UNGASS: World Drug Problem

Statement by Ambassador Geir O. Pedersen on the World Drug Problem: Focus on people, public health and human rights, 9 February 2016.

Human rights and the right to health are closely interlinked as two sides of the same coin.

The human right implies that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. People who use drugs have the same rights as all of us, including the right to health, the right to life, the right to be treated without discrimination, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, and freedom from torture and other forms of ill treatment. This also include access to all medical services, sanitation, adequate food, decent housing, healthy working conditions, and a clean environment.

But this is far from the reality.

According to the World Drug Report 2015 only one out of six problem drug users globally has access to treatment. Women in particular appear to face barriers to treatment — while one out of three drug users globally is a woman, only one out of five drug users in treatment is a woman.

The annual number of drug-related deaths was estimated at about 187.000, and 34 million people in need of palliative care suffer or die every year without receiving it. 

Keeping in mind that the ultimate purpose of drug policy is to protect and promote the health and welfare of humankind, we obviously still have a way to go until ‘No one is left behind’ (ref SDG).   

Keeping in mind the UNGASS 2016 and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, our aim must be to put people first by promoting the rule of law within effective, fair and humane drug control policies, strategies and programmes so that protection of human rights can be better integrated into State law and practice.

What should be paid especially attention to:

We advocate rebalancing and moving towards a more health-oriented approach while justice efforts should focus on the most serious drug offences and organized crime - which is fully in line with the international drug control conventions:

  • Recognize that drug use and related complications are public health issues primarily, to be addressed by the healthcare system, requiring humane and evidence-based treatment.
  • Some 33 countries or territories continue to impose the death penalty for drug-related offences, resulting in approximately 1 000 executions annually. In some States, drug-related offences account for the majority of executions carried out.

Drug-related offences do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes”.  The application of death penalty or the imposition of life sentences for drug-related crimes are unacceptable.

  • Convictions for drug-related offences happens to result in disproportionately harsh sentences for relatively minor offences. 

Encourage Member States to use alternatives to imprisonment for drug-related offences of a minor non-violent nature.

  • Imprisonment has a particularly adverse effect on ethnic minorities, women and their families. The use of alternatives to imprisonment are particularly appropriate for these groups charged with minor drug-related offences.
  • Strongly advocate for the promotion and protection of children’s rights. The rights of the child should be protected and children should not be subject to criminal prosecution.
  • Advocate for the availability and rational use of controlled medicines, while preventing their diversion for illicit purposes.

Thank you.