The United Nations and Drug Policy

Towards a Human Rights-Based Approach
Damon Barrett & Manfred Nowak
The Diversity of International Law: Essays in Honour of Professor Kalliopi K. Koufa, pp. 449-477
Aristotle Constantinides and Nikos Zaikos, eds., Brill/Martinus Nijhoff, 2009

publicationIn 1945, the United Nations was established to 'save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.' Today, the language of war has been adopted for policy objectives. The 'war on drugs' is now more widespread and higher in financial and human cost than ever, and has impacted negatively across borders and across human rights protections. The war on drugs has left in its wake human rights abuses, worsening national and international security and barriers to sustainable development.

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Although UN bodies have never officially endorsed the term, for many human rights, public health, HIV and drug policy reform advocates - and for many of those on the front lines of the war on drugs, including indigenous people, farmers, people who use drugs and service providers - the United Nations drug control system is seen as a significant part of the drug problem, rather than part of the solution.

The aims of international drug policy must be revisited in line with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the binding normative framework of human rights. The UN drug conventions are insufficient, alone, as a legal framework for the complex issue of drug policy and that human rights law must be recognised by the relevant organs of the UN as a part of that framework. The implications of this 'expanded' legal framework for the current pillars of international drug policy are then considered as are the human rights obligations of the drug control entities, and their possible future roles in the promotion and protection of human rights.