Deputy Secretary-General, Hailing Civil Society’s Efforts at High-level Briefing, Says Health, Human Rights Must Be at Heart of Drug Control Strategy

13 March 2014

Deputy Secretary-General, Hailing Civil Society’s Efforts at High-level Briefing, Says Health, Human Rights Must Be at Heart of Drug Control Strategy

13 March 2014
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General, Hailing Civil Society’s Efforts at High-level Briefing,

Says Health, Human Rights Must Be at Heart of Drug Control Strategy

Following is UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s statement, as prepared for delivery, at the high-level briefing on the conclusions of the third informal Civil Society Hearing and the 2014 UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) scientific consultation addressing drug use through a health-based approach, in Vienna today:

I would very much like to thank the organizers of this high-level briefing on the drug use problem for inviting me today.  Let me begin by paying tribute to the important role played by the honorary chair of this briefing, Her Majesty Queen Silvia.  I know how personally committed you are, and I thank you for your insightful comments on this crucially important topic.  You have consistently championed a health-based approach in confronting drug demand.  I also want to salute the Vienna NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Committee on Drugs for developing a platform where NGOs can be heard, forge consensus and interact with the UN and Member States on critical drug policy issues.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon often highlights the essential role of civil society in advancing the work of the United Nations.  We can mutually reinforce each other.  We must work together to place health and human rights at the centre of the international drug control strategy.  Your voices and your wealth of perspectives are essential to guide and inform the drug debate.  This is especially true as we move towards the extremely important 2016 UN General Assembly special session on the world drug problem.

The special session offers a valuable opportunity to exchange ideas and lessons on the way forward, what has worked and what has not, without shying away from discussing innovative new approaches.  I know a chief concern is the need for a balanced approach to tackling the world drug problem, with a clear emphasis on health protection and human rights.  The international drug control conventions seek to protect the health and welfare of humankind.  Based on this fundamental purpose, we need to continue our work of developing, with our partners, a range of comprehensive health-oriented responses to the demand for illicit drugs.

In doing so, the protection and safeguarding of human rights for all — including the rights of those who use drugs — must be deeply embedded in all of our actions.  Individuals must be treated with humanity and dignity.  The serious criminals are the traffickers.  There must also be access to affordable health, prevention and treatment for all who suffer from drug use disorders as well as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.  I congratulate you for bringing the issue of patients’ access to palliative care to the attention of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

We also cannot afford to ignore the most vulnerable in the chain of production and trafficking.  They must benefit from real development opportunities.  These include the creation and strengthening of sustainable alternative livelihoods and access to education and social welfare services.  This will help these exposed groups escape from the illicit drug trade.

In our search for a balanced approach, we must also acknowledge the important role of law enforcement.  Cross-border joint operations and judicial capacity-building are essential.  The violent drug traffickers and producers, as well as their networks, need to be identified, targeted, arrested and successfully prosecuted.  Training of the judiciary and criminal justice officials can help, especially when it is linked to human rights training.  We must also seek to stem the flow of illicit proceeds from drug trafficking, wherever possible, with the help of banks and other financial institutions.

But illicit drugs and crime are also clear development challenges.  The threat of illicit drugs and associated crime undermines the rule of law, democratic processes and social and economic development; no region or country is immune.  To take just one example, many young people are vulnerable to illicit drugs because of their environment, their impoverishment, their social relationships.  Young people may be pressured by peers to take drugs.  They may have a family member who is addicted.

Empowering young people to break away from these harmful relationships, seize opportunities and to realize futures without illicit drugs should guide our efforts.  That is why the United Nations has heavily focused on building partnerships with young people.  Lifting disadvantaged people out of economic despair is also directly connected to the promotion of justice, transparency and good governance.  This is critical to providing long lasting solutions to illicit drugs and crime.

The international drug policy debate is increasingly charged and difficult.  It is often characterized by deep and genuine differences of opinion over how to move forward and over what approaches are most effective and appropriate.  Despite these differences, it is imperative to search for consensus between Member States.  Civil society actors have already been playing a constructive role both in Vienna and in New York.

So let me end where I began, by congratulating you on the important role of civil society and the added value that you bring to the drug policy debate.  So, keep up the good work — in Vienna, in New York, in Geneva and beyond.  I look forward to our continued partnership over the next two years as we prepare for the special session in 2016.  Let us make reality a world drug policy which will help millions and millions of people live a life of dignity.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.