The three major international drug control treaties are mutually supportive and complementary. An important purpose of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances codify internationally applicable control measures in order to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes, and to prevent their diversion into illicit channels and include general provisions on trafficking and drug use. The 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances significantly reinforced the obligation of countries to apply criminal sanctions to combat all the aspects of illicit production, possession and trafficking of drugs.

  • Recalibrating the Regime

    The Need for a Human Rights-Based Approach to International Drug Policy
    Beckley Foundation Report 13
    March 2008

    This new report, co-authored by the HR2 team, looks at the tensions between some aspects of the global drug control system and international human rights law. The report highlights that, despite numerous instances of human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of drug control, there has been little engagement with this issue by the responsible bodies, the UNODC, INCB and the human rights treaty bodies. The report was published by the Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme, and is co-authored by IHRA, Human Rights Watch and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

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  • UN Drug Conventions Reform

    TNI briefing for the 2003 UNGASS mid-term review

    March 2003

    The backbone of the United Nations drug control system consists of three UN Drug Conventions. The prohibition of potentially harmful substances has its origin in the desire to protect human well-being. However, the way in which the global regime was set up decades ago and the escalation of repression it has brought about since, has been an historical mistake increasing rather than diminishing the problems.  There is no point now in dreaming about how the world might have looked without it, or deluding ourselves that all the problems could be solved by scrapping the conventions. The challenge is to create the political space which would allow a reform process to move ahead. A process guided by pragmatism, open-mindedness and evaluation of practices on the basis of costs and benefits; providing leeway for experimentation and freedom to challenge the wisdom of the existing conventions.

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  • The UN Drug Control Debate

    Current Dilemmas and Prospects for 2008
    Martin Jelsma
    Presentation at the 48th ICAA Conference on Dependencies
    Budapest, October 24, 2005

    The 48th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), 7-11 March 2005 in Vienna, was plagued by controversy about the legitimacy of harm reduction policies. Ending in stalemate, guidance for UNODC to operate in this field remains ambiguous. In June, at the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), a consensus was reached regarding a mandate for UNAIDS to be involved in needle exchange programmes and other harm reduction activities among injecting drug users. What options are available to clarify UNODC’s mandate in this area and more in general to achieve a breakthrough in policy dilemmas that surfaced recent years at the UN level. 

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  • Cracks in the Vienna Consensus

    The UN Drug Control Debate
    Martin Jelsma Pien Metaal
    WOLA Drug War Monitor
    January 2004

    Numerous UN conferences and summits have been devoted to negotiating a harmonized global approach to illicit drugs. Yet more and more cracks are beginning to appear in the supposedly universal model which is based on a highly fragile consensus. The failure to counter the ever-growing problems related to the use of illicit drugs has led countries to question current policies and to experiment with approaches less driven by the US-inspired ideology of "zero tolerance" and more rooted in pragmatism. This has led to increasing acceptance of the concept of harm reduction for consumers, where drug use is treated as a public health rather than a law enforcement problem. On the production side, discussion centers on the need to secure alternative livelihoods for involved farmer communities and how to most effectively promote alternative development.

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  • Global Trends. Lessons from Vienna

    Martin Jelsma
    Presented at the Social Forum in Cartagena (Colombia)
    June 20, 2003

    Martin Jelsma analysed the 2003 UNGASS mid-term review and drew some important conclusions for the 10-year review in 2008: "Alliances have to be constructed rooted in pragmatic approaches and in solidarity with the victims of this War on Drugs on both sides of the spectrum, be they in the North or in the South, consumers or producers. The concepts of ‘co-responsibility’ and a ‘balanced approach’ between demand and supply sides have to be redefined. Only if such a coalition of like-minded countries could be brought together, and act in a coordinated manner to explore more pragmatica drug policies for both the demand and the supply sides, the UN level might become a useful forum. Only then, a stronger political alliance can enforce a more open-minded debate about current anti-drug strategies and challenge the US hegemony and discourse in this field."


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  • Drugs in the UN system

    The unwritten history of the 1998 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs
    Martin Jelsma
    International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 14, Issue 2)
    Special Issue on the UNGASS Mid-term Review
    April 2003

    The "international community" presented an apparent unanimity in its endorsement of prohibitive drug control at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in 1998. The reality is that there is a longstanding conflict within the UN system between nations wanting to maintain the prohibition regime and those hoping for a more pragmatic approach.

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  • Geo-political and cultural constraints on international drug control treaties

    Craig Reinarman
    International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 14, Issue 2)
    Special Issue on the UNGASS Mid-term Review
    April 2003

    It is a noble and worthy step to attempt to change the drug control treaties, but this is likely to take a long time and it may not be the essential starting place of reform. The amount of flexibility in the treaties is only partly a function of treaty language, for this language is always interpreted, and interpretations can vary depending upon how many states actively argue for more flexibility.

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  • The Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the United Nations International Drug Control Programme

    Politics, policies and prospect for change
    Cindy S.J. Fazey
    International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 14, Issue 2)
    Special Issue on the UNGASS Mid-term Review
    April 2003

    Meetings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) are no forum for debate and change. The author, a former senior officer of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), shows how CND meetings are manipulated in the interests of 17 developed countries that largely fund UNDCP – the CND’s ‘civil service’. However, these major donors are not united on policy or on how to apply the UN drug Conventions, so CND decisions reflect the lowest level of disagreement, with major splits on policy ignored.

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  • Cannabis control

    The model of the WHO tobacco control treaty
    Eddy L. Engelsman
    International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 14, Issue 2)
    Special Issue on the UNGASS Mid-term Review
    April 2003

    Cannabis like other illicit drugs is so-called ‘controlled drug’. A closer look makes clear that these drugs are in fact far from being ‘controlled’. The cultivation, trade, transport, wholesale distribution, sale, and above all the unsafe composition, potency and quality of the products are not controlled at all. Neither is the use. All this is a threat to public health. Fortunately, there is an alternative at hand.

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  • Challenging the UN drug control conventions

    Problems and possibilities
    Dave Bewley-Taylor
    International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 14, Issue 2)
    Special Issue on the UNGASS Mid-term Review
    April 2003

    Increasing numbers of sovereign states are beginning to review their stance on the prohibition based UN drug control conventions. Recent years have seen nations implement, or seriously discuss, tolerant drug policies that exploit the latitude existing within the legal framework of the global drug control regime. With efforts to implement pragmatic approaches to drug use at the national level, however, comes the growing recognition that the flexibility of the conventions is not unlimited. It seems that the time is not too distant when further movement within states away from the prohibitive paradigm will only be possible through some sort of change in or defection from the regime.

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