Europe and US split over drugs policy at UN

Friday, January 30, 2009

The fight over the introduction of harm reduction in the Political Declaration of the UNGASS review has now reached the newspapers. A report by Reuters said that the 'US and Europe split over drugs policy'. "US negotiators are trying to push through anti-drug programmes that were promoted during the former Bush administration but which are no longer advocated by President Barack Obama," participants at the talks in Vienna told Reuters.

The Reuters report quoted the recent letter by three Democrats in Congress to the new US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, calling for intervention. The US delegation should be given new instructions from the new administration, the letter advised. "Otherwise, we risk crafting a UN declaration that is at odds with our own national policies and interests, even as we needlessly alienate our nation's allies in Europe."

The US delegation in Vienna denied that Bush-era policies were being “rammed through”, according to Reuters, but said instructions from the Obama administration had not been received. According to the news agency Obama "gave tacit support" to harm-reduction strategies that are seen "as crucial in the fight against drug-related diseases such as HIV/Aids."

According to The Washington Independent, a  January 15 draft version of the Political Declaration included language to "develop, review and strengthen" drug-treatment programs to include "harm reduction measures aiming at preventing and reducing the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use and dependence." The US representatives — along with those from Russia, Japan and Colombia — insisted the language be removed, according to John Walsh, senior associate for drug policy at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Countries in support of harm reduction then moved the clause into a footnote. That, too, was rejected by the United States, Walsh said.

The provision is non-binding, but remains controversial. "We find it hard to understand how the US delegation could object to language which would not obligate any country to adopt particular policies with which it disagrees," the House Democrats wrote in their letter to Rice.