Summary of Proposal
The 1961 Single Convention on Drugs is the primary treaty that focuses on suppressing the drug trade through criminalization of the cultivation, production, and distribution of purposes. Not only have harsh enforcement-base measures shown to be flatly ineffective in reducing drug use and/or drug markets, but human rights abuses in the name of “enforcement” are carried out every day under this system. However, for legal and geopolitical reasons, the Single Convention and its progeny are almost impossible to change. In the 60 years since the adoption of the Single Convention – and particularly in the last decade – the dialogue at the UN around drugs has changed exponentially. Member State delegates are now more likely to discuss the need to prioritize public health and human rights approaches than ever before, but the international drug control treaties remain stuck in the past. It is clear that something is needed to align the treaty system with the stated priorities of Member States – and with the Single Convention”s central purpose of protecting the “health and welfare of [hu]mankind”. IDLARC proposes the adoption of a new supplemental treaty that would commit the international community to honor public health and human rights obligations around drugs and drug policy-making.
This proposed treaty:
International drug control treaties form the basis for the international drug control system at the United Nations. The 1961 Single Convention on Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol) is the primary treaty that focuses on the suppression of the drug trade through criminalization of the cultivation, production, and distribution of certain substances (primarily cannabis, opiates, and cocaine) for non-medical and nonscientific purposes. Article 36 of the Convention mandates that offenses involving cultivation and manufacture of drugs must be punishable offenses, when serious, by “imprisonment or other penalties of deprivation of liberty” 1961 Single Convention on Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol) Under this convention and its progeny, the 1971 Convention on Psyochotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, egregious human rights abuses continue to be carried out in the name of drug control, including forced labor, torture, extrajudicial killings, racial profiling, forced separation of families, disproportionately harsh prison sentences, blatant discrimination against people of color, denial of access to essential medicines and the death penalty. The 1961 Single Convention on Drugs is firmly entrenched within the UN system, with no member states directly calling for its reform. One reason this treaty has been so difficult to reform is that under the consensus-based system, any objection can effectively derail its amendment, thus creating incredible pressure to conform.
Although few member states have directly challenged this treaty, there has been widespread criticism of the enforcement-based approach that has emerged under the Single Convention from civil society (or “NGOs” ), academia, and those working in the field. Moreover, it is clear that this approach has been ineffective in reducing drug use and drug markets, even according to the United Nations”#own reporting. In the recent World Drug Report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported not only that drug use has increased, but the range of available drugs has expanded and the drug market itself is “thriving.” Every year, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meets to discuss policies and to adopt a series of non-binding resolutions and declarations, many of which address human rights and public health-based policies. Dialogue at the UN has changed exponentially over the past decade. “Harm reduction” and “decriminalization” were considered forbidden phrases in the early 2000s, but are now increasingly heard both among member states and UN officials. Member state delegates are now more likely to discuss the need for public health and human rights approaches in their negotiations than ever before. However, the only “binding” instruments are focused on criminal enforcement, while public health and human rights-based measures remain voluntary to member states. This does not reflect the need to prioritize public health and human rights obligations around global drug policy-making.
The international drug treaty system is in dire need of modernization. As amendment of the Single Convention is not viable, so IDLARC proposes the adoption of a new supplemental treaty that would commit the international community to honor public health and human rights obligations around drugs and drug policy-making. The proposed supplemental treaty is practical as well as achievable. The treaty would align the UN system with the priorities stated by member states, and make binding the many public health and human rights-based provisions contained in the various non-binding resolutions and declarations. Also, since many of the provisions have already been agreed by member states, there would be no basis for objection, meaning that member states would be free to join the treaty without violating their obligations under the existing system.
Finally, this new treaty is solidly supported by precedent as history is replete with examples of such change, both within and outside the drug control system. The proposed supplemental treaty is practical as well as achievable. The treaty would align the UN system with the priorities stated by member states, and make binding the many public health and human rights-based provisions contained in the various non-binding resolutions and declarations. Also, since many of the provisions have already been agreed by member states, there would be no basis for objection, meaning that member states would be free to join the treaty without violating their obligations under the existing system. Finally, this new treaty is solidly supported by precedent as history is replete with examples of such change, both within and outside the drug control system.
Box A: Historical Precedent for “Supplemental Treaties” Within the drugs arena:
The 1936 Convention on Trafficking
• One of the best examples of treaty supplementation within the history of international drug control, this treaty was adopted to “supplement” the then-current system in order to strengthen the earlier treaties”#criminal enforcement provisions, which were seen as not “robust” enough to address the growing problem of international traffickers who were thought to be taking advantage of uneven domestic laws.
• The 1936 Trafficking Convention was adopted to instill a measure of unification of national penal codes, thereby “filling the gaps” in the earlier treaties.
• Marked a turning point in refocusing the system in a different direction (albeit towards heavier criminal punishment, not lighter).
Outside of the drugs arena: “Mine Ban Convention” – 1997
• The “Ottawa Process” started with a meeting of a core group of Member States in response to frustration with earlier treaties that stopped short of banning “anti-personnel mines,” despite pressure from a growing movement including governments, civil society, and the UN Secretary-General.
• Led by Canada and supported by 10 countries including Mexico, Switzerland and certain European countries who achieved their goal 12 months later, when the final text of the Mine Ban Treaty was tabled by Canada on behalf of 106 co-sponsoring Member States, prohibiting the use of inhumane anti-personnel mine bans.
“Convention on Cluster Munitions” – 2008
• The “Oslo Process” began after a series of conferences held within the framework review process for treaties governing the use of conventional weapons (CCW) failed to address humanitarian law issues around the use of cluster munitions (weapons that spread deadly “bomblets” upon impact).
• The Oslo Process was led by Norway, which had decided to organize an international conference outside the CCW review process to work towards an international ban on cluster munitions, which had disastrous and unacceptable humanitarian consequences.
• Norway was joined by 6 countries including Mexico, Austria and Ireland and was supported by UN agencies and civil society (NGOs). By the fifth conference the group had grown to 107 Member States, and a convention was adopted by 94 Member States two years after the Oslo Process had begun.
In the case of the Mine Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a core group of Member States, dissatisfied with the progress of a line of treaties and urged on by sustained efforts of NGOs, banded together to draft a treaty that would provide needed supplements to each of the relevant treaty systems, thereby updating them and correcting each of their deficiencies. Other examples are found in the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (supplemented in 1957 and 2014) – modernized to eliminate several exceptions to abolishment and ban additional practices such as debt bondage, serfdom, servile marriage and child servitude.
From Punishment to People-Centered”: Proposal for a New International Drug