The four rights at the heart of drug policy World Forum against Drugs PDF Print E-mail
UNODC Speeches (2002-2010)

Stockholm, 24 May 2010


Mr Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is my pleasure to address this Forum – a noble institution which reflects the sober views of a majority of humanity, concerned about the deadly affects of drugs. 


You have helped to move drug control forward – to make drug policy more responsive to the needs of those most seriously affected, along the whole chain of the drug industry -- from poor farmers that cultivate it, to desperate addicts who consume it, as well as those caught in the cross-fire of traffickers. You have championed the cause of shared responsibility, between states as much as within communities.  Today I wish to invite to open your minds and hearts even more and support the new vision we, at UNODC, have imparted to drug control policy.

Rather than just keeping a narrow focus on law enforcement – necessary as this may be, we wish drug control to keep adapting itself to the reality of our ever changing world, focused on health, development, security and justice.  The consensus is there:  I can firmly state that the United Nations, its member states, its Secretariat and its many agencies share common values regarding drugs:  

·         There is already unanimity that drug policy must be aimed at reducing both supply and demand.

·         There is an understanding that in regions that grow illicit crops, we must eradicate poverty, not just drugs.

·         There is a realization that under-development makes countries vulnerable to drug trafficking: therefore development is part of drug control, and vice versa.

·         There is conviction that drug trafficking, with its enormous economic and fire power, has become a threat to security and vice-versainsecurity breeds illicit activity.  Hence, measures to strengthen government administrations, promote good governance and enforce the rule of law are inescapable ways of keeping drugs away from society; 

·         Most importantly, there is agreement that health must be placed at the core of drug policy. By recognizing that drug addiction is a treatable health condition, there is awareness we must continue to develop scientific, yet compassionate, new ways to help those affected. The realization that drug addicts should be sent to treatment, not to jail – though not yet a universally accepted concept, keeps gaining ground.


Drug control is working in the developed world. . .


This approach is paying off. The world’s supply of illicit drugs is declining. The global area under opium cultivation has dropped by almost a quarter (23%) in the past two years, and look sets to fall steeply this year. Coca cultivation is down by almost a third (30%) in the past decade, and cocaine production has fallen by a fifth (19%) in the past three years. Heroin and cocaine markets are stable in the developed world. Indeed cocaine consumption has fallen significantly in the United States in the past few years. In short, in mature markets, in affluent countries, drug control is working.


Stability of the drug situation in rich countries (North America, Europe, Japan and Australia) should not lead us to believe that drugs are no longer a problem,and therefore drugs should be treated with some sort of benign neglectDrugs still kill about 250.000 people worldwide every year, destroy families and communities alike, and feed an illicit economy of tens of billions of dollars.  We must recognize these dramatic consequences of drugs, and deal with them with unmitigated determination – otherwise, those who claim that drugs are an intractable problem, will keep championing the view that controls aren’t working, and drugs should be made legal.


. . . but complacency will unleash a public health disaster 


Both sides of the argument don’t seem to care about the consequences drugs are having on the rest of the world.  For over a century market forces have shaped the asymmetric dimensions of the drug economy:  the world’s biggest consumers of the poison (the rich countries) have imposed a major tax upon the poor countries where drug supply and trafficking take place.  From the Andean to South East Asia governments have been forced to spend scarce resources to fund eradication and crop substitution programs to reduce illicit crops.  Similarly, from meso-America to West Africa, very poor countries have been fighting an uneven battle against drug traffickers inebriated by the scent of money and power.


This has been the situation so far:  but now a new, potentially devastating problem, is taking shape.  Drugs availability – and therefore drug use -- in the third world is starting to unleash a public health disaster that eventually will enslave masses of humanity to the misery of drug dependence – another drama in lands already ravaged by so many tragedies.  


Such a bleak future is already manifested in the present.  If you want a glimpse of it, come with me to the slums of Nairobi or Mombasa where mobs of heroin addicts roam the streets. Or to the alleyways of Bissau or Conakry, to see the underage foot soldiers of foreign criminal groups, smoking the crack they have earned by providing local logistics to transnational shipments. Or visit the parts of the Middle East and South East Asia where abuse of synthetic drugs, now produced domestically, is exploding. 


What do we propose, therefore, at UNODC?  We champion placing drug policy at the intersection of health, security, development and justice.


The right to health, and its double dimension


a.) Universal access to drug therapy.  At the United Nations, we are working with the World Health Organization, and advocate universal access to drug treatment. We work with UNAIDS to prevent an HIV epidemic among injecting addicts. I appreciate the support that is coming from the community level for these initiatives – from many of the organizations represented at this Forum. 


(b.) Universal access to therapy by means of drugs.  Although it may seem a strange thing to say at the World Forum Against Drugs, not only should we stop the harm caused by drugs:  we should unleash the capacity of drugs to do good.  What do I mean? Recall that the Preamble of the Single Convention (from 1961) recognizes that “… the medical use of narcotic drugs is indispensible for the relief of pain, ….and adequate provision must be made to ensure their availability …”  Although there is an over-supply of opium in the world, many people who suffer major illnesses have no access to palliative care. Why should a Nigerian consumed by AIDS or a Mexican cancer patient, be denied medication offered to their Swedish or American counterparts?  Ladies and Gentlemen, help us overcome cultural, professional, administrative and socio-economic factors that conspire to deny people the opium-based relief (morphine) they need.


The right to development


          While the pendulum of drug control is swinging back towards the right to health, we must not neglect development.


As illustrated in various recent UNODC reports, drug production and trafficking are both causes and consequences of poverty.  Indeed, 22 of the 34 countries least likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals are in the midst – or emerging from – conflicts, located in regions that are magnets for drug cultivation and trafficking.  More development means less drugs and less crime. That is why UNODC is working with governments, regional organizations and development banks to promote drug policy as ways to foster development, and vice-versa – for example in the Balkans, Central and West Asia, meso-America, West and East Africa.


          The right to security


Yet, the stakes are getting higher. Drug-trafficking has become the main source of revenue to organized crime, as well as to terrorists and insurgents:  in other words, drug-related illegality has become a threat to nations in so many theatres around the world. Recent developments in West Africa, the Sahel, and parts of Central America show the very real dangers of narco-trafficking to security, even the sovereignty of states.


So grave is the danger that the issue is now periodically on the agenda of the Security Council. Unless we deal effectively with the threat to security posed by drug-funded organized crime, our societies will be held hostage – and drug control will be jeopardized, by renewed calls to dump the three UN drug conventions that critics say are the cause of crime and instability. This would undo the progress that has been made in drug control over the past decade, and unleash the public health disaster.





Human rights


Last, but not least of course, we must move human rights into the mainstream of drug control. Around the world, millions of people (including children) caught taking drugs are sent to jail, not to treatment. In some countries, what is supposed to be drug treatment amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment -- the equivalent of torture.  In several Member States, people are executed for drug-related offences. In others, drug traffickers are gunned down by extra-judicial hit squads. As human beings, we have a shared responsibility to ensure that this comes to an end.  Just because people take drugs, or are behind bars, this doesn’t abolish their right to be a person protected by the law – domestic and international.


In conclusion,


 Mr. Chairman, my wish is to see drug policy stay the course we have promoted at UNODC over the past many years, focussed on the four basic rights of health, development, security and human rights.  I am sure you will agree.  Therefore, I am left with the pleasant task of thanking you all for what you have done in the past and for your help in the years to come.  Let us remain united against drugs.  Thank you for your attention.




Last Updated on Friday, 15 April 2011 13:35