A Russian Drug Czar for the world?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

yuri-fedotovA top Russian diplomat, Yuri V. Fedotov, has emerged as the front-runner in the race to become the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – the world's new drug czar, according to Colum Lynch, a longtime Washington Post correspondent who reports on the United Nations for Turtle Bay.

Fedotov, Russia's ambassador to the United Kingdom, is expected to take over the UNODC at the end of July, when Antonio Maria Costa steps down, say UN officials. The appointment -- which is to be made by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon -- would bring an end to a string of Italians who have run the organization for decades, and it would place Russia in a far more influential position to influence the international war on drugs. And that is a very bad message.

Regardless of the individual qualities of Mr. Fedorov, Russian drug policy is one of, if not the most horrible in the world. 

( HCLU Video: Russia and Methadone: Breaking the Ice)

Russia categorically refuses to implement HIV prevention services such as opioid substitution therapy. Russia remains one of the few countries in the world where methadone and buprenorphine, medicines included on WHO’s list of essential medicines, are illegal for addiction treatment. Currently, there are almost two million injecting drug users in Russia. It is estimated that up to 80% of new HIV infections are related to unsafe injecting practices such as needle sharing and that 37% of injecting drug users are living with HIV. The amount of people living with AIDS increased from 40,000 in 1997 to 940,000 in 2007, according to a recent report. That amounts to an increase of 2350%.

Despite the country’s abysmal record on HIV prevention and injecting drug use, Russia believes it should teach the rest of the word lessons on drug policy. At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), Russia has consistently attempted to block any political progress on harm reduction for HIV prevention relating to injecting drug use. At the 2010 CND session the Russian delegation refused to acknowledge previous resolutions adopted by consensus at the Human Rights Council and ECOSOC and a decision of the UNAIDS PCB on the issue.

At the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the recently deceased Russian delegate Tatyana Dmitrieva has parroted the misstatements of fact made by the Russian government, and ?despite a requirement for independence? joined Russian government officials in public denouncements of methadone notwithstanding the obligation under international law to ensure adequate supply of licit controlled substances for treatment purposes.

Needle and syringe exchange programmes in Russia are implemented solely by NGOs through international aid. Last year the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had to continue emergency funding to harm reduction programmes when Russia reneged on a previous agreement to continue funding once the Global Fund grant had expired. The Russian government has actually cut funding over the past few years to needle and syringe programs.

With regard to production and trafficking, Russia has recently been pressing hard for NATO intervention in Afghanistan against suspected drug traffickers, and for the forced aerial eradication of opium poppy. Both are disastrous policies intended to divert attention from Russia’s drug problems at home. They are utterly at odds with the UN’s commitment to a ‘balanced approach’ to supply and demand reduction as well as being contrary to human rights standards.

Human rights must be at the centre of drug control policies. Russia’s domestic human rights record is well known. Internationally, it has consistently sought to block human rights language in resolutions at the CND. In 2010 the Russian Delegation declared that fighting AIDS “is not linked to human rights”, contradicting the 2001 and 2006 General Assembly political declarations and the World Summit Outcome, not to mention decades of experience in fighting the pandemic. At the Human Rights Council, Russia has recently both attempted to block references to most at risk populations in a resolution on human rights and HIV/AIDS, and has led the charge in undermining human rights norms through the concept of “traditional values”, stigmatising men who have sex with men, drug users, sex workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and seeks to undermine their basic rights.

Given Russia’s abysmal record on effective and humane drug policies, his appointment would be a terrible error and would set UNODC back a decade in terms of its credibility. UNODC’s funding may also be at stake. The HIV programme accounts for around 25% of its entire budget. That would likely be called into question by donors if this appointment were to go ahead.