United Nations Calls For End To Global 'War On Drugs,' Health And Human Rights Instead Of Punishment

International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is observed annually on June 26th since it was established in the United Nations General Assembly in December 1987.

This year's theme, “People first: stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention," has compelled the UN to call for transformative change in the international approach to drugs with a focus on health and other human rights rather than punishment. "The international community must replace punishment with support and promote policies that respect, protect and fulfill the rights of all."

To that end, the UN is calling for an end to the global War on Drugs. 

“The ‘war on drugs’ may be understood to a significant extent as a war on people. Its impact has been greatest on those who live in poverty, and it frequently overlaps with discrimination directed at marginalized groups, minorities and Indigenous Peoples," per the UN statement

"In our reporting and experience, we have found that such discriminatory impact is a common element across drug policies with regard to the widest range of human rights, including the right to personal liberty; freedom from torture, ill-treatment and forced labor; fair trial rights; the right to health, including access to essential medicines, palliative care, comprehensive drug prevention and education, drug treatment, and harm reduction; the right to adequate housing; freedom from discrimination and the right to equal treatment before the law; right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment; cultural rights and freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association."

Global Stigma Especially Affects Women

"Around the world, women who use drugs face significant stigma and discrimination in accessing harm reduction programs, drug dependence treatment and basic health care." The UN noted that while one in three drug users are women, females constitute only one in five people in treatment and are also disproportionately affected by criminalization and incarceration, with 35% of women in prison worldwide having been convicted of a drug-related offense compared to 19% of men.

War On Drugs: Reduce Drug Use Or Tool For Racial Control? 

Globally, drug control has had massive costs for the dignity, humanity and freedom of people of African descent, said the UN, which noted that people of "African descent face disproportionate and unjust law enforcement interventions, arrests and incarceration for drug-related offenses," and that in various countries, the ‘war on drugs’ has been more effective as a system of racial control than as a tool to reduce drug markets.

"Policing interventions based on racial profiling remain widespread, whilst access to evidence-based treatment and harm reduction for people of African descent remains critically low."

The UN also noted that drug-related offenses are still punishable by death in over 30 countries, and "human rights experts have raised concerns about evidence of its discriminatory impact on individuals belonging to minorities."

Read the UN's entire 2023 statement for International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking 2023 here.

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