Home » Side event: Drug policy and human rights: Perspectives from Latin America

Side event: Drug policy and human rights: Perspectives from Latin America

Organized by the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil Conselho Federal with the support of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad, the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and Rede Brasileira de Redução de Danos e Direitos Humanos

Francisco Netto, FIOCRUZ: Introduces the panel.

Julie Hannah, International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy: Introduction to the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy, explaining what they entail and how to implement them. These Guidelines were launched in 2019 at the last high-level panel of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) with key partners such as UNAIDS, WHO, UNDP, ICHRDP, and OHCHR. They were crafted through a participatory process involving governments, civil society, academia, and affected communities. The content spans a spectrum of economic, social, and cultural rights, encompassing the entire human experience of drug control. Thematically organised around criminal justice, public health, and development, their implementation has been meticulously mapped and is available on our website. We’ve analysed 72 instances of Guidelines implementation across various regions, including at the regional, national, and supranational levels. At the UN level, these Guidelines have become commonplace in human rights forums, with UN Treaty Bodies and special procedures citing them in recommendations. Recently, the UN Human Rights Council recognised them in its latest resolution on human rights and drug policy. Regionally, we’ve engaged in a three-year process of fostering exchanges with civil society, academia, community members, and NGOs on how to strategise for regional implementation. We’ve hosted a series of regional dialogues, four of them globally, starting in Mexico City and resuming after a pause due to COVID. These dialogues have been instrumental, serving as catalysts for work in Colombia and Brazil. The Guidelines have been instrumental in shaping policy, with examples including their integration into the EU Drug Strategy and Colombia’s national drug policy. We’ve also developed a pilot assessment tool on alternatives to incarceration, which will be available online. Collaborating with the Ministry of Justice of Colombia, we’re developing various tools and policy exchanges on alternatives to incarceration for women. National dialogues, like the one held yesterday in the Philippines, have seen impressive strategies developed in collaboration with civil society, with the Guidelines at their core. In Ghana, a national dialogue on the Guidelines facilitated the construction of legislative tools for progressive drug legislation. They’ve also influenced the judiciary, particularly in Colombia, where the Constitutional Court and the Council of State have used the Guidelines to interpret the state’s constitutional obligations regarding drug consumption in public spaces and aerial spraying. The Guidelines have been utilised in Albania and Colombia to strengthen the capacity of judicial officials in mitigating sentencing within the context of human rights principles. Organisations like Dejusticia in Colombia and the Consejo Superior have supported the implementation of laws concerning women detained for low-level drug offences. The process and methodology behind the Guidelines are participatory and reality-based, emphasising accountability. Operationalising them in policy construction involves a framework that prioritises clear human rights commitments, focusing on those left behind, and ensuring specific, measurable, and achievable objectives. Comprehensive coordination across governance sectors is crucial, as drug policies intersect with various aspects of society. Human rights serve as a shared framework and set of values in this endeavour.

Bojan Konstantinov, UNDP: I’m part of the HIV and health team at UNDP, who partnered with the development and implementation of Guidelines. We are partnering with our sister entities OHCHR, UNAIDS and WHO in the implementation of the Guidelines. Critical partners in implementation. New initiative to support the implementation of the guidelines, supported by OSF. Designed with the goal to support and catalyse the delivery of the UN System Common Position on Drugs. What we’re concerned about is that it’s being implemented, for sure, but it needs to be done much faster and at a much bigger scale —with many more partnerships that are evidence based, rights based and health oriented. Currently a lot to be desired so we can do better on this. On one hand, reintroduce the guidelines in the context of a stool that supports the delivery of the UN System Common Position to Resident Coordinators in countries that are interested in reforming drug policies and laws, and enabling environments in the context of drugs and human rights. And, from there, continue country partnership with the active engagement of the UN system in partnering with civil society, government, academia and other stakeholders to create opportunities for reform in order to help catalyse ongoing projects, etc. This funding is not enough to fund this. The resources are limited so we cannot fund these activities but we can raise awareness and hopefully secure commitments. And strategic resources to support mostly civil society and academic and community organisations. This project started last year —this is technically the second year. It will last another two years. It looks like we have time but the tasks are so ambitious that the clock is ticking! No time for resting. Last thing, a component of this project is on the development dimension. We’re thinking for example in terms of gender inclusive alternative development, corporate capture in relation to cannabis regulation, and many other developments.

Francisca Obligats, SENDA, Chile: In Chile, we had a national strategy and now we’re facing the action plan. We had in mind the Guidelines while developing it. It’s an action plan centred on demand reduction activities. We have a big gap in the human rights field in our legislation. Initiatives are there but it’s not SENDA’s duty to do so. We will talk about demand reduction programmes in Chile. Initially about reducing drug use, now about mitigating health and social consequences for people and communities too. The drug use problems are finally an inequality problem. The impact of drug use isn’t the same in different communities and people because of inequalities. Measures and actions to cope with that. Sharing a slide on the situation in Chile with drug consumption. In Chile, we have a national survey on prevalence of drug use since 1995. The outcomes tend to be a list of prevalence for each drug. By ages and things like that. So we wanted to do a more comprehensive analysis of what was happening in Chile. We know that marginalised groups are not captured in these examples. It reaffirmed that it was an inequality problem and that we had to engage in action related to this. For instance, we found that school-age women use more alcohol, cannabis and tranquilisers without a prescription than men. We also noted the challenge of the use of ketamine —which is a relatively new development for our country. People in treatment have high levels of unemployment and disconnection with other services. The Action Plan is launched this month, so I cannot share the full Plan. Also, the amount of women incarcerated for drug laws in Chile is soaring —they’re disproportionately affected but working at the lowest rungs. So we’re integrating actions in our plan to move this forward. SENDA can do advocacy with other government bodies, because we join ministerial commitments to work out solutions together. Our purpose is to have prevention and recovery in all public policies. In terms of human rights and the action plan. We took into consideration not only the principles of human rights (dignity, non-discrimination and participation), but also a mechanism for civil society to review —with the participation of people with lived experience and children. It includes considerations like the right to social security and adequate standard of living, access to treatment,… Our Action Plan also considers the human rights of specific persons: children, women, persons deprived of liberty, Indigenous peoples. Eight focuses. But we also see it through three main perspectives: More than 14 actions to ensure and guarantee rights. For instance, guarantee that in a child’s school trajectory, they encounter prevention. Also, specifically in relation to women and children, more than 10 actions that emphasis the exercise of the rights of women and children —we know women who use drugs and are pregnant are criminalised and their kids are taken away. We’ve been working with doctors and we had a great experience in the capital with that, for instance. And we seek economic autonomy for women. Finally, we have more than 13 measures that seek to build equity in recovery and prevention programmes. For instance, programmes for people who are homeless, increasing social support programmes for recovery. We are proud of this work because we think it will make a difference.

Fabio Emel Pedraza Pérez, Colombia: I want to refer to specific issues related to drug policy. Some of them have been highlighted at the beginning of the event. Responding to the harms associated with drug use and trafficking is one of the greatest policy challenges of our times, and there’s human rights implications to all. For decades, global drug policy commitments have reaffirmed that the world drug phenomenon must be carried out in full conformity with human rights and fundamental freedoms. The reality is not such. Unfortunately, Colombia was not the exception. Nevertheless, since 2022, things have been changing internally but also in our foreign policy in relation to drugs. In the General Debate, our national statement and joint statement that Colombia promoted with over 60 member states. As the President communicated to the UNGA, there’s a need for a new approach. Our challenge was to overcome prohibitionism as the dominant paradigm and, rather, address the structural causes of this phenomenon. Our new strategy: By sewing life, we outlaw trafficking —this is our policy for 10 years. People centred. Drafted from the territories and rural areas of Colombia, with vulnerable populations including farmers and Indigenous people. Hundreds of organisations and communities participated. Improving people’s lives. It was designed to balance our human rights obligations and responsibilities within the Conventions. Putting people at the centre, we want to uphold the respect of human rights, promote peace and justice, protect the environment and promote territorial transformation —which is why we wanted the participation of rural communities. We wanted vulnerable populations, rural, indigenous, women and children to be protagonists of this change. This is an important historical opportunity. Concrete efforts in addressing multiple crosscutting issues like racial justice, indigenous justice, gender equality and youth rights. Colombia is perhaps as you know the country that has suffered the most from the impacts on the failure of the war on drugs. We’ve lost so many in the last decades. The economic and social and environmental costs have been great. Colombia shares the call by the SG to promote consensus around the UN Human Rights Universal Declaration. Time to advance the reflection to advance consensus on the Universal Declaration and to determine how best to implement this consensus in addressing the challenges ahead. The OHCHR report is a landmark opportunity in this direction. Important shift from punitive measures to address human rights and public health. With that report, we feel were paving the way towards more human centred drug policy. Additional synergies between the dialogues taking place where in Vienna, on the guidelines, etc. After 60 years of the Conventions, we know production, consumption and legal/controlled substances hasn’t decreased,. Colombia wants to transform the global prohibition regime and make it into a human regime. Priority for us. This is in the national development plan for the next years. Two pledges during the High-level segment which serve as proof of our commitments: Promoting the harm reduction approach as a centrepiece of drug policy and a critical review of the international drug control system to achieve a realistic and pragmatic regime that protects rights and is based on evidence. Concluding, two remarks: Our main thrust of national drug policy is to contribute to the fulfilment of human rights obligations. Second, to bring on board an innovative and transformative vision that will help us not only in peacebuilding but implementation of guidelines on human rights drug policy.


Marta Machado, Brazil: It’s urgent in Latin America to discuss how we align drug policies with human rights guidelines. It’s also very meaningful that we do this together in the spirit of cooperation, with universities, in international cooperation with Latin American countries, although the commitment with human rights has been consistently reiterated, there are some documents that are a treasure for us. Like the UNGASS Outcome Document, the UN Common Position on Drugs, the 2019 International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy were a game changer. We didn’t have such a comprehensive document before. It’s a turning point in the discussion. Julie showed the picture, when the document was launched last year in Brazil —there was no possibility to do it before in the previous government. UNDP kindly supported the translation into Portuguese and it has become the framework governing our drug policy. At least, the government of Brazil. They reinforce the imperative that our drug policy must fully comply with human rights and fundamental freedoms. Drug policy in Brazil still plays a pivotal role in perpetuating discrimination and inequalities. Prior belief in an approach that relies on strict law enforcement to hope for elimination of drug-related problems. As we know, this does not happen. More seriously, disproportionate impact on marginalised communities and exacerbation of inequalities. Brazil has the third largest prison population in the world, most of them young, black, and poor. Unemployed. Out of the 800,000 people incarcerated in Brazil, ¼ were convicted for drug trafficking crime. Among women, 50% of the incarcerated women. Prison overcrowding and the systematic violation of prisoners’ rights led Brazil to (…). Homicides in the context of the drug wars are also another mechanism of impact against marginalised groups. Expansive increase in trafficking in the Amazon region. Driving widespread environmental destruction, coupled with wildlife trafficking, extreme violence against indigenous, local communities, and environmental rights defenders. At the national Secretary of Drug Policy, we work to protect individuals from arbitrary arrest and detention. Last year, we launched the national strategy for promoting access to rights for women, particularly indigenous and black women. Other strategies, which are collaborative endeavors, aim to empower marginalized groups and offer redress and dismantle criminal networks. In those strategies, we do advocacy with other ministries. We propose actions ourselves but also seek to visibilise these groups in ministries concerning other policies. Also seeking to elevate the rights and needs of street-based people. Partnering with civil society organisations that provide harm reduction services. Housing first programme pilots. Revitalisation of the National Drug Policy Council that ensures representation both from civil society and government —ensuring meaningful civil society participation. That Council will draft the new Brazilian drug action plan. Finally, although the government’s alignment with the Guidelines brings new air, we cannot underestimate the challenges moving forward in a country marked by profound inequality, violence and security issues, and resurgence of nondemocratic forces. Join forces to foster more humane and equitable drug policies.

Maria Angélica Comis, REDUC: We’re the defenders of human rights, the agents of change and the allies of the most marginalised communities. In our fight for justice and equality, we must ensure that drug policies respect and protect the fundamental rights of all citizens, regardless of their social situation. Harm reduction is a powerful and intersectional tool in this regard, as it recognises that drug use is a complex and multifaceted reality and seeks to mitigate the harm associated with it, rather than simply repressing it. For people experiencing homelessness, access to harm reduction services can be a matter of survival. The implementation must include civil society at all stages of the process. Furthermore, drug policies must be developed based on human rights, including the right to health, dignity and equality. We must reject punitive and criminalising approaches, which only perpetuate stigma, discrimination, and social exclusion.

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