Wednesday, April 23, 2008

UN CND: final human rights resolution emerges in diluted form

At March's UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna I had witnessed at first hand the painful process of some of the more progressive countries trying to have a resolution on human rights compliance in international drug policy adopted, against the express wishes of small group of opposing countries, perhaps unsurprisingly made up largely of some of the world's most notorious human rights abusers.

It was a welcome experience to be genuinely supportive of the UK's official high level efforts in the international arena, and impressed by their principled commitment to human rights despite potential political or diplomatic costs. The UK delegation was notably supported by various NGO partners, most prominently the IHRA HR2 team who deserve particular praise for their expert input on points of human rights law.

The Committee of the Whole at the UN CND (March 2008)

The human rights resolution has now been published in its final form - which is notably different from that in which it was originally submitted to the CND's Committee of the Whole for discussion (the COW is the sub-committee that discusses resolutions that are then agreed in the main plenary session). The COW's deliberations were often tortuous with hours spent wrangling over seemingly irrelevant tweaks in precise wording of specific sentences or the positioning of a punctuation points. Petty disagreements between countries, often evidently reflecting wider geo-political tensions that had little to do with the matters being discussed, were frequently played out in tense and protracted head to heads over minute often pointless details. Some countries (most prominently and perhaps least surprisingly; China), tried to have the resolution scrapped altogether, whilst others insisted that key sections be dramatically revised or removed completely. Notable casualties of this lengthy editing purge were any references to the rights of indigenous peoples (from countries with particular indigenous peoples issues), and any references to the death penalty (from retentionist states) although the issue of the use of the death penalty in drug enforcement practice loomed large elsewhere in the CND.

The other most notable change from the original text is the drastic excision of any real operational elements within the resolution relating to effective monitoring and reporting on human rights compliance in drug enforcement or any deadlines or commitments for the UNODC itself. Instead what remains is a worthy but essentially toothless re-commitment to the broad human rights principles of the UN.

None the less this still represents a substantial achievement for the nominating countries, as the first time that a human rights resolution has been passed by the CND in 51 sessions, as a useful starting point in developing future resolutions and policy discussions on human rights at UN level (it prompted several hours of unprecedented debate on the issue in the plenary), and as a real achievement for NGOs and civil society engagement with the CND. Despite other frustrations with the leaden bureaucracy's of the CND more generally, the NGO involvement in the process can be seen as positive step forward at this important juncture in UN drug policy with the 10 year strategy review approaching.

For more discussion see various accounts on the March CND on the IHRA HR2 blog:

A detailed account of the final resolution text, and how it was adapted from the original:
How China and others attempted to derail and water down the resolution
An account of the process made at the event

For related discussion of current UN drug policy issues see also the new Transnational Institute UNGASS 10 year review page.

Transform will be attending the UN's NGO forum 'Beyond 2008' in Vienna in June (where the reports from the 8 regional consultations will be discussed and synthesised into one final report to be submitted to the 2009 CND as it deliberates over the next ten year strategy), as invited delegates and in our capacity holding special consultative UN ECOSOC status.

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