Human Rights first
In Canada we know that addressing problematic substance use is best done through a public health approach. However, in many countries around the world, drug control efforts result in serious human rights abuses.
People who use drugs can be caught up in domestic enforcement and in many countries be subject to draconian practices in the name of drug control. These can include public humiliation, arbitrary detention, beatings, torture, confinement, rape, the denial of food, medications or health services, and even death.
Protect public health
The #1 principle of International Drug control is public health. Ironically, it is often in the name of enforcing these treaties that aim to protect public health and reduce human suffering that authorities carry out such atrocious human rights abuses, making a mockery of the implementation of international drug control treaties.
In many countries around the world the vast majority of resources related to drug control are invested in policing, prohibition and border security. In Canada, 70% of National Anti-Drug Strategy funds are earmarked for enforcement and border control efforts.
This emphasis on enforcement and punishment as methods of reducing supply and demand for illegal drugs in many countries puts people who use drugs at risk. The act of using an illegal substance as a result of an addiction, or in an effort to self-medicate or as a means of survival can bring about severe and disproportionate sanctions in many countries.
Abolish the death penalty
While a movement to abolish the death penalty is growing worldwide, imposing the death penalty for drug offenses is law in 32 jurisdictions around the world. In 13 of these the death penalty is mandatory for certain categories of drug offences. At least 12 of these have carried out an execution for drug offenses in the past three years.
No more victims
Little attention is brought to bear on the suffering and loss that many people who use drugs experience as a result of being victims of the war on drugs. Sadly some of the most vulnerable people affected by the drug war are children, many of them orphaned from the loss of parents to drug overdoses, HIV/AIDS or other drug related medical complications. Many are orphaned by the criminal justice system that continues to incarcerate so many people for non-violent drug offenses.
An opportunity for Canada
Canada has an opportunity each year through its delegation to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, to expose the human rights abuses that are taking place in the name of the international drug war.
Our delegation must be clear – we care about the human rights of people who use drugs in other countries.
Canada has been a leader on these issues in the past. Our delegation could be putting forward a resolution, recalling the commitments made at the High level United Nations meeting on HIV in June of this year that oblige states to reduce the number of people who contract HIV through injecting drug use by 50% by 2015. This could also mention the fact that arbitrarily detaining and torturing people is not considered drug treatment or HIV prevention.
Canada could also put forward a resolution calling on countries to integrate drug overdose prevention strategies into their national drug strategies. Leadership at the global level is critical and the CDPC will work with federal departments to provide advice and input into constructive international policy recommendations.
The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses: A Global Overview, International Harm Reduction Association, 2010
Human Rights and Drug Control Policy. Briefings for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Open Society Foundations. 2010
At What Cost? HIV and Human Rights Consequences of the Global War on Drugs. Open Society Institute, Public Health Program.
Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Policies on Young People, Damon Barret editor, the International Debate Education Association, New York, 2011.