Lisa Campbell

On International Harm Reduction Day the UN General Assembly High-Level Thematic Debate on Drugs begins an international dialog leading up to UNGASS 2016. While most member states can agree that the so-called war on drugs is not achieving its original goals, as civil society gathers to witness the dialog from the peanut gallery there is little hope that harm reduction will be a substantive part of the dialog leading up to UNGASS 2016. That being said, yesterday’s Civil Society Hearing had a huge focus on harm reduction, which brought the knowledge from the front lines of the war on drugs to the halls of the United Nations. 

The hearing started off with Shoshana Brown, Director of Health and Support Services for the Washington Corner Heights Corner Project. Shoshana stressed to the audience the importance of harm reduction services in meeting clients where they’re at and connecting them with other support services. Elena Goti, Representative to the UN Organizations in Vienna, Dianova International discussed prevention programming to not just look at drugs but also address the social determinants of health, with a focus on alternative development including food security and social enterprise activities to empower impoverished communities. Olga Guzman Vergara, Advocacy Director, Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights illustrated the situation of the War on Drugs in Mexico, including tens of thousands of lives lost and disappeared.

Next up was Nazlee Maghsoudi, former Chair of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and newly appointed Knowledge Translation Manager at the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. Representing the interests of youth, Nazlee laid out the concerns of young people who use drugs in her presentation, specifically focusing on Article 33 of the Convention on the Rights of a Child. According to Article 33, “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties.” In her statement Nazlee argued that prohibition has not only failed to protect children and youth from using substances, but has actually resulted in increased availability, higher purity and lower prices of substances. Watch Nazlee’s full statement below as she calls for decriminalization of young people who use drugs, as well as harm reduction services without age restrictions.

Finally, Farah Diaz-Tello, Senior Staff Attorney, National Advocates for Pregnant Women described the abysmal human rights situation for women who use drugs in the United States who are threatened with forced treatment programs and prison for “chemical endangerment of a child”. Diaz-Tello stressed that the crack baby myths of the 80s infiltrate into political hysteria, resulting in elected officials pushing legislation based on fear instead of evidence. All panelists agreed that a human rights approach to drug policy is essential, as criminalizing people who use drugs reduces in poor health outcomes. It was an incredibly powerful panel, and it’s unfortunate that more member states were not there to witness to the experiences of civil society.  

Today the High Level Thematic Debate is in session, with many civil society representatives preparing to give statements to bring these voices to the United Nations General Assembly.  Many Member States especially from Latin America have already been pushing for a sensible dialog on drug policy which #IHRD15includes public health and human rights.  Outside the United Nations in response to the recent executions by Indonesia for drug trafficking a protest was organized to honour International Harm Reduction Day. CSSDP will be reporting back on the High Level Thematic Debate on Drugs in full, so tune in for more reports from the United Nations General Assembly.