Asian Harm Reduction Network News: Fedotov’s Challenge
By Patrick Gallahue and Rick Lines
When Yuri Fedotov was appointed to lead the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Secretary General emphasised the vast diplomatic experience he brings to the post.
To do the job right, Mr. Fedotov is going to need it.
The incoming Executive Director is entering a toxic policy environment at the precise moment that his agency is finally (to its enormous credit) recognising its role in reshaping and reforming this atmosphere.
UNODC has come a long way in the last few years, but it has so much further to go, and is swimming upstream against restrictive earmarked budgets, diverging political agendas and the widely held view of the office as the public face of the global drug war.
The agency continues to navigate an international policy environment where drug offenders are executed, drug users (or those suspected of drug use) are thrown into drug detention centres without recourse, subject to unfair trials – if any trials at all – and where people who use drugs are regularly refused harm reduction interventions that would ensure their right to the highest attainable standard of health.
Earlier this year, Harm Reduction International released the report, ‘Complicity or Abolition? The Death Penalty and International Support for Drug Enforcement’. The report highlighted and identified technical assistance provided by UNODC to countries with capital drug laws (funded by countries opposed to capital punishment) that actually led to executions for drug-related offences in violation of international human rights law. The report identified programmes and activities facilitated by UNODC that led to executions in China and death sentences in Myanmar.
This report was preceded by a harrowing document produced by Human Rights Watch (HRW), titled ‘Skin on the Cable: The Illegal Arrest, Arbitrary Detention and Torture of People Who Use Drugs in Cambodia’. The report documented sickening incidents of beatings, rapes and other types of torture, in detention centres that are tasked to treat and ‘rehabilitate’ drug users. HRW urged all UN agencies to conduct a thorough review into what roles they may have had in supporting these facilities.
These are just two of the flashpoints between human rights and drugs from which UNODC needs to ensure it is disentangled. Here is where Mr. Fedotov’s greatest challenge lies.