The UN strategy on drugs over the
past decade has been a failure, a European commission report claimed
yesterday on the eve of the international conference in Vienna that
will set future policy for the next 10 years.
The report came amid growing dissent among delegates arriving at the meeting to finalise a UN declaration of intent.
to the UN's existing strategy, the authors declared that they had found
"no evidence that the global drug problem was reduced". They wrote:
"Broadly speaking, the situation has improved a little in some of the
richer countries while for others it worsened, and for some it worsened
sharply and substantially, among them a few large developing or
The policy had merely shifted the
problem geographically, they said. "Production and trafficking controls
only redistributed activities. Enforcement against local markets failed
in most countries."
Representatives from governments are split in
their efforts to formulate an international drugs policy for the next
decade. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs is due to formulate a
strategy over the next two days, but there is widespread disagreement
among delegates and a general feeling that an opportunity for a united
approach has been lost.
In an article for the Guardian, Mike
Trace, chairman of the International Drug Policy Consortium, says:
"We're about to see the international community walk up the political
and diplomatic path of least resistance. It will do nothing to help the
millions of people around the world whose lives are destroyed by drug
markets and drug use. And the depressing thing about it is that we can
all book our seats for 2019, to go through this charade again."
Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime,
has defended the approach. He is due to talk today on organised crime,
which he has described as "one of the unintended consequences of drug
control". He will warn that "a criminal market, of staggering
proportion, risks undermining drug control" and outline a three-pronged
approach to tackling drug-related crime.
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In London, however,
Lady Meacher, speaking on behalf of more than 30 members of the Lords,
warned that the existing hardline prohibitionist strategy, which has
been led by the US, had been deeply damaging. It was now being
challenged by politicians, scientists and lawyers around the world, she
"We are concerned that the war on drugs has failed and the
harm it has caused is far greater," said Meacher, at a briefing
organised by the drugs advice charity Release. "What we want the UN to
do is accept that the previous declaration was hopelessly unrealistic."
She said that Barack Obama had yet to appoint a new drugs tsar
in the US but there were already signs that he was adopting a more
liberal approach to the issue. The US president has lifted the ban on
federal funding for needle exchange programmes, which are seen as
crucial in the struggle to combat the spread of HIV.Kasia
Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the global drug policy programme at
the Open Society Institute, Warsaw, said: "It is now clear that after
months of negotiations, millions of people around the world will
continue to suffer needlessly. Thanks to the global 'war on drugs' over
the past decade, close to 2 million people living in the former Soviet
Union are infected with HIV, half a million US citizens languish in
prison for non-violent, drug-related crimes, and billions of dollars
are spent on destructive military actions in Colombia while the
production of cocaine continues to rise."
The first two days of
the session will be held at ministerial level to assess progress made
in the decade since a special session of the UN general assembly set
the target of a "drugs-free" world. The aim has been criticised for not
addressing the problems of addiction and treatment.
Rhodes, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health, said the
number of injecting drug users around the world could have reached 15
million and this was responsible for 10% of global HIV infections.
said the problem was particularly serious in Russia, where intensive
street-level policing had exacerbated the difficulties.