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
Ann Fordham, International Drug Policy Consortium: This event is also online if you wish to follow in a more comfortable situation then being crammed into this space, and of course will also be recorded and be available later. So let me welcome you all to this side event on drug policy and economic, social and cultural rights, overturning decades of neglect. In the last 15 years, we have seen unprecedented progress in recognising the human rights impacts of drug policy. Every year we see more evidence, more advocacy and more political recognition of the devastation that punitive drug policies have caused in a broad range of human rights all across the world. So in October last year, a new chapter in this story of progress and reform was opened the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the body tasked with monitoring and providing guidance on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights announced that it would start work on a general comment on the impacts of drug policy. This is the first time that a human rights treaty body decides to write a thematic comment on drug policy. It’s a historic opportunity to cement drug policy within human rights and also human rights within drug policy debates. And most importantly, the general comment will provide systematic, coherent and authoritative guidance on four member states on how to discharge the human rights obligations in the implementation of drug policy. This is why the general comment will be equally important in drug policymaking as much as in human rights discussions and why it needs to occupy a central place in Vienna, as much as in Geneva. Historically, the recognition of human rights impacts has been built around a number of very important but limited issues, such as the death penalty for drug offences or the right to health. And the general comment will be an opportunity to expand that conversation and shed light on a broad range of rights that are equally important for a life lived with full dignity, including right to health to work, housing, education, and an adequate standard of living and to take part in cultural life. So I feel very fortunate today to have the perfect panel for this conversation. So let me introduce you to all the panellists and then we will move to the two opening remarks. The first will be from Her Excellency Ambassador Susan Eckey of Norway. We also have a video address from Vice Minister, Laura Gil, Vice minister for Multilateral Affairs of Colombia. And then first panellist will be Dr. Seree Nonthasoot, who is the member of the UN Committee on Economic social cultural rights. Then Kassandra Frederique from the USA, who is the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Sandra Bermudez from Colombia, the executive director of Viso Mutop. And Aditia Taslim, Advocacy Officer of INPUD, from Indonesia. First let me hand over to the ambassador, you have the floor. Thank you.
Susan Eckey, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Norway: Thank you very much for inviting Norway and me to provide a few opening remarks. We are delighted to co sponsor this event together with such a broad array of member states civil society and UN experts. Oh, and I’m particularly honoured to share these introductory remarks with Her Excellency, the Minister of Colombia, Laura, Gil. Norway has for many years been at the forefront of global efforts to place human rights and health at the centre of drug policymaking. A part of this effort has been to bridge the historical isolation between UN drug policymaking here in Vienna, and UN human rights bodies in Geneva. And I must say we’ve been quite successful. Two examples: Norway was one of the leading countries in the first ever resolution and drug policy at the Human Rights Council. And we are one of the co-organisers of the Brandenburg Forum on Drug Policy and Development. This forum brings together key actors in global drug policy debates, including UN human rights experts, and both Vienna and Geneva delegations. This side event is one more step in the efforts to bring human rights topics and human rights experts to the core of internet national drug policy making and one dimension of economic, social and cultural rights is the right to health. And as we underlined in our statement in at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs this morning, Norway believes that people who use drugs or who experienced drug dependence need to be met with support and healthcare, rather than with criminal justice, and public health approach to drugs is the main framework for drug policy. So we warmly welcome this side event, as well as the initiative, as you mentioned, to prepare a general comment on the impact of drug policies and economic, social and cultural rights. And I look forward to the discussions and hearing the very distinguished panel. Thank you.
Laura Gil Savastano, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Colombia: I am very pleased to participate in this important side event. And I would like to thank the International Drug Policy Consortium, co-sponsoring states and organisations for their interest in addressing the topic of drug policy, and its impact on economic, social and cultural rights have a special relevance for us and the role of women in a new multilateral approach to the world drug problem. Drug policy has been a contentious issue for decades, with an overwhelming tendency for implementing harsh and punitive measures to tackle drug use and trafficking. These approaches, often yield catastrophic consequences, including human rights violations, increased violence, and the displacement of vulnerable populations. In Colombia, we have faced these challenges head on, as drug trafficking has been a major driver of violence and conflict in our country for decades. As President Petro has acknowledged, however, traditional drug policies have not worked, they have failed. Because the traditional paradigm has been unsuccessful in delivering people centred public policies. Colombia strongly believes it is time for a change. The change is now we need to explore pathways to align human rights and social justice with drug policies. Meaningful change must be focused on the critical role of women in addressing the drug problem, including their needs and views in the formulation of public policies aimed at comprehensively addressing the drug situation. Women have been disproportionately affected by the current drug policy, both as users but especially as victims of violence and discrimination of the so called drug war. For example, both the ions, INCB and the UNODC most recent reports raise awareness on the fact that cocaine trade deeply contributes to the exploitation of women, as they are forced to work in often violent and harsh conditions prone to abuse and other forms of violence. On the other hand, despite representing almost one out of every two amphetamine users, women constitute only one out of every five people in treatment for amphetamine use, revealing the deep and invisible stigmas and barriers for accessing treatment services. Hence, traditional approaches regarding drug policies hinder women’s enjoyment of rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Women possess unique perspectives and experiences that can inform drug policy at all levels. From community based interventions to international policymaking. They can provide valuable insight into the social and economic factors that drive drug use and trafficking, as well as the impact of drug policy on society. This means that any effective drug policy must involve agenda perspective in decision making, resource allocation and programme implementation. On this note, Colombia emphasises the importance of women rights in the drafting of the new general comment on the impacts of drug policies on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and calls for women participation in this momentous opportunity. I am positive that stakeholders around the world and the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights will heed this call and will foster women participation in the drafting process and beyond. I believe that our efforts will be worthwhile if the impact of drug policies and women are prioritised within a reformation of the principles of non-discrimination and equality, participation, consultation, transparency, and especially the protection of cultural practices involving control substances in traditional and indigenous communities. Colombia, through its feminist foreign policy, supports these efforts and is willing to provide its expertise and political support for ensuring women needs are duly considered in draft policies. Thank you.
Seree Nonthasoot, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
I am here to discuss with you in my capacity as a rapporteur on the new general comment on drug policies and the impact on economic, social and cultural rights. And I’m talking on two points, one where we stand and to where we are going. I think you know that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is a treaty body, and it has 171 state parties. The CESCR examines reports that are submitted periodically and provides concluding observations for progressive realisation of economic, social and cultural rights on drug issues. It has found that human rights violations from drug policy exist in countries of all levels of development, and in all global geographies, and has consistently called for a human rights based approach to drug policies. From my own initial research, the jurisprudence on drug policy impacts of the committee can be clustered into four categories. This is where we stand. The first category broadly pertains to criminalization of people who use drugs. The committee has consistently observed that criminalization does not provide a viable solution when we put people at the heart of our concern. The livelihood, access to health care, and development opportunities, or persons who use drugs are put at risk, and many cases, categorically denied when they are treated as criminals and put through the criminal justice system. In many instances when a death penalty is handed down, especially the mandatory death sentence imposed in relation to types and weight of drugs concerned, the persons are essentially losing the most fundamental of rights, their right to life. The second category of our jurisprudence involves the implementation of harm reduction programmes, including provision of syringes and medication through the lens of the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The committee has provided caution on the availability, affordability, quality and voluntary nature of such programmes in rural areas, and even in most urban areas, coverage of harm reduction is still limited. And people who use drugs do not receive the treatment and information that they’re required to make an informed decision about their own health. Often the committee is informed about cases where people are put through the harm reduction programmes against their will. Intimidation and corruption of public offices and private operators of the programmes have also been reported. The third category concerns specific groups such as persons with disabilities and persons with mental health issues: who has access to controlled drugs and substance is hampered by legislation, policies or practices that require them to travel long distances to obtain drugs, rendering them victims of crime syndicates and putting their health at greater risks. High rate of addiction among these specific groups and I must now include, as the vice minister emphasised, women, has also been observed and the committee has pointed to state parties to provide corresponding treatment. The fourth category of our jurisprudence is a general concern for the exercise and enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights or persons who use drugs who have been put through the criminal justice system or involuntary harm reduction measures. There are instances of people who have a drug use or rehabilitation record being denied their access to employment, shunned by the employers, and more importantly, access to social security. My second point: where are we going and why it’s necessary to draft this general comment. The Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights predates the three international draft conventions. It was adopted in 1966 and came into effect in 1976. So human rights issues are invariably dynamic and evolving. A general comment is a document through which guidelines on the observance of the Covenant can be systematically and comprehensively provided for both the committee and 171 state parties. Developing a general comment is akin to a compilation exercise. The rapporteur undertakes to compile existing observations which are given specifically to situation of each state party, then synthesises, general or common issues. The general comment development is also a very dynamic process, identifying the intersectionality and nexus among the rights holders, duty bearers and stakeholders and also opportunities for them to make improvement to existing legislative or policy framework. The process to develop a general comment is as important as the substance. As a synopsis, a general comment of any human rights treaty body must not exceed 10,700 words. And in essence, it contains guidelines for state parties on the three pillars of their responsibilities as duty bearers to the rights holders. That is how they are obligated to respect, protect and fulfil their duties toward in this instance, the person who uses drugs. Throughout its 26 general comments thus far, the committee has undertaken broad based consultation with relevant stakeholders. And as a lead reporter of the general comment on drug policies, I intend to fully follow our long standing practice and even add additional channels to make the consultative process as open, transparent and participatory as possible. In addition to the formal consultation to be undertaken by our Secretariat, the Office of the High Commissioner human rights and I’m very glad that the High Commissioner spoke this morning strongly for drug policy reform through calls for written submission. Once a draft general comment is prepared, and the organisation of the day for general discussion, I personally have developed a website as an informal and parallel channel of communication and consultation. The website, once fully ready will be launched and I welcome your input. Perhaps you already noticed that the Committee on equal social and cultural rights, in principle focuses its attention on issues specific to a state party, that there are a number of issues that are not reported. I look forward to collaborating with you all. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Kassandra Frederique, Drug Policy Alliance: Thank you. Thank you. So as Ann said, I’m the executive director at Drug Policy Alliance. We are a US based organisation, and I was asked to speak about the work that we’re doing around economic and social justice. One of the things that was really important for us at Drug Policy Alliance as we built our strategy to end the drug war in the US was recognising that the drug war was not just happening through the criminal legal system. That, in fact, other systems that people have to live through, created their own versions of the drug war. So, in the US when we passed one of our biggest drug laws in 1988, that created so much infrastructure around criminalization. The education system created laws, the employment systems created laws, the housing systems created laws, the immigration systems created laws. But our advocacy largely focused on the criminal legal system because that’s what we could see. We could see people being arrested; we could see the militarization of policing. And while there were people that were always navigating, getting kicked out of university or not being able to get access…because, you know, in the US, they don’t pay you to go to school, you have to pay an arm and a leg and your house and your firstborn kid in order to go to university there. So, they would block the ability to get student loans. In the US, which has a very draconian immigration policy, drugs are the number four reason why people are deported. Most people don’t realise that one of the number one reasons why people get kicked out of school is because of drugs as well. So, we realised that part of our analysis about what it meant to end the drug war had to actually include what are the other systems that people are navigating every single day. And how is the drug war showing up there and morphing and perverting that system. The fact is, is that hunger is a large issue in the US. Yet only a drug felony conviction can block you from getting government assistance to get food stamps. Because if you use drugs, you shouldn’t be able to have help to get something to eat. The other thing that was wild is that housing is unaffordable in the US. We have a large public housing government’s subsidy housing system. The only conviction that bans you from being in public housing is drugs. So, in every civil system in the US, what we find is that your relationship to drugs can pervert your ability to be a full participating system, citizen and participant in society. So, what does it mean? When drug policy, civil society organisations are fighting for harm reduction, and fighting for decriminalisation, but need to recognise that we cannot do drug policy in a vacuum. Because the truth is, is that we can get people who use drugs, access to syringes, but if they don’t have access to a banana, what is the point? If they don’t get arrested, but they have to sleep on the street? Because they are banned from housing. What are we doing? The truth is that this conversation about drug policy cannot solely be about drugs. That is a distraction. It is a distraction from the real fight, which is about how do we make sure different people that have different complicated human behaviours that are part of different communities have access to be full participants in society. I think the thing that has been most interesting for me is as we think about drug policy reforms, most drug policy reforms will talk about things like decriminalisation and the regulation of drugs. But the truth is when I went to Colombia, and I was talking to people, the conversation around regulation if it does not include supporting basic economic structures and markets, what are we actually doing? And we are running the risk if we are not contextualising drug policy reforms in a broader economic, social justice human rights framework, we are essentially serving up the most exploited and discriminated against people on a platter to the same systems that have worked so hard to keep those people subjugated and disenfranchised. Because addiction for profit is a real thing. I think as we have conversations about drug policy, it is irresponsible for us to be having a conversation about drug control outside of a broader frame, that drugs is a part of, but not the centrepiece. And I know that can sound really ridiculous because the drug war is so pervasive. But the truth is that even for the folks that are fighting for legal regulation, if we fight for legal regulation, and indigenous communities are pushed out, or unable to be a part of it, despite the fact that they’ve been exploited, and brutalised and continuously pushed aside, then what we’re actually doing is just creating the drug war in a different in a different way. Because we’ve not actually done the thing that is necessary, which is to uproot the basis of what they use the drug war to do, which is to control certain groups of people. And in order for us to remove social control, our communities need power. And that means our communities need platforms to affirm their rights and dignity and humanity. And those things are not possible if we don’t end the drug war. And it’s not possible if we try to end the drug war in a vacuum that is not connected to the other things people need to live.
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: Adit, thank you so much for being here with us and for sharing such a personal but powerful story. And you know, it really goes to the heart of what we’re talking about, brings us back to the reality of, you know, how this really damages people’s lives, their mental health, their access to services. It’s so important to have that perspective. And to you know, have you guys leading in this discussion and in the design of what comes next, absolutely. So thank you so much.