Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights within Drug Policy

In the UNGASS 2016 outcome document, member states established that the ‘efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and effectively address the world drug problem are complementary and mutually reinforcing.” However, the forced eradication of crops, among other measures, contributes to poverty, conflict and displacement of communities. In this sense, States have proposed goals to achieve sustainable development and assumed international obligations in human rights, and drug policies developed at a national level need to be consistent with such purposes. With these questions, the debate initiated.

Amapola Duran Salas, representative of the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of the coca-growing regions of Peru (CONPACCP) began by stating that “coca, poppy and cannabis are unfairly demonized.” “Our ancient sacred leaf is medicine in its natural state and gives us life, and is our livelihood,” she said. “Governments pay more attention to international treaties and continue criminalizing cultivators.” “There are no public policies for agriculture and there are no development opportunities for rural families” Amapola said.

“There is a lot of wealth for few people and a lot of misery for the vast majority in Peru. In practice, development programs do not exist, and millions are spent on combating drug trafficking. “However, we have some hope in UN programs,” she concluded.

Robert Husbands, on behalf of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, analyzed the positive and negative aspects of the UNGASS 2016 outcome document of according to the goals set by the ODS. For them, “the document calls for health services to be available to people who use drugs, and which must be voluntary and evidence-based, however, there is no mention of harm reduction strategies, which raises a great contradiction.” “While the document reiterates the goal of ending HIV, it does not address the obstacles to accessing the right to health for people who use drugs,” Husbands said. He also analyzed that “the document is positive when calling for proportional sentencing for drug offenses but does not critically analysis on human rights violations and should provide reparations to victims”. “It also fails to address discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, while calling for a gender perspective” creating yet another contradiction, according to Husbands. Finally, he stressed that the document “does not recognize ancestral, religious and spiritual uses of drugs.”

Natasha Horsfield, Advocacy and Project Director for Drug Policy at Health Poverty Action in the UK, said that “we are failing to formulate policies that can cope with the emerging challenges”. For the specialist, drug policies will not lead to the SDGs because “there is a prioritization of supply reduction on poverty reduction”. For her, policies should “strengthen prevention and treatment, which requires an improvement in access to harm reduction”. She also stressed that “women disproportionately suffer the burden of current policies”. For Horsfield, policies must “promote peaceful societies, and the militarization in many countries in the fight against drugs exacerbates violence, and prohibition increases profits of organized crime”. “There is a huge funding gap for the SDGs and spend billions of dollars in policies that hurt,” she reflected and concluded that if policies are not changed, the SDGS will be unattainable.

Finally, Herney Ruiz, Colombian cultivator from the Cauca region, and member of the Integration Committee of the Colombian Massif (CIMA) provided an overview of their experience in their territory, where “coca leaf chewing, for ancestral, medicinal and spiritual use has been historic, but in the 1980s easy money, weapons, and the destruction of our ancient culture that leaves drug trafficking and violence” arrived.  “In response to this situation we created a school to educate ourselves and within 10 years we lowered violent deaths. Educational levels rose and we began to form leaders. But we continue to be discriminated against because we are cultivators. Coca cultivation provides us with an illicit impoverishment rather than illicit enrichment” he said, while the audience applauded. “If we do not respect life, drug policies will fail, because they have to be focused on strengthening the social fabric, propose sustainable development and peace,” he said.

The discussant was Javier Sagredo, Democratic Governance and Public Safety Advisor at the United Nations Development Program, who called on everyone “put ourselves in the shoes of those living closely to the process, whether through cultivating, in trafficking, and that it barely provides them with the minimum needed to survive.” For UNDP, “policies that have emerged from the state have proved to be ineffective, we must erode and reform policies that do less harm”. “We do not have the resilience necessary to respond quickly with public policies,” he reflected, “we must remember that we can not ignore drug policy discussions, because these policies criminalize and encourage violence”.

Rafael Torruella Perez moderated the panel, who is the Executive Director of Intercambio Puerto Rico.