actions supported by the use of force and a judicial system based on punitive function, favouring the application of criminal law. This automatically leads to violations of human rights of vulnerable populations, and implies a higher incarceration of the population linked to the drug economy. This logic can be appreciated in many things; the establishment of a metric system for the reduction of hectares, the destruction of infrastructure for the processing of substances, seizure of resources and precursors for production and processing, interdiction of drugs, in addition to sanctions, imprisonment and criminalization of drug users. Legal frameworks should be designed to address proportional and alternative responses to punishment, especially for growers, users, and people involved in small-scale trafficking, as well as non-violent drug crimes. With respect to rural populations, the institutions of the productive and environmental sector must guarantee the participation of the growers of plants used for illicit purposes, in the planning, execution, monitoring and evaluation of alternative development programs so that the needs of recipients are taken into account, as stated in the UN Guiding Principles for Alternative Development. Governments must ensure a correct and coordinated sequencing of development programs and work on long-term policies that overcome the instability of changes in government.

Aditia Taslim, International Network of People who Use Drugs: 3 years ago, I attempted suicide by taking a full month dose of anti-depressant, three days in a row due to my chronic border-line depression. At the time, I was jobless, and despite having a national insurance, drug-related overdose and suicide attempts are considered self-inflicting and therefore will not be covered by the insurance scheme. Therefore, I never received proper care for any medical implication of my attempts. Stigma, discrimination and criminalisation of people who use drugs continue to deny people who use drugs in accessing lifesaving services such as harm reduction and other essential health services. People who use drugs are also denied access to social services, housing, education and employment. Mandatory urine test is often seen in job application requirements, and random urine test determines who stays in the job and who is out, regardless of their performance and contribution to the work. In the past year, we have seen an increasing number of countries providing harm reduction services, particularly needles and syringes and opioid agonist therapy. However, having these services only available is not enough, especially when they are not accessible. The lack of gender sensitive harm reduction services has led to many women who use drugs avoiding and unable to access these lifesaving services. Many of these services are also fueled by moralism and the idea of a drug free world – that aims to stop people from using drugs. People accessing these services are often getting lectured as opposed to the much needed counseling that can really address the intersecting issues and needs the individual drug user has. People who are on Opioid Agonist Therapy programme are subject to mandatory urine test – a positive result of opiate may impact their access to take home dose, or even access to the service itself. Over the past decade there have been increasing claims that we are progressing in international drug policy, with more recognition of the failure of war on drugs and the introduction of alternative approaches including decriminalisation. The shift from criminalisation towards a more public health response may be seen as a progress, but pathologising people who use drugs as patients lead to another layer of stigmatisation and discrimination. Too often, decriminalisation is discussed as if there is only one model, and without any involvement of people who use drugs in the design. This morning, I spoke about the risks that drug user-led organisations whether at global, regional or national level face in practising our freedom to assembly and association. We are intimidated, forced to shut down, threatened, and restricted in participating, including having a basic organisational need such as an independent bank account, thus limiting the opportunity to the already scarce funding. The economic, social and cultural issues cannot be separated from drug policy and drug use. Without addressing the underlying issue of criminalisation and the rights to economic, social and cultural life, we will remain harassed, tortured, and left behind.

Ann Fordham, International Drug Policy Consortium: (…)

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