General Assembly Special Session Adopts Resolution Recognizing Persisting Health, Safety, Well-Being Challenges Posed by World Drug Problem

April 19, 2016

Thirtieth Special Session,

1st Meeting & Round Table 1 (AM & PM)

General Assembly
Meetings Coverage

Several Delegations Question Absence of References to Application of Death Penalty for Narcotics-related Crimes

In a special session today, the General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing that despite tangible progress, the world drug problem continued to present challenges to the health, safety and well-being of all humanity.

Acting without a vote in adopting the outcome document entitled “our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem” (document A/S-30/L.1), the Assembly recognized the need for a comprehensive, integrated and balanced approach to address the multifaceted challenges presented by drugs around the world.  In doing so, it emphasized that particular focus should be placed on individuals, families, communities and societies.

By other terms of the text, the Assembly recognized that tackling the world drug problem was a common and shared responsibility that should be addressed through greater and more effective international cooperation.  Further, the drug issue demanded an integrated, multidisciplinary, mutually reinforcing and scientific evidence-based approach.

Opening the special session earlier, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson declared:  “The world drug problem affects virtually every nation and all sectors of society.”  Drug trafficking and organized criminal networks fed corruption and weakened institutions and the rule of law, while profits from those activities funded terrorism and violent extremism.  The global drug problem required a broad response that was effective, compassionate and humane, he said, while also stressing the need to address new challenges, including the emergence of new psychoactive substances.  “We should not shy away from new approaches that challenge traditional assumptions.”

Reinforcing that point, World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan said the harm caused by psychoactive drugs included damage to physical and mental health.  “You don’t need me to remind you,” she said, noting nonetheless that an estimated 27 million people had drug-use disorders and that more than 400,000 of them died every year.  International drug conventions placed an obligation on Governments to prevent abuse, diversion and trafficking, but the very same conventions required Governments to ensure the availability of controlled substances for medical purposes, such as surgery and treatment of mental disorders, she said, pointing out that 80 per cent of the world population lived in countries with little access to medicines for alleviating moderate to severe pain.

Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that if one message had emerged from the many discussions held in the lead-up to the special session, it was that global drug policy must “put people first”, which required reaffirming the cornerstone principles of the international drug control system.  As the lead entity in combating the global drug problem, UNODC was working with Member States to put their commitments into practice, he said, pointing out that the Office counted on political and financial support to carry out its efforts efficiently and effectively.

General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark) said no society could claim to be completely free from the dire consequences of illicit drugs, and no country could deny that addressing the world drug problem was a common, shared responsibility.  It was a problem with many dimensions, from human rights to sustainable development, from health impacts to corruption and organized crime, he noted.

Werner Sipp (Germany), President of the International Narcotics Control Board, welcomed the evolution of drug-control policy and practice from a primarily criminal-justice approach relying on incarceration to a more health-oriented approach, stressing that the relevant conventions had never called for a “war on drugs”.  Policies associated with militarized law enforcement in some countries, disregard for human rights, over-incarceration, denial of medically appropriate treatment and other inhumane or disproportionate approaches were not in accordance with the principles of the conventions, he added.

Following the resolution’s adoption, several delegations said they had joined the consensus on that action, but regretted that the outcome document contained no reference to the application of the death penalty for drug-related offences.  They included Armenia, Switzerland, Brazil, Costa Rica, Norway, Uruguay, Jamaica and Indonesia — whose representative said he was speaking on behalf of countries including Singapore, Yemen, Brunei Darussalam, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Iran and Sudan — as well as the European Union.

In other business today, the Assembly elected Mr. Lykketoft President of the thirtieth special session.  It also appointed Argentina, Austria, Barbados, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, South Africa and the United States to the Credentials Committee of the special session, maintaining the membership of the current seventieth regular session.

At the outset of the meeting, the Assembly adopted the provisional agenda for the special session (document A/S-10/1).  It also took note of a letter dated 8 April 2016, from the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly (document A/S-30/2), concerning Article 19 of the United Nations Charter and pertaining to the voting rights of Member States in arrears in paying their financial contributions to the Organization.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 20 April, to continue its special session on the world drug problem.

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