A UN human rights report has called for a paradigm shift in global drug policies towards a framework rooted in human rights and public health resounds. The report contends that the disproportionate use of criminal penalties in drug control is causing considerable harm, necessitating a re-evaluation of existing punitive measures.
The report's primary recommendation urges nations to craft effective drug policies, with a strong emphasis on considering the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use. It highlights that when thoughtfully designed and implemented, decriminalisation can serve as a potent tool to safeguard the rights of individuals who use drugs.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, asserts, "Laws and practices employed to combat drug use should not compound human suffering. While the drug problem remains a cause for concern, treating drug users as criminals is not the solution."
The report underscores the need for states to shift away from the prevailing approach of prohibition, repression, and punishment in favour of human rights-based strategies that prioritise harm reduction. It contends that the punitive use of criminal penalties dissuades individuals who use drugs from seeking treatment, fuels societal stigma, and fosters social exclusion.
Recent statistics from the 2023 World Drug Report reveal that cannabis remains the most widely used drug across the world, with a concerning rise in the availability of synthetic cannabis.
The ramifications of these punitive policies are extensive, according to the report. The militarisation of drug law enforcement, often seen as the 'war on drugs,' perpetuates severe human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings. Furthermore, the disproportionate use of criminal penalties contributes significantly to the problem of prison overcrowding.
This report highlights the severe impact of these policies on marginalised communities, including people of African descent, women, indigenous peoples, and economically disadvantaged youth.
UN High Commissioner Türk stresses, "Current drug policies disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable."
Of particular concern is the escalating use of the death penalty for drug-related convictions worldwide, a stark violation of international human rights norms and standards. In 2022, the number of people executed for drug-related offences more than doubled compared to the previous year, constituting 37 % of all global executions. In April this year, the world witnessed the execution of Tangaraju Suppiah, a 46-year-old Singaporean, who was put to death for attempting to traffic 2.2 pounds of cannabis. Despite calls for Singapore not to carry out the execution from The European Union Office and a United Nations Rights Office, his death sentence was carried out.
The report argues that the current emphasis on coercion and control in drug policy is exacerbating human rights violations despite mounting evidence that decades of criminalisation and the so-called 'war on drugs' have failed to protect people's welfare or deter drug-related crime.
However, there is a positive trend as an increasing number of countries are adopting policies and practices that decriminalise drug use and address it as a public health and human rights issue. The High Commissioner calls upon states to build upon this momentum.
In conclusion, the report emphasises that shifting away from punitive models is crucial for addressing the human rights challenges associated with punitive drug control policies. Such policies should be recognised as a means to attain broader objectives, including the protection of human rights, health, equality, and non-discrimination.
The report provides key recommendations for states and stakeholders to develop drug policies grounded in human rights, including alternatives to criminalisation, gender-sensitive policies, harm reduction services, community-led advocacy, and addressing socioeconomic factors contributing to drug use and the drug trade.
As the world approaches the 2024 mid-term review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on the global drug problem, this report underscores the urgency of aligning drug policies with human rights and sustainable development goals to effectively protect human rights and contribute to the 2030 Agenda.