Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Security, development and human rights: Normative, legal and policy challenges for the international drug control system

Copied below are the abstract and conclusion from paper published last week in the International Journal of Drug Policy,  by Damon Barrett (Senior Human Right Analyst at IHRA), titled 'Security, development and human rights: Normative, legal and policy challenges for the international drug control system'.  In this important and groundbreaking commentary Barrett outlines a series of theoretical and practical challenges for the international drug control system, reconceptualizing it within a broader human rights law analysis.

A clear call for an Impact Assessment on international drug control policy is also made (in the conclusion see below). The full paper is available at the International Center on Human Rights and Drug Policy website (pdf)

Transform's Danny Kushlick (credited) was involved in developing the thinking behind the paper, and Transform's 'Blueprint for Regulation' is also cited along with our recent Impact Assessment briefing paper.

This commentary addresses some of the challenges posed by the broader normative, legal and policy framework of the United Nations for the international drug control system. The ‘purposes and principles’ of the United Nations are presented and set against the threat based rhetoric of the drug control system and the negative consequences of that system. Some of the challenges posed by human rights law and norms to the international drug control system are also described, and the need for an impact assessment of the current system alongside alternative policy options is highlighted as a necessary consequence of these analyses.
International drug control, as currently formulated, may be conceptualised as an ‘international risk environment’ for the related damage to security, development and human rights that has been documented worldwide. The human rights risk is particularly clear. The first step in addressing this is to begin to shift the debate at the international level away from threat based rhetoric and towards meeting the aims of the UN. Based on modern debates concerning human security and human development, this demands consideration of more locally and culturally appropriate responses that place individuals and communities at the centre of drug policies. An impact assessment of the current approach is necessary, set against alternative policy options that may achieve better results in terms of security, development and human rights. That call is supported by international human rights law.

This assessment should have happened at the ten year review of international drug policy at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (March, 2009). Instead, the same policies, with some minor amendments to language, though hard fought by some of the more progressive governments, were prescribed for the next ten years. Indeed, it may be argued that advocating for a move towards policy based on the aims of the UN naively presumes genuine governmental support for those aims, when in fact other political agendas are more likely the drivers of current drug control efforts. This is likely the case for some governments. But this does not stall the discussion. Indeed, it is one more argument for reframing the debate so that the UN system, within which international drug control resides, is not one behind which these agendas may hide (Barrett & Nowak, 2009).

The Barrett and Nowak reference in the conclusion is for a book chapter titled 'The United Nations and Drug Policy: Towards a Human Rights Based Approach'  (Nov 2009) that explores some of the themes in the IJDP paper in more detail. Highly recommended, it is also available in full here on the International Center for Human Rights and Drug Policy website (pdf).  Barrett's co-author Manfred Nowak is the UNs Special Rapporteur on Torture.

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