Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Life of a Human Rights Resolution at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Below is a brief overview of the progress of the first ever human rights resolution to make it through the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. It is a ground-breaking event, but also a glimpse into the unwillingness of CND member states to consider human rights and the hypocrisy of many states that only weeks earlier had attended the UN Human Rights Council to reaffirm their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also testament to the lack of progress possible on human rights and drug control through the CND, where the focus on consensus allows states with some of the worst human rights records to block simple human rights resolutions.

As noted in our previous post, China led the charge to attempt to block the resolution outright. Japan, Thailand, Egypt, and Pakistan all joined with the Chinese in this regard. The United States, Canada, France and Cuba all sought to weaken the resolution in various ways throughout the debate.

Uruguay, Argentina and Switzerland co-sponsored the resolution and Italy, the UK, Finland, Germany and other EU states played leading roles in defending it.

Significant changes appear in bold directly beneath each paragraph.

Resolution 51/12
Strengthening cooperation between the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other United Nations bodies for the promotion of human rights in the implementation of the international drug control treaties

[The original title read: ‘Ensuring the proper integration of the United Nations human rights system with international drug control policy’. It was amended due to challenges from countries such as China, Japan, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, and Thailand]

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs,

Bearing in mind the basic international drug control instruments, in particular the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 and also bearing in mind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

[Originally, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights appeared first to reflect the primacy of human rights in the UN system. China objected to this. The 60th anniversary now appears last in the preamble.]

Bearing in mind that in the Political Declaration adopted by the General Assembly at its twentieth special session, the Assembly recognized that action against the world drug problem is a common and shared responsibility requiring an integrated and balanced approach in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, and particularly with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, non-intervention in the internal affairs of States and all human rights and fundamental freedoms,

[This paragraph was added to answer challenges from the countries listed above that CND had no mandate to discuss human rights. The 1998 political declaration clearly provides that mandate, quite apart from the fact that as a Functional Commission of ECOSOC and under the terms of the UN Charter, CND has clearly had that mandate since its creation - a point made by the UK during the debate]

Further bearing in mind that under article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized,

[A paragraph was deleted which recognised 'the role played by the international drug control bodies, which form an integral part of that international order]

Bearing in mind also that articles 1, 55 and 56 of the Charter of the United Nations provide that the Organization shall promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion,

[There were some challenges to the inclusion of "and observance of" until it was pointed out that this is a direct quote from the Charter]

Bearing in mind the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[A paragraph recognising the adoption at the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was objected to by the United States, Canada and France and was removed.]

[A paragraph recognising that the death penalty for drug offences is a violation of human rights law never made it to debate having been removed during a GRULAC meeting at the insistence of Cuba.]

Recalling General Assembly resolutions 60/178 of 16 December 2005 and 61/183 of 20 December 2006,

[Originally, this paragraph noted that these General Assembly resolutions required that ‘drug control must be carried out in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and in particular with full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms’. Japan said it did not understand what was meant by ‘drug control’. China said it was ‘ridiculous’ to require the CND to comply with human rights.]

1. Reaffirms that countering the world drug problem is a common and shared responsibility that must be addressed in a multilateral setting, requires an integrated and balanced approach and must be carried out in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and other provisions of international law, and in particular, with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States and all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and on the basis of the principles of equal rights and mutual respect,

[This paragraph originally stated simply that the CND ‘Reaffirms that international drug control activities must be carried out in full conformity international human rights law’. Egypt, China, Japan, Pakistan, the United States, Nigeria and Thailand all objected. The exact wording from the General Assembly resolutions was instead used. As you can see, it clearly states that countering the world drug problem ‘must be carried out in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and other provisions of international law, and in particular…all human rights and fundamental freedoms’. The full wording of the resolution was deliberately suggested by Egypt to water down the human rights content. The United States suggested an even weaker provision but this was blocked by Italy and the UK.]

[An operative paragraph calling for all states to abolish the death penalty for drug offences was deleted during the GRULAC meeting noted above.]

2. Requests the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, within its existing mandate to continue to work closely with the competent United Nations organs, including the United Nations human rights agencies,

[This paragraph orginally said that the CND ‘Requests the UNODC to work closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the relevant Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council in this regard’. The states mentioned above all rejected this simple wording and said that as the first operative paragraph was now broader, all relevant UN agencies needed to be included. The United States suggested the phrase ‘within its existing mandate', fearing that the protection of human rights would expand or interfere with the UNODC’s existing responsibilities. Between them, these states could not envisage one arm of the UN secretariat co-operating with another to ensure human rights were protected.]

3. Requests the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report to the Commission at its fifty-third session on the implementation of the present resolution.

[This originally requested ‘that the Executive Director of the UNODC inform the Commission at its 52nd session on progress made regarding the above-mentioned co-operation’. The fifty-third session will take place in 2010, which is after the next ten year strategy will already have been decided.]

"The War on Drugs and the Protection of Human Rights" -- A Panel Discussion

The Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights (BIM) and the Vienna NGO Committee on Human Rights (CONGO) will be holding a panel discussion on human rights and the war on drugs in Vienna.

Panellists include Professor Manfred Nowak (UN Special Rapporteur on Torture), Rick Lines (International Harm Reduction Association), Rebecca Schleifer (Human Rights Watch), Jens Erik Sundby (Legal Advisor of UNODC).

Time: Friday, 25 April 2008, 16:30 hours - approx. 18.30 hours
Place: U22 (2nd floor basement), Juridicum, Schottenbastei 10-16, 1010 Wien

The discussion will be preceded by a screening of scenes from the documentary “The War on Drugs” by Sebastian J.F. The event is open to the interested public and will be held in English language.

For more information please click here.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Letter to Drink and Drugs News -- Death penalty: clear, unambiguous and authoritative

Below is a letter from IHRA published in the most recent edition of Drink and Drugs News (DDN), the leading magazine for substance misuse professionals in the UK. This is in response to letters criticising IHRA's opposition to the death penalty for drug offences following the publication of our major report on this issues as well as a cover story on the death penalty earlier this year in DDN.

Death penalty: clear, unambiguous and authoritative

In recent weeks, letters to DDN by Peter O’Loughlin and Kenneth Eckersley have criticised the findings of a report by the International Harm Reduction Association on the death penalty for drugs (reported in DDN, 14 January, page 4).

These letters claim ‘bias’ on IHRA’s part for our conclusion that the death penalty for drug offences violates international law. However, unlike Messrs O’Loughlin and Eckersley, our conclusions are based not upon opinion or moralising, but rather on an analysis of the legal definitions involved and the decisions of relevant legal bodies.

While capital punishment per se is not illegal in international law, it is restricted in significant ways under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The most important of these restrictions is found under Article 6(2), which states that execution is only legal for what the treaty terms ‘most serious crimes’. While Messrs O’Loughlin and Eckersley may feel drug trafficking to be a ‘most serious crime’, their opinions are irrelevant in terms of law.

The independent expert legal body mandated to interpret the Covenant is the UN Human Rights Committee. The Committee has stated definitively that drug crimes of any nature do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’. Therefore, executions for drug offences violate international law. This interpretation is clear, unambiguous and authoritative, and has been supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. Even UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa spoke out against the death penalty for drugs at the recent Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting.

In response to our report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, sent IHRA a letter commending us for its ‘careful scholarship’. We certainly defer to her expert legal opinion on the accuracy of our conclusions. Indeed, if our report is ‘biased’ in any way, then it is biased in terms of urging respect for international law rather than justifying human rights violations.

We invite everyone to read our report on this important issue for themselves. It is available on our website www.ihra.net.

Rick Lines
Senior Policy Advisor
International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA)

Thursday, 3 April 2008

'There was no special squad licensed to kill, and with me in charge, that won’t be allowed' - Thai Government Launches New Anti-Drug Campaign

The Thai Government yesterday launched its new war on drugs, which many fear may result in a repeat of the thousands of extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses that took place in 2003. Interior Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung attempted to ease such fears by stating that would be no infringements on civil liberties, and that he has never said that he has "a policy about an extra-judicial killing."

However, the government's continuing refusal to accept responsibility for the 2003 killings and to bring those responsible to justice casts a shadow over such promises, as does the renewed use of blacklists, which may also include members of a suspects family.

The last war on drugs had devastating effects on HIV prevention among people who inject drugs in Thailand as many were driven underground and away from existing services for fear of being caught, being subjected to coercive treatment or losing their lives. That a renewed war on drugs may have the same effect is, of course, a central concern of HIV, harm reduction and human rights advocates.

A video of the launch at the Thai Parliament is available (untranslated) here

Transcript from a 'Dateline' Special Issue, broadcast last night on Australian TV.

Thailand, where just a few hours ago, the Prime Minister officially announced another war on drugs in that country. The last crackdown five years ago unleashed a frenzy of killing which left 2,500 people dead. Back then, observers claimed it was the Thai police behind many of those shootings. So, could we see a similar outcome this time? David O'Shea has been on the spot trying to find out.

REPORTER: David O’Shea

This is Khao San Road, the famous backpacker strip in Bangkok. Anyone coming here in the next six months to indulge in ecstasy, ice or other illegal drugs should think twice.

POLICE, (Translation): I’d like to thank everyone here, it’s almost midnight. But you have to stay up to fight this problem.

Although it has only just started, Thailand's police are prepped and ready for war on drugs – the sequel.

POLICE, (Translation): You know what you have been assigned to do.

Tonight, they are out collecting urine samples to test for drugs. Strangely, they target just one of the many nightclubs in this area and they test only Thais. Anyone from overseas is left out. It all seems a bit stage-managed to me, a PR exercise designed to show the police as a friendly, benevolent force and skirt around their terrible reputation.

KRAISAK CHOONHAVAN, OPPOSTITION MP: The police in Thailand are probably one of most corrupt corps anywhere in the world.

Despite these concerns, as Thailand launches its new anti-drugs campaign it's the police who will once again be at the forefront of government policy. The last war, five years ago, was the real deal. In the first 15 days over 500 people were killed. Death tallies were presented like sports results on TV bulletins but the authorities ordered an end to that when the toll started rising too quickly for living-room comfort.

Many of the killings, many of murders and assassins are carried out by policemen as hired assassins.

GRANDMOTHER, (Translation): He was one and a half years old here.

One month into the 2003 killing spree, Nong Fluke was the first child to die.

GRANDMOTHER, (Translation): He was a growing child and if he was still alive... he would have been in Year Eight. He was a very cute young boy.

Since his death, his grandmother talks to his spirit daily and is still fighting for justice.

GRANDMOTHER, (Translation): I pray to him “Fluke, help me win this case. Then I can come and be with you.” I raised him, I loved him more than my own child.

Nong Fluke's father was arrested in front of this market with 6,000 amphetamine pills in a police sting operation. His mother was waiting in the car. When she saw what happened she took off.

Witnesses say police opened fire on the car as it drove away. Nong Fluke was asleep in the back and killed with two bullets to the chest. His mother managed to run into this market and hide under a table, but she was found, handcuffed and dragged away, never to be seen again.

Nong Fluke's uncle says police admitted at the time that they accidentally killed the boy, but five years on, no-one has been prosecuted.

UNCLE, (Translation): There was no way to make police accountable for the deaths. From the day the war on drugs was declared, there were over 2500 deaths. But there’s not one case where the police involved have been charged.

The previous government set up a committee to investigate the thousands of killings in 2003. It ruled that over half of those killed had nothing to do with drugs.

KRAISAK CHOONHAVAN: Few drug dealers, big major dealers and producers were killed.

Kraisak Choonhavan was a member of the committee. The former senator, now opposition MP, ridicules the official version of events that says rival gangsters killed each other.

KRAISAK CHOONHAVAN: Many of those who were killed were first-time users, small petty dealers, police informers, innocent people who inadvertently got in the way, political activists, enemies of the local powers.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA, PRIME MINISTER (Translation): We declare war, a final war to defeat narcotic drugs once and for all.

From the outset, the architect of the offensive was the policeman who became prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. He used strong language to demonise anyone using or selling drugs. A recently leaked document reveals how that language was translated into policy.

KRAISAK CHOONHAVAN: This is an order from the permanent secretary from the Ministry of Interior, It says instructions here, those who sells and produce drugs should treated either... arrested and imprisoned, dies from extrajudicial killing or dies from other reasons. This is an order to kill.

It's not something the authorities now want to discuss. The national police spokesman dismisses it as "history", but I press him anyway for his views on the letter.

LT. GEN. WATCHARAPOL PRASARNRAJKIT, POLICE SPOKESMAN: When you ask me my opinion, I think as... it would be difficult for me to give my own opinion. This is a history.

REPORTER: But even so, you speak Thai, what does it mean to you? Does that mean, does that show to you that police were given instructions to act very firmly against suspected drug dealers, even to the point of killing them?

LT. GEN. WATCHARAPOL PRASARNRAJKIT: I don't think the document indicates what you say, because if it indicate like that, the people who issue the order might be in jeopardy.

REPORTER: But this is the thing, the former PM, Thaksin, was quoted in the foreign press recently saying that whoever is responsible should be tried. Now isn't the person responsible the person who signs that letter. Shouldn't that man under Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior be brought to trial for asking for the death of...

LT. GEN. WATCHARAPOL PRASARNRAJKIT: I think we should stop for a while. Let me clear to you some issue before we go on.

REPORTER: No, please, why, why can't you explain to me now?


This is the Interior Ministry which helped draw up the blacklists of users and dealers targeted by police in the last war. The current Interior Minister, Chalerm Yoobumrung, was not in office at the time, but as a former policeman he strongly denies allegations of police misconduct and says no such behaviour will be tolerated in this new blitz.

CHALERM YOOBUMRUNG, INTERIOR MINISTER, (Translation): There was no special squad licensed to kill, and with me in charge, that won’t be allowed.

Despite the leaked Interior Ministry letter, the new minister is holding to the official line that the deaths were almost entirely the result of gang warfare.

CHALERM YOOBUMRUNG, (Translation): The criminals were killing each-other, the more we cracked down the more careful the thugs were. To cover their tracks, there were more pre-emptive killings. No deaths were caused by our officials. Of course, there may have been some mistakes, some errors, I don’t deny that.

With a new drug war about to start on the streets of Thailand, many fear another bloodbath.

SUNAI PHASUK, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: The language this government use is very similar to the language used by the Thaksin Shinawatra government in 2003, that this is a war and we need to get rid of enemy of the nation at all costs. And the enemy in this case means drug traffickers and blacklists are now being prepared again.

According to Sunai Phasuk from Human Rights Watch, this new offensive could be even worse than the last. He says the Justice Minister has requested that blacklists include three generations of any suspect's family as well.

SUNAI PHASUK: Because this time it is not just the suspects themselves who can be subject to arrest or much more worse things that can happen to them, including extrajudicial killings, but also extended members of their families could also be subjected to the same fate. Now, that is very, very disturbing.

That more killings are on the way is almost inevitable. The Interior Minister in charge of the new crackdown is not known for mincing his words. He's already given this chilling warning.

CHALERM YOOBUMRUNG, (Translation): I talked about drugs in Parliament on the day the policy was announced. I said “If you don’t want to die, then don’t travel this path.”

REPORTER: This new war on drugs that's about to start, are we to expect bodies lining the streets like last time, thousands of dead again? How many this time do you think will be eliminated?

LT. GEN. WATCHARAPOL PRASARNRAJKIT: I don't think so, I don't think so.

REPORTER: Are you expecting this time to catch more of the big-time dealers, because they seemed to get away last time?

LT. GEN. WATCHARAPOL PRASARNRAJKIT: We always look to the major criminal group, international syndicates. I think as a police officer we have to do that, but at same time we have to catch the small-time, the pusher on the street.

After the military-led coup against prime minister Thaksin, there were hopes that justice might be served for the victims of the first drug war. But with Thaksin's return five weeks ago and the election of a pro-Thaksin government once again, the prospects for justice are fading. In the case of Nong Fluke, police say they have new evidence which proves a mysterious man on a motorbike did the shooting. It's a revelation the Interior Minister has clearly accepted as fact.

The bullet found in Fluke’s body did not come from the gun belonging to the policeman who was arrested. Forensics have proved that.

And he doesn't put much stock in eyewitness accounts that police took Nong Fluke's mother away.

CHALERM YOOBUMRUNG, (Translation): We still do not know who took her, we still don’t know if Fluke’s mother is dead or alive. It’s all hearsay, what people suspect.

KRAISAK CHOONHAVAN: What we have clearly now is an attempt, very audacious and apparent attempt to dismiss any cases of state officers using violence against people illegally.

GRANDMOTHER, (Translation): I have fought this far, I just want justice for my grandchild and my daughter. How could she just disappear?

UNCLE, (Translation): I would like to tell this government, in their war on narcotic drugs, I’d like to say to the officals.. the way they treat suspects.. When you arrest them, deal with them by legal process, don’t falsely accuse them or beat them up or torture them.

Already there are fears that due process is being ignored. Although, technically, the new war has only just begun, Sunai Phasuk from Human Rights Watch is monitoring several cases in Thailand's north which suggest a familiar pattern is already emerging.

SUNAI PHASUK: Heavily armed officials, government officials in plain-clothes were hunting down two men travelling on motorcycle who ended up dead with guns in their hands, but there was no proof that they were trying to shoot the police, they were trying to resist the arrest attempt. But they ended up dead and this footage was shown on TV during midday news and then evening news. This is a very disturbing reminiscence of 2003.

KRAISAK CHOONHAVAN: Violent and powerful leaders sometimes cannot be persecuted in their own countries where they can exercise so much power that the judiciary system, the process of law, justice, does not exist, like it does not exist in Thailand right now.

SUNAI PHASUK: We are heading toward another period in which government policy on drug suppression could lead to very serious human rights violations, murdering suspects without any proof of evidence, a complete destruction of due process of law and judiciary process in Thailand. This is another world completely different from travel brochure inviting tourists to come to Thailand. It is not a land of smile, it is a murderous country.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

New Thai anti-drug policy to be announced tomorrow

A new anti-drug policy will be announced in Thailand tomorrow which many fear will mark a reinstatement 2003's brutal war on drugs.

In February 2003, the Thai government, under then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, launched a violent and murderous ‘war on drugs’ aimed at the ‘suppression’ of drug trafficking and the ‘prevention’ of drug use. In the first three months of the campaign there were 2,275 extrajudicial killings,[i] a figure that reached well over 2,500 by the end of the ‘war’. In 2007, it was found that more than half of those killed had no connection whatsoever to drugs.[ii] Added to the thousands who lost their lives, thousands more were forced into coercive drug treatment. HIV prevention efforts were also seriously compromised with fear of arrest and mistreatment driving people who inject drugs underground and away from essential harm reduction services.[iii]

In 2005, the UN Human Rights Committee raised serious concerns about the “extraordinarily large number of killings” that took place during the ‘war’ and recommended that thorough and independent investigations be undertaken.[iv] The then UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Asma Jahangir, sent an urgent communication to the Thai government in 2003.[v] In its response, Thailand said that every unnatural death would be thoroughly investigated in accordance with the law.[vi] To date, none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In recent weeks, the government of Thailand has publicly stated its intention to again pursue its war on drugs. On 20 February, according to Human Rights Watch representatives in Thailand, Interior Minister, Chalerm Yubamrung, told parliament that

“… For drug dealers if they do not want to die, they had better quit staying on that road... drugs suppression in my time as Interior Minister will follow the approach of [former Prime Minister] Thaksin. If that will lead to 3,000-4,000 deaths of those who break the law, then so be it. That has to be done ... For those of you from the opposition party, I will say you care more about human rights than drug problems in Thailand”.

At the 51st session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, held in Vienna in March 2008, Thai government representatives assured fellow government delegations, UN representatives and NGOs that human rights would be respected in any anti-drug campaign. However, at the same session Thailand was among those attempting to block a resolution recognising the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and calling for all drug control to be in full conflormity with human rights.

According to the Bangkok Post, a new anti-drug campaign will be launched on April 2nd. Given the events of 2003 and the impunity for perpetrators since then, there is growing concern in Thailand and internationally at the Thai government’s plans. Human Rights Watch has already noted with concern the murders of alleged drug traffickers across Thailand since the announcement of the Interior Minister — two in Chiang Mai, one in Kalasin, and one in Krabi.

Drug law enforcement must accord with international human rights law, as stated repeatedly by the General Assembly and this year by the International Narcotics Control Board. A reinstatement of the brutal war on drugs would be a considerable retrograde step in Thailand’s progress on human rights, including its accession to the UN Convention Against Torture in October 2007.

On Human Rights Day 2007, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Thailand reaffirmed at the Human Rights Council its “unwavering commitment to the cause of human rights”.[vii] There can be no exceptions to this commitment.

The Thai government must comply with its human rights obligations before many thousands more are killed. It must announce publicly that it will not proceed with a second war on drugs.

Any new 'anti-drug campaign' must consist of integrated and comprehensive drug strategies, including harm reduction services, that comply fully with all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

A new 'war on drugs' cannot be tolerated. The international community and national and international NGOs will be watching closely.

2008 report on the possible revival of the 'war on drugs'

Report on the 2003 'war on drugs' (In English but some Thai statements are not translated)

Report on the 2007 investigation into the 2003 killings: -

[i] See ‘Not Enough Graves: The War on Drugs, HIV/AIDS, and Violations of Human Rights’ A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol 16 No 8 (C), June 2004, p.9 (Not Enough Graves)
[ii] ‘Most of those killed in war on drug not involved in drug (sic),’ The Nation, November 27, 2007 (online at http://nationmultimedia.com/breakingnews/read.php?newsid=30057578). In August 2007, the military-installed government of General Surayud Chalanont appointed a special committee to investigate the extrajudicial killings during the 2003 war on drugs. The committee’s report – which has never been made public – said that of 2,819 people killed between February and April 2003, more than 1400 were unrelated to drug dealing or had no apparent reason for their killings. Human Rights Watch, ‘Thailand: Prosecute Anti-Drugs Police Identified in Abuses,’ February 7, 2008 (online at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/02/07/thaila17993.htm); ‘Southeast Asia: Most Killed in Thailand's 2003 Drug War Not Involved With Drugs, Panel Finds’, Drug War Chronicle, Issue 512, March 2007, http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/512/thailand_drug_killings_half_not_involved_panel_finds (Date of last access: 5 March 2008).
[iii] ‘Not Enough Graves’, pp.36-40
[iv] Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Thailand, UN Doc. No. CCPR/CO/84/THA, 8 July 2005, paras 10 & 11
[v] Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions: Summary of cases transmitted to governments and replies received UN Doc. No. E/CN.4/2004/7/Add.1, 24 March 2004, paras 557-558
[vi] ibid., para 558
[vii] Webcast available at http://www.un.org/webcast/humanrightsday/archive.html (Date of last access: 5 March 2008)

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

CND passes a ground-breaking - yet watered down - human rights resolution

The human rights resolution introduced on 13 March came back to the full CND plenary session for debate Friday evening, and was debated for several hours. As with the debate in the Committee of the Whole on Thursday, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Egypt and Japan led the attack against the resolution.

Countries including the UK, Argentina, Uruguay and Italy continued to strongly support the resolution.

The title of the resolution, and the wording of operational paragraph 2 (“OP2”), that requested cooperation between UNODC and the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights and/or other international bodies, were the major points of contention.

Significantly, Uruguay broke with the so-called “spirit of Vienna” (i.e. that all decisions at CND are made by consensus) and requested that the matter be put to a vote. This would have stopped the obstructionist tactics of the small number of countries speaking against the resolution. This call was made following a technical ploy by Thailand to bump the debate on the resolution to the bottom of the list, an attempt to essentially defer debate until the plenary ran out of time, effectively killing the resolution.

In the end this ploy failed and the resolution did come back for debate, and was adopted by consensus with some significant changes to the text.

The original title of the resolution, “Proper integration of the United Nations human rights system with international drug control policy”, was changed to "Strengthening cooperation between the UNODC and other UN bodies, including the human rights agencies in accordance with Article 2 of the 1998 UNGASS Political Declaration".

OP2 was also rewritten. It originally stated that CND “Requests the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to work closely towards those ends [i.e. ensuring drug control activities conform with international human rights law] with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the special procedures of the Human Rights Council” to read instead that CND "Requests, in furtherance of this resolution, the UNODC within its existing mandate to continue to work closely with competent UN organs including UN human rights agencies".

A paragraph referring to the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples was also a source of debate. Canada, which along with the U.S., Australia and New Zealand had (unsuccessfully) opposed the Declaration itself before the UN General Assembly last year, had spoken against the paragraph in the debate on Thursday.

During Friday’s debate, Bolivia proposed to insert "noting where applicable the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples..." (i.e., language that would have been an out for those countries that have not endorsed the Declaration). Canada and US refused to agree to this language, as did France. In the end Bolivia backed down, saying it wanted to respect the spirit of consensus, but wanted it noted on record that it opposed removal of this reference and proposed that these issues be addressed in working group(s) as part of UNGASS review. Cuba also wanted it noted in the report its concerns.

So, in the end, the CND adopted a human rights resolution that supports UNODC collaboration with UN human rights bodies. While the final language was watered down, it still represents a significant event for a UN body that has never brought discussions of human rights into its work. Clearly this weakened resolution alone is insufficient, given the scale of human rights abuses related to drug policy worldwide, but it does provide a basis for continued advocacy on human rights issues within the international drug control system.

The HR2 blog will publish the full text of both the original and final resolution when it is available.

(Thanks to Richard Elliott of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Rebecca Schleifer of Human Rights Watch for their reporting on Friday night's CND debate)

Friday, 14 March 2008

“Discussion of political issues such as human rights are inappropriate at CND” – China leads charge against human rights resolution

Call it revenge of the death penalty states.

Only days after UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, used his opening speech at the 51st session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to raise the issue of human rights and call for an end to the death penalty for drug offences, a coalition of death penalty countries banded together to seek to block a ground-breaking human rights resolution.

The resolution - entitled “Proper integration of the United Nations human rights system with international drug control policy”- was introduced by Uruguay with the co-sponsorship of Bolivia, Argentina and Switzerland. The first resolution of its kind at CND, it recognised the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (an event being celebrated throughout the UN system during 2008) and affirmed "that international drug control activities must be conducted in conformity with international human rights law". The resolution requested UNODC "to work closely towards those ends with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and...the Human Rights Council."

On Thursday 13 March, this draft resolution was taken to the "Committee of the Whole" at CND, where the wording of draft resolutions is debated, amended and (hopefully) agreed by consensus before being brought back to the full CND plenary session for approval. It was here that a small coalition of states sought to block, or at least undermine, the resolution.

Leading the charge was China, which stated that “Discussion of political issues such as human rights are inappropriate at CND”. China questioned whether it was within the mandate of CND to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, and stated that “It is not appropriate to address human rights within the mission of CND, and it is not appropriate to address this resolution in this session.”

Joining China in opposing even consideration of the resolution were Japan, Nigeria, Iran and Thailand. Cuba ensured that a specific statement against the death penalty for drug offences was removed from the draft before it even reached committee debate.

Speaking in full support of the resolution were Uruguay, the UK, Italy, Bolivia, Argentina, Romania, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, Finland, Germany, Spain, Slovenia, Ireland and Peru.

The United States, although stating that “We are all very passionately committed to human rights”, did its best to water down the wording of the resolution as much as possible. This was a similar approach to that taken by Egypt, which while not speaking directly in opposition to the resolution introduced numerous procedural and wording changes intended to dilute its human rights focus. Canada expressed support for the resolution, although later joined the US in blocking reference within it to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The audience observing the debate was treated to some often unbelievable statements from delegates officially representing their governments at a high level UN meeting.

China, for example, stated that "It is ridiculous to require us [meaning the CND] to work in accordance with human rights law."

Nigeria told the delegations that "We should not be carried away by sentiment” in supporting the resolution, and asked "What do we mean by the United Nations human rights system?”

Not to be outdone in the "Who knows least about the UN system" contest, Japan asked what the term "international drug control" meant in the resolution, then questioned whether the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is international law. (It is, and for the information of our distinguished Japanese colleagues they can find out more about it on the International Law section of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights website.)

Thailand worried that discussion of human rights was the job of the UN in Geneva (where the human rights offices are located) rather than Vienna (where CND meets). The Thai delegation stated that “If we bring in the issue of human rights within CND, it will disrupt the tradition of consensus" decision-making within the Commission.

On the second point at least IHRA couldn't agree more, which is why our statement before the CND plenary on Tuesday called for an end to consensus, and the use of majority voting, on human rights issues. This would end the type of ridiculous scenario witnessed on Thursday when a small handful of countries were allowed to block a resolution that would have easily passed if voted on.

On the other side, the UK delegation played a leading role in defending the resolution, pointing out that the primacy of human rights over drug control within international law was "clear and unambiguous". They stated that as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council of the UN, human rights is squarely within CND's mandate. The UK also clarified for the benefit of the Japanese delegation that not only is the Universal Declaration international law, it "verges on customary law".

The Netherlands delegation noted that the issue of human rights was “Important enough for Executive Director Costa to bring it up in his opening, so I see no reason why we should not discuss it here.” In reply to statements from some of the resolution's opponents who claimed not to know what the term human rights meant, the delegate stated that “Human rights are very well defined, so I don’t see why people would ask what are human rights.”

Switzerland, one of the resolution's co-sponsors, argued that “Human rights are not just something we defend in Geneva or a goal we seek to attain. They are a profound belief at the heart of the UN system.”

Argentina, another co-sponsor, stated that one of the main aims of the international community is the promotion of Universal Declaration, which it described as "one of the great achievements of the international community". They pointed out that drug control is a very broad field that touches on many areas of human rights protections, including the right to health and the right to life.

Bolivia argued that the resolution was important so that "fundamental human rights are not lost sight of in the fight against drugs".

The resolution, with new wording based upon this debate, is due to come back to the Committee of the Whole on Friday. The HR2 blog will be there and will keep you posted.

Thanks to Steve Rolles of Transform Drug Policy Foundation for the photo of the CND Committee of the Whole.

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