The Life of a Human Rights Resolution at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Date: 22 April 2008

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Below is a brief overview of the progress of the first ever human rights resolution to make it through the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. It is a ground-breaking event, but also a glimpse into the unwillingness of CND member states to consider human rights and the hypocrisy of many states that only weeks earlier had attended the UN Human Rights Council to reaffirm their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also testament to the lack of progress possible on human rights and drug control through the CND, where the focus on consensus allows states with some of the worst human rights records to block simple human rights resolutions.

As noted in our previous post, China led the charge to attempt to block the resolution outright. Japan, Thailand, Egypt, and Pakistan all joined with the Chinese in this regard. The United States, Canada, France and Cuba all sought to weaken the resolution in various ways throughout the debate.

Uruguay, Argentina and Switzerland co-sponsored the resolution and Italy, the UK, Finland, Germany and other EU states played leading roles in defending it.

Significant changes appear in bold directly beneath each paragraph.

Resolution 51/12
Strengthening cooperation between the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other United Nations bodies for the promotion of human rights in the implementation of the international drug control treaties

[The original title read: ‘Ensuring the proper integration of the United Nations human rights system with international drug control policy’. It was amended due to challenges from countries such as China, Japan, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, and Thailand]

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs,

Bearing in mind the basic international drug control instruments, in particular the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 and also bearing in mind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

[Originally, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights appeared first to reflect the primacy of human rights in the UN system. China objected to this. The 60th anniversary now appears last in the preamble.]

Bearing in mind that in the Political Declaration adopted by the General Assembly at its twentieth special session, the Assembly recognized that action against the world drug problem is a common and shared responsibility requiring an integrated and balanced approach in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, and particularly with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, non-intervention in the internal affairs of States and all human rights and fundamental freedoms,

[This paragraph was added to answer challenges from the countries listed above that CND had no mandate to discuss human rights. The 1998 political declaration clearly provides that mandate, quite apart from the fact that as a Functional Commission of ECOSOC and under the terms of the UN Charter, CND has clearly had that mandate since its creation - a point made by the UK during the debate]

Further bearing in mind that under article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized,

[A paragraph was deleted which recognised 'the role played by the international drug control bodies, which form an integral part of that international order]

Bearing in mind also that articles 1, 55 and 56 of the Charter of the United Nations provide that the Organization shall promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion,

[There were some challenges to the inclusion of "and observance of" until it was pointed out that this is a direct quote from the Charter]

Bearing in mind the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[A paragraph recognising the adoption at the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was objected to by the United States, Canada and France and was removed.]

[A paragraph recognising that the death penalty for drug offences is a violation of human rights law never made it to debate having been removed during a GRULAC meeting at the insistence of Cuba.]

Recalling General Assembly resolutions 60/178 of 16 December 2005 and 61/183 of 20 December 2006,

[Originally, this paragraph noted that these General Assembly resolutions required that ‘drug control must be carried out in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and in particular with full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms’. Japan said it did not understand what was meant by ‘drug control’. China said it was ‘ridiculous’ to require the CND to comply with human rights.]

1. Reaffirms that countering the world drug problem is a common and shared responsibility that must be addressed in a multilateral setting, requires an integrated and balanced approach and must be carried out in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and other provisions of international law, and in particular, with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States and all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and on the basis of the principles of equal rights and mutual respect,

[This paragraph originally stated simply that the CND ‘Reaffirms that international drug control activities must be carried out in full conformity international human rights law’. Egypt, China, Japan, Pakistan, the United States, Nigeria and Thailand all objected. The exact wording from the General Assembly resolutions was instead used. As you can see, it clearly states that countering the world drug problem ‘must be carried out in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and other provisions of international law, and in particular…all human rights and fundamental freedoms’. The full wording of the resolution was deliberately suggested by Egypt to water down the human rights content. The United States suggested an even weaker provision but this was blocked by Italy and the UK.]

[An operative paragraph calling for all states to abolish the death penalty for drug offences was deleted during the GRULAC meeting noted above.]

2. Requests the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, within its existing mandate to continue to work closely with the competent United Nations organs, including the United Nations human rights agencies,

[This paragraph orginally said that the CND ‘Requests the UNODC to work closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the relevant Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council in this regar
d’. The states mentioned above all rejected this simple wording and said that as the first operative paragraph was now broader, all relevant UN agencies needed to be included. The United States suggested the phrase ‘within its existing mandate', fearing that the protection of human rights would expand or interfere with the UNODC’s existing responsibilities. Between them, these states could not envisage one arm of the UN secretariat co-operating with another to ensure human rights were protected.]

3. Requests the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report to the Commission at its fifty-third session on the implementation of the present resolution.

[This originally requested ‘that the Executive Director of the UNODC inform the Commission at its 52nd session on progress made regarding the above-mentioned co-operation’. The fifty-third session will take place in 2010, which is after the next ten year strategy will already have been decided.]

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