Today, Hamid Ghodse and Philip Emafo of the International Narcotics Control Board launched a media offensive in the UK as part of the release of INCB’s 2007 Annual Report. Appearing on Channel 4 News, Channel 5 News, the BBC website and the front page of this morning’s London Metro, both Board members raised their concerns as UN drug control 'experts' on what they see as an issue of key importance.
Here is a hint:
It is not ensuring access to harm reduction services to prevent HIV and hepatitis C transmission through injecting drug use and to ensure the right to health of all people who use drugs.
It is not ensuring access, for everyone in need, to opiates for pain relief, including those with terminal diseases.
It is not raising their concerns about a possible reinstatement of the ‘war on drugs’ in Thailand which, in 2003, claimed the lives of over 2,500 people through extrajudicial killings.
No, the United Nations body responsible for overseeing the international drug control conventions is worried about celebrities using drugs, claiming that dealing with famous people in a lenient manner encourages a permissive attitude to drugs among young people.
There are a number of extremely troubling aspects to the Board’s position in this regard.
Firstly, an international body geared towards monitoring the three UN drug control conventions has far more pressing concerns than what Kate Moss is snorting or Amy Winehouse is smoking. Thirty percent of all HIV infections, excluding Sub-Saharan Africa, are through unsafe injecting drug use, an issue that is all but ignored in the report apart from some mentions of harm reduction without positive commentary. The Board visited Brazil in 2007 and the country features in this year’s report. Yet there is no mention of the hundreds of deaths in the favelas through indiscriminate police violence. The INCB also visited Viet Nam in 2007, but has not mentioned the all too common application of the death penalty for drug offences in violation of international human rights law.
Secondly, the Board has created a new category of offender, the ‘celebrity user’, one to be made an example of for the benefit of the greater good, something that is completely outside its mandate under the conventions. Indeed the INCB presents no evidence that celebrities are treated more leniently in the first place. This also runs contrary to the ostensible commitment to ‘equality before the law’ focused on in this year’s annual report.
Thirdly, what Ghodse and Emafo are saying, in effect, is that we should criminalise drug users, a position entirely contradictory to the first chapter of the INCB Annual Report, which calls for a focus on traffickers and not individual users.
Today’s publicity, however, cannot be ignored. The International Narcotics Control Board should be worried less about soundbites and more about the real issues and the lives of millions affected by their work.