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Maria-Goretti Ane's Opening Remarks During Human Rights Roundtable at ‪UNGASS 2016‬




Opening remarks:

Thank you,Mr chair for giving civil society the opportunity to make our voice heard and to share our grass root experience in addressing drug related issues.

Mr. Chair, over the years we have seen or heard of the devastating consequences of the drug war on people who use drugs. This ranges from police raids in so call ghettos to arrest people who use drugs. Those often suspected to be using drugs are given some inhuman treatment merely because they are either using or possessing drugs. As a result, innocent people are injured, and some even lose their lives.

We have often forgotten that individuals who use drugs are humans, and they deserve to be treated as humans, not waste or shoved somewhere or being denied services at every bend, and constantly being harassed and arrested. It is time to put people, health, and human rights at the center of global drug policy, which is very key to protecting people who use drugs.

Mr. Chair, distinguished delegates, it is deeply worrying that the right to life is constantly compromised by hostile supply reduction activities that lead to death sentences for drug offenders. Mr. Chair, the death penalty can only be applied under international law for “most serious crimes.” The death penalty is not in line with human rights obligations and in my opinion must be condemned by all Member States

Despite this, the past few months have seen a revival in the use of the death penalty for drug offenses. Some states have executed drug offenders in ever-increasing numbers while others have sought to reintroduce capital punishment for drug crimes.

Over time, Member States, and civil society and UN agencies have raised serious concerns about extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions carried out in the name of drug control efforts by some countries. It has been well documented that police and military forces engage in extrajudicial killings,  torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention

Criminalisation & associated violations of human rights

The negative impact of the criminalizing people who use drugs continues to be an area of serious concerns. Individuals have a right to access life-saving health services without fear of punishment or discrimination. However, the fear of criminal sanctions drives people who use drugs away from life-saving harm reduction services, leading to infections and premature death from HIV and Hepatic C. This notion  has been recognized by many UN agencies such as, UNODC, WHO, and the UNDP. There are even occasions where users willingly go to health services to seek help and upon the discovery that they are on drugs they are stigmatized and driven away

            The Impact of the Drug War on Women, Children and Youth

The story has not been different when it comes to our women. Indeed the issue of, human rights, women, youth, children are strongly connected. Statistically, one can predict a positive correlation. Globally, our women are never the center of the discussion and yet they are often faced with the greatest social stigma than men because they fail to fulfill society’s standard of feminine morality as well as their traditional role as the stabilizing force in the family. Women lack gender-sensitive treatment facilities which sometimes lead to a deficit in women’s access to treatment.

Drug use is still within the “moral debate,” and this makes the promotion of the needs of women who use drugs globally an enormous task. Society thinks that women who use are a disgrace and deserve to be punished. This further explains why the war on drugs is considered acceptable and easily implemented in many parts of the region.

There are global reports of female drug users whose Human Rights have been grossly abused   sometimes by police officers where they made to perform sexual favors to negotiate their release by some police officers[1]. We need to ensure that the human rights of women who use drugs are not violated, by providing access to justice (including through legal services), prevention, treatment and other social services. Adopt smart policing measures to encourage people to access public health services

Most women go to jail for just minor, non-violent offenses. Some of these women who go to jail are often breadwinners, and when that happens, the family suffers. Children are left to fend for themselves; some even end up on the Streets.

Even in cases where children who are using drugs need to seek health services, mothers are at the forefront, and they bear the brunt of the pain and are often given derogatory names in society because their children are using drugs.

The impact of drugs control strategies on the violation of children’s rights

Children are often at the forefront of political justifications for drug control but the reality is that children’s rights have been increasingly violated through drug control measures while drug use and drug-related harms among children have continued to rise. We have seen instances where children who inject drugs are denied access to harm reduction, based on their age, they are beaten and sexually abused in drug detention centers, and some street children are subjected to police violence due to suspected involvement in drug dealing.

In places where we have Ariel fumigation, it damages children’s physical and mental health. It is a tragic irony that the right intentions of many who defend the status quo, with the aim of protecting and defending the rights of young people, have in practice exposed them to dramatically increased levels of risk and actual harm.

The issues raised above are only a fraction of the widespread violations of human rights that have been documented in the context of drug control policies. The empirical evidence that underlines this point is extensive and damning.

UNGASS 2016 should ensure a more UN system-wide coherence on the drugs issues. The UN system on drug policy needs to be built on solid human rights, health and development principles. Currently, there is no consensus on drugs and human rights – and huge disparities in positions and practices. The CND like always to talk about a consensus, on how to respond, but what we see lately is a fractured consensus if not broken on some topics especially on human rights.

To conclude, I will like to leave you with a quote from the former UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, who said and I quote “Drugs have destroyed many people, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more”


By Maria – Goretti Ane, IDPC Consultant for Africa and Member of the West Africa Drug Policy Network Ghana Chapter



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