Commenting Mr. Costa's opening remarks

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) made some interesting video news items on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. In this one leading civils society spokespersons comment Mr. Costa, the UNODC Executive Director, opening speech. Costa's opening speech was somewhat surprising in that he coincided on some points that have been raised by civil society groups over the past years. He stressed that too many people in prison, and too few in health services; that there are too few resources for prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation; and that there is too much eradication of drug crops, and not enough eradication of poverty.

"Despite the fact that public health is the first principle of drug control," Costa said, "public security has received much greater investment, at the expense of drug prevention and treatment (3:1 is the prevailing ratio). I fear this is political expediency: to focus on quick wins, like seizures and arrests (that reduce the problem), rather than on agents of slow change, like prevention and treatment (that solve the problem)."

Costa also stressed the importance of harm reduction and human rights in international drug control: "As we emphasize the health aspects of drug control, it stands to reason that implementation of the drug conventions must proceed with due regard to human rights. Thus far, there has been little attention paid to this aspect of our work. This definitely needs to be amended. Although drugs kill, I don't believe we need to kill because of drugs."

Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, of the Global Drug Policy Programme of the Open Society Institute commented: "It was a smart speech of Mr. Costa because I think it recognized the criticism and I think that is important." She also said that Costa did acknowledge that human rights and health are at risk because of law enfocement efforts. "I find that encorauging." A lot less encouraging is that there is very little in terms of an actual plan on how to respond to that recognition. How many harm reduction programmes are we going to support globally? What is nedded to stop an HIV epidemic globally. What is needed for countries to change their legislation to let people out of prison and stop harassing them for drug use. What is needed to put in place thoughtful humane drug services that respect human right of drug users?

TNI’s Martin Jelsma also found positive elements in the speech: "I did see quite a lot of positive points in his speech. I think it was one of the best speeches I have heard him make since he is executive director. He was quite explicit on a number of issues. He said there were too many people in prison, thet there was too much eradication going without enough alternatives in place for the farmers."