A controversial paper from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) promoting the decriminalisation of all drugs has been withdrawn after pressure from at least one country.
The UNODC oversees international drugs conventions and offers guidance to member countries on compliance with international laws and agreements. It is seen by many advocates for decriminalisation as the key to changing the United Nations position on drug use policies at a planned meeting on ‘The World Drug problem’ at the UN General Assembly next April.
Other UN bodies, such as the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS have strongly opposed imposing criminal sentences for drug use however this policy has not been broadly adopted across UN member countries.
The leaked document recommends that UN members consider “decriminalising drug and possession for personal consumption” and argues against sanctions such as “arrest and incarceration” as “disproportionate measures”.
The document was drawn up by Dr Monica Beg, chief of the HIV/AIDs section of the UNODC in Vienna. The document, on headed agency notepaper, claims it “clarifies the position of UNODC to inform country responses to promote a health and human-rights approach to drug policy”.
“Treating drug use for non-medical purposes and possession for personal consumption as criminal offences has contributed to public health problems and induced negative consequences for safety, security, and human rights,” the document states.
Steve Rolles, a policy analyst with the pro-legalisation thinktank Transform, argued in the organisation’s blog that UNODC will have a hard time distancing itself from the paper as it represents a natural position from previous statements it has made on this issue. He writes:
“The UNODC response claims that the briefing is not a final or formal document, and does not amount to a statement of its policy position. It also rejects the allegation that the briefing was stopped from being launched as a result of political pressure.
This does, however, feel distinctly like an organisation backtracking under pressure (even if that is something, of course, they would never own up to). It would certainly not be the first time member state presssure has led to supression of a controversial UN drugs paper.
It’s impossible to know what pressure might have been applied, but this report from New York Times at least strongly suggests that it was the US (as widely suspected) that derailed the publication (ironically having found out about it via a New York Times approach for comment).
The UNODC are now answerable to a document that is very much in the public domain. If they are suggesting there are flaws in the analysis, or that they don’t agree with any of it, then they will need to say why. They won’t be able to because it’s a legally and empirically bulletproof briefing that largely echoes statements they and other UN agencies have previously made. The UNODC, when challenged, will stand by the content of this document – because they have to.”