Citing large scale human rights abuses and discriminatory enforcement practices, more than 100 organizations on Wednesday sent an open letter (pdf) to the United Nations calling for a significant shift in global drug policy.
The international coalition is comprised of non-governmental organizations and drug reform advocacy groups—such as Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Drug Policy Alliance—as well as businesses, including Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.
The letter charges that with its heavy emphasis on the criminalization of drug use, possession, manufacture, and distribution, the international War on Drugs has driven such abuses as discriminatory policing, disproportionate sentencing, mass incarceration, and in some cases, the use of death penalty for drug offenses.
Further, the criminalization of personal drug use and possession “infringes on the right to privacy and basic principles of autonomy on which other rights rest.”
The impact of these rules, the group argues, has damaged public health with the “proliferation of infectious diseases and the suppression of essential and promising medicines.” And by forcing the drug trade underground, the drug war “has dramatically enhanced the profitability of illicit drug markets, fueling the operations of groups that commit abuses, corrupt authorities, and undermine democracy and the rule of law in many parts of the world.”
With the upcoming global drug policy summit, known as the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), coming up in 2016, the groups are calling on international leaders to reconsider current laws. Citing countries and U.S. states that have recently moved to legalize marijuana and other controlled substances, the coalition says that “experimenting with new, less harmful approaches, to drug policy is essential.”
In order to accommodate some of these experiments, the group is asking the United Nations to prioritize the preservation of human rights over drug laws. “We believe that in case of irreconcilable conflict, human rights principles, which lie at the core of the United Nations charter, should take priority over provisions of the drug conventions,” they write.