pressure to silence United Nations support for harm reduction and needle
Open letter to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs
The US is pressing various UN agencies to silence UN support for harm
reduction and needle exchange. For more on this story, click
here (and then click on harm reduction).
United Nations Office
of Drug Control (UNODC) has bowed to US pressure and has decided to remove
references to harm reduction and needle/syringe exchange in UNODC documents,
websites. publications and statements. Funding has been pulled from some
harm reduction related activities.
UNODC at a country
level has been an important and sometimes leading partner in fighting
HIV/AIDS among vulnerable groups, and a strong advocate for better HIV
and drug policy based on scientific evidence and human rights.
The US is a major
donor for UNODC and other UN agencies, which makes it vulnerable to US
pressure. We need to support the UN position on harm reduction and protect
achievements in the fight against HIV on the international and country
A group of organizations,
including Human Rights Watch, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, International
Harm Reduction Development Program, International Harm Reduction Association,
Central Eastern European Harm Reduction Network, Transnational Institute,
The Beckley Foundation, European AIDS Treatment Group and many others
are undertaking a series of activities addressing this issue. Some of
these will focus on delegates of Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). The
thematic debate of the Forty-eighth session of CND, March 7-14 in Vienna,
will be devoted to HIV/AIDS.
Could you please :
1) as an organization
or as an individual add your support now to the Open Letter (that follows
below) to delegates of the Forty-eighth session
To sign simply send
your name, organisation, city and country and email to Jennifer Nagle
at firstname.lastname@example.org . Indicate whether
this is organisational or individual support.
The letter will be
delivered to all CND delegates and to Antonio Costa.
2) Inform your media
contacts of US pressure on the UN and encourage them to cover this story.
Please keep me up
to date with any activities you undertake.
Prof Gerry Stimson
Executive Director International Harm Reduction Association
Promoting harm reduction on a global basis London Office: 44 (0) 20 8332
TO SIGN ON EMAIL:
HIVAIDS@HRW.ORG (CONTACT: JENNIFER
NAGLE) PLEASE INCLUDE ORGANIZATION, CITY, AND COUNTRY
An Open Letter to the delegates of the Forty-eighth session of the Commission
on Narcotic Drugs (CND):
In a year when the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)is
chair of the governing body of the UN's Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS(UNAIDS),
we write to express concern about U.S. efforts to force a UNODC
retreat from support of syringe exchange, methadone maintenance
and other measures proven to contain the spread of HIV among drug
use accounts for the majority of HIV infections in dozens of countries
in Asia and the former Soviet Union, including Russia, China, all
of Central Asia, and much of Southeast Asia. In most countries outside
Africa, the largest number of new infections now occur among injection
drug users. As UNODC director Antonio Maria Costa noted at the July
2004 International AIDS Conference, effective responses to injection
driven AIDS epidemics require expanded HIV prevention, including
syringe exchange, rather than policies that accelerate HIV infections
through widespread and indiscriminate imprisonment.
recent events suggest that UNODC-under pressure from the United
States-is being asked to withdraw support from proven HIV prevention
strategies at precisely the moment when increased commitment to
measures such as syringe exchange and opiate substitution treatment
is needed. It is particularly alarming that the silencing of UNODC
is occurring in a year when the agency is chair of UNAIDS' Committee
of Co-sponsoring Organizations and in a year when HIV prevention
is a focus of thematic debate at the 48th meeting of the CND. Among
the events that have particularly heightened our concern are:
- Mr. Costa,
who last year expressed support for positive changes in the Russian
criminal code, expansion of syringe exchange in countries facing
injection driven epidemics and other measures to reduce drug-related
harm, has apparently been rebuked by the U.S. State Department.
Following meeting with Robert Charles, U.S. Assistant Secretary
for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Mr. Costa
pledged to review all UNODC electronic and printed documents for
references to "harm reduction" and to be "even
more vigilant in the future."
- In Southeast
Asia, UNODC has suspended a program that sought to reduce drug
users' vulnerability to HIV prevention through approaches that
emphasized public health and drug users' human rights, rather
- Even syringe
exchange, affirmed as an effective and essential part of HIV prevention
by UNAIDS, WHO, and UN member nations, has become politically
unpalatable. A November e-mail from a senior UNODC staff member
asked junior staff to "to ensure that references to harm
reduction and needle/syringe exchange are avoided in UNODC documents,
publications and statements."
that UNODC is dependent on contributions from donor nations, and
that the U.S. is the single largest donor to UN drug control. At
the same time, the lives of hundreds of thousands depend on sound,
scientific approaches to HIV prevention. Numerous studies, including
U.S. government studies, have found that strategies such as syringe
exchange and methadone maintenance demonstrably diminish HIV transmission
and other health risks.
The fact that
U.S. delegates declare the evidence in support of syringe exchange
"unconvincing," as they did in last year's CND session,
should not be allowed to determine the course of the UN drug control
and HIV prevention efforts, which are inextricably and essentially
linked. Nor should UNODC-a co-sponsor of UNAIDS, and an agency with
an essential role to play in the course of the HIV epidemic-be asked
to refrain from public statements about needle exchange simply because
they do not fall within the realm of what the U.S. deems acceptable.
attempt solely to achieve abstinence from drug used not constitute
an acceptable alternative to programs, such as syringe exchange,
that help active drug users protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. Experience
has shown that "zero tolerance" drug control efforts can
have the effect of driving injection drug users underground and
away from drug treatment and other health services. This is particularly
true where, as in many countries, counter-narcotics efforts lead
to false arrest, beatings and extortion by police, prolonged detention
without trial, forced drug treatment, disproportionate incarceration
in cruel conditions and, in some cases, extrajudicial execution.
Programs such as syringe exchange and opiate substitution, by contrast,
both prevent HIV infection and provide abridge to other health services.
Restricting these programs is a blatant infringement of drug users'
human right to health.
As you gather
this year to debate HIV/AIDS prevention and drug abuse, we respectfully
urge you to support syringe exchange, opiate substitution treatment
and other harm reduction approaches demonstrated to reduce HIV risk;
to affirm the human rights of drug users to health and health services;
and to reject efforts to overrule science and tie the hands of those
working on the front lines. No less than the future of the HIV epidemic
is at stake.
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
World Health Organization Office of the High Commissioner for Human
International Narcotics Control Board