Press release: Drugs and HIV groups call on UK to reject United Nations drugs declaration

Lack of co-ordination, leadership and transparency from Home Office, Foreign Office and DFID has played into the hands of hardline states such as Russia

As a critical high-level UN meeting on the future of international drug policy begins, a coalition of UK drugs and HIV groups have called for the UK to reject the summit’s key outcome document – the “joint ministerial statement”.

Harm Reduction International, a leading drugs NGO, and STOPAIDS, a network of HIV organisations, say the text of the ministerial statement represents a capitulation by progressive governments who support human rights and health-focused approaches to drugs under pressure from hardline states seeking ever more stringent tactics.

The High Level meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs begins today in Vienna and will be attended by UK drugs minister Norman Baker. It is intended to review progress on the last five years since the adoption of the UN political declaration on drugs in 2009, and to assess challenges for the future.

Specifically the groups claim the statement:

- Fails to acknowledge that Members States will fail to meet the agreed international target of reducing HIV among people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015.

- Fails to endorse harm reduction, despite widespread expansion globally and significant success in reducing HIV among people who inject drugs when implemented to scale.

- Fails to condemn even the most serious of human rights abuses in relation to drug enforcement. In particular, no agreement could be reached on a paragraph calling for an end to the death penalty for drug offences and it was stripped from the text.

- Is a backward step at international level at a time of significant debate at national level across the world

Unsafe injecting practices due to the lack of access to sterile injecting equipment and other harm reduction interventions are a major contributor to HIV transmission in many parts of the world. But addressing this problem though the full endorsement of proven harm reduction interventions is a consistently controversial topic at the UN in Vienna, largely due to opposition by hardline states such as Russia.

Rick Lines, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International, said:

“The document is an embarrassment for any government that adopts it. There is no honest reflection of the consistent failures to prevent HIV related to unsafe injecting. It completely ignores the evidence that the war on drugs – which this document rubber stamps – is itself driving HIV and viral hepatitis epidemics, and generating widespread human rights violations.

The UK and the EU as a group have not been forceful enough and have backed down on key issues to preserve the ‘consensus’ in Vienna. We are left looking on in frustration as Russian-led efforts to push for regressive language on HIV win through. Endorsing this text will take human rights and the HIV response backwards. The UK should refuse to put its name to it.”

The summit is taking place in advance of a UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) tabled for 2016 and where Nick Clegg has said the UK must take a lead on discussions of the failures of the ‘war on drugs’. The last such event was in 1998.

Negotiations on the ‘joint ministerial statement’ have been fraught, in particular with regard to HIV and human rights. But HRI and STOPAIDS have questioned the UK’s role in these debates. Ben Simms, Director of STOPAIDS, said:

“In the past the UK has been a leading voice on HIV-related harm reduction on the international stage and it has been a vital part of its leadership on HIV and AIDS more generally. Whilst the policy commitment seemingly remains strong in DFID, we are seeing tension and a lack of transparency across Whitehall. Our repeated attempts to speak to the Home Office and Foreign Office civil servants leading the UK delegation have failed, and this raises concerns about the position the UK will be taking in Vienna. A very worrying moment for those who are relying on strong UK leadership.”

The ‘joint ministerial statement’ is to be endorsed by ministers from around the world this week amidst growing discord over the health, social, and economic impact of the war on drugs.

CONTACT:

In Vienna:
Maria Phelan, Senior Health Advocate, Harm Reduction International +43 68860420878 maria.phelan@ihra.net

In London:
Damon Barrett, Deputy Director, Harm Reduction International, +46 (0)723 761 797 damon.barrett@ihra.net

- Current text of the draft ‘joint ministerial statement’ http://www.unodc.org/documents/commissions/CND-session57/In_session/L15e_V1401384_11March.pdf

- Leaked paper reveals UN split over war on drugs, Observer, 30 November, 2013 (Refers to the earliest draft of the ministerial statement and the evident tensions) http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/30/un-drugs-policy-split-leaked-paper

- Nick Clegg: Britain must join debate on new approach to war on drugs, Observer, 8 February, 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/feb/08/clegg-britain-must-join-drugs-debate