This past weekend saw some critical developments in the UN’s official stance towards narcotic drug policy and harm reduction. Most notably, a Joint Statement released on Friday called for states to shut down compulsory centres for drug users (CCDUs), and a public statement made by the UNODC’s Executive Director, Mr. Yury Fedotov asserted that the only way to combat drug trafficking was to put special emphasis on drug treatment and prevention methods.
The joint statement, signed by twelve (12) UN branches, condemns CCDUs as often being guilty of gross violations of human rights, including the “deprivation of liberty without due process” as well as “physical and sexual violence, forced labour, sub-standard conditions, denial of health care…” and other abuses inflicted on individuals being detained on drug-related charges. As such, the UN calls for all countries where these centres operate to shut them down, release the detainees, and provide them with community-based treatment and social support services, on a voluntary basis.
This renewed focus on tackling the region’s drug trafficking problems by improving prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services was echoed by Mr. Fedotov on Monday 12th, at the 55th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna. In order to tackle the issues of drug supply, demand, and trafficking, “…prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, reintegration and health have to be recognized as key elements in our strategy”, asserted the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
It remains to be seen whether these statements will have meaningful impact in the region in the near future. Currently, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 people wrongfully imprisoned in CCDUs across the region. Moreover, countries in the Asia/Pacific region have traditionally maintained a hardline stance on drug-related crime, and in some countries, notably Thailand and India, there is a push for even harsher sentencing policies for drug traffickers.
While the Joint Statement calling for the closure of CCDCs is an important step for the UN, the International Narcotics Board’s failure to take a position on Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Ubumrung’s recent drive to expedite executions for drug-related crimes is disappointing. UN agencies play an important role in drug and harm reduction policy in the region. Clear positions are often hampered by the complicated diplomacy international agencies must engage in with states and policymakers. Nevertheless, let us hope they use their influence to continue defending human rights in the region.