7 May 2015

Multi-Sector Approach, Integrating Public Health into Substance Control Efforts Key to Winning ‘War on Drugs’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells General Assembly

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the High-level General Assembly Thematic Debate in support of the process towards the 2016 Special Session of the General Assembly on the World Drug Problem, in New York today:

I thank the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, for convening this timely thematic debate in preparation for the 2016 General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem.  

Today’s meeting is an important opportunity to take stock on the road forward to UNGASS [United Nations General Assembly Special Session] 2016.  When we meet in April next year, we must be ready to challenge ourselves, to consolidate our approaches and integrate a range of perspectives on drug issues.  Most important in my view is to listen carefully to each other and to engage in an open, constructive and comprehensive conversation.

Let us acknowledge that there are different facets and perspectives on the road and the challenges ahead of us.  These facets and perspectives are as complex as they are significant.

First, we must acknowledge that the drug trade, in many cases, poses threats to peace and security at the national, regional and international levels.  At the national level, the criminal networks which thrive on the drug trade are threats to strong, stable societies.  Organized crime undermines institutions, feeds corruption and obstructs democratic governance.

Illicit drugs are now also a major source of funding for non-State armed groups.  This despicable trade fuels violence and instability, and it threatens hard-won progress on peace, development, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

At the international level, the ever-stronger links between transnational organized crime, terrorism and extremist violence constitute a very serious new threat.  From West Africa to Central Asia, we see how drug-trafficking jeopardizes peacebuilding efforts and bolsters terrorist groups.  That is why tackling drugs and crime is part of the mandates of United Nations peace operations in countries such as Guinea-Bissau and Afghanistan.

While we tackle the security implications, let us recall and let us remember that the drug problem also encompasses countless individual struggles and human tragedies.  The first three words of the United Nations Charter, “We the peoples”, remind us that we are first and foremost here to serve the peoples of this world.  They all deserve to live a life in peace and dignity.

Those who use drugs face special barriers, burdens and traumas:  health hazards and psychological strains; discrimination and stigmatization; and the debilitating effects of serving lengthy prisons sentences for minor drug offences.  Those involved in drug production often are vulnerable groups in isolated and conflict-affected areas.  Such groups are prone to exploitation by crime syndicates and traffickers.  They rarely see opportunities for alternative livelihoods.

Preventing drug use, treating drug dependence, providing health care and social protection, as well as supporting alternative livelihoods are essential aspects of a balanced drug control approach — one that will allow us to fulfil our responsibility to serve all members of our societies.

When we refer to intractable conflicts with mounting civilian casualties, we often say that the parties must realize “there is no military solution”.  I believe there is an equivalent lesson for our work to contain the damaging impact of the drug trade.  The so-called “war on drugs” is, in fact, in reality, on the ground and in the countries, a painstaking, laborious, often thankless and seemingly unending Sisyphean struggle.

The evidence is clear:  around the world, we see that countries which integrate public health into drug control work achieve greater health effects and greater social benefits, while, at the same time, indeed improving rule of law and security.

Our priority must be to promote health-based responses which offer care for drug users.  We must ensure access to essential controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes.  We must adopt policies to prevent the spread of hepatitis, HIV, tuberculosis and other diseases.

And very importantly, we should pay special attention to the protection of young people.  Specific measures are needed to prevent drug use among children and young people without criminalizing them.  We must also develop policies that recognize the impact on children of drug use by parents and caregivers.

At the international level, the United Nations advocates a careful balancing of elements of an international policy on drugs.  And we know, of course, of the three conventions and the role that they play.

Through increased focus on public health, prevention, treatment and care, as well as on economic, social and cultural effects and strategies, we can build a multi-sector approach founded on partnership and cooperation.

Such an approach should promote a close relationship between the institutional bodies of the drug control system and the scientific community.  It should also drive work that is evidenced-based, drawing on robust analysis and research.

In closing, in 2009, Member States adopted the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on international cooperation towards an integrated and balanced strategy to counter the world drug problem.  As we approach the ten-year review of the Political Declaration, UNGASS [United Nation General Assembly Special Session] 2016 is a critical milestone and an opportunity to set the course ahead.

Next year, we must seize the opportunity for open, comprehensive and in-depth discussions.  We must draw on perspectives from the full range of stakeholders, including civil society and young people.  And we must set the course for national and international policies that respect human rights and strengthen the cohesion of societies.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs, whose Chair we have here today, has a crucial role to lead this preparatory process in an inclusive, open-minded and effective manner.  And I urge Member States and all other stakeholders to continue to engage broadly in this process.

Today’s high-level event, Mr. President — for which you should have much credit — will deepen and inform these important discussions.  I wish you every success in your very important work.

For information media. Not an official record.