The former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, has died at the age of 80 after a short illness, his family and foundation announced today. The Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a press release emphasizing that “A former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Commissioner Annan worked tirelessly for peace throughout his life, and addressed the many challenges confronting the world with wisdom and pragmatism. He initiated the move towards eradicating extreme poverty with the Millennium Development Goals and contributed considerably to the global response to HIV.”
Mr Annan was a great man and hugely important advocate for drug law reform. He will be missed.
Here is a selection of his quotes and an important speech he made in December 2016.
Misguided attempts to prevent the use of drugs by only punitive measures have not worked; instead they have resulted in mass incarceration.
Drug policies should be grounded in scientific evidence and a deep concern for health and human rights.
That is why we strongly believe the time is right for a smarter, health-based approach to drug policy.
Kofi Annan speech at the 68th World Health Assembly on 21 May 2015.
Leadership means finding ways to reach out to all groups, and devising approaches for prevention and treatment suited to their needs – whether young people, sex workers, injecting drug users, or men who have sex with men.
Kofi Annan at AIDS Conference 2004.
When I first moved to the idea of a Global Fund, in fact I called it a war chest, quite a lot of people laughed it off saying “There he goes again, dreaming.” I love dreams. It always starts with a dream.
You are never too young to lead, and we are never too old to learn
Kofi Annan, addressing Global Citizen Live in London, April 2018.
The preamble of the 1961 United Nations single convention on narcotic drugs states that the “health and welfare of mankind”, and I repeat “health and welfare of mankind”, is the main objective of that convention. Unfortunately, current drug policies in many countries will not lead to the achievement of that objective. To the contrary, those policies have resulted in what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has called ‘unintended consequences’. Those unintended consequences include the creation of a huge, international criminal black market that fuels corruption and spreads violence.
Misguided attempts in some countries to prevent the use of drugs by only punitive measures have not worked; instead they have resulted in mass incarceration. And some countries spent more on prisons than education. In other countries, the so called “war on drugs” has led to massive insecurity. As I have said before and I repeat here tonight: I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more. A criminal record for a young person for a minor drug offence can be a far greater threat to his or her well-being than occasional drug use.
In many parts of the world, drug users are stigmatized, live under constant threat of arrest and are prevented from seeking treatment and support. So I am convinced that current drug policies have to be reformed to ensure that they encourage prevention and treatment based on evidence of what works. Sadly, drug policy has never been an area where evidence and effectiveness of policies have led the way. Obviously, we all want to protect our families from the potential harms of drugs. But if they do develop a drug problem – that is a chronic relapsing illness as the WHO has defined it – they should be viewed as patients in need of treatment and not as criminals. In what other areas of public health do we criminalise patients in need of help? Surely it cannot be the job of the criminal justice system to prescribe remedies to deal with public health concerns. This is the job of public health professionals.
And the UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov has said, “the conventions are not about waging a “war on drugs” but about protecting the “health and welfare of mankind”. We should focus on that objective. The current drug policies are not achieving that goal. So the key question is: what policies would enable governments and health authorities to counter and reduce the social and health harms that drug use can cause?
If I may, I would like to make three suggestions. First, strengthen treatment services, especially in middle and low-income countries. Second, decriminalize drug use. Punitive measures do not work and put lots of people in prison where their drug use may actually get worse. Third, we need to learn how to live with drugs so they cause the least possible harm. Even though we would like a “drug-free world”, this is not a realistic ambition. Tobacco is a good example of how a dangerous and addictive product is being regulated because we know that it cannot simply be outlawed. As a result, the number of people who are addicted to cigarettes and tobacco has gone down in a large number of countries. And this happened without anyone being arrested or put in jail or sent to a “treatment program” by a prosecutor or a judge. It was achieved through higher taxes, restrictions on sale and use, and effective anti-smoking campaigns. It was regulation and education that led to this result. And the smokers in the room are probably working to turn this education into practice.
We need to regulate drugs because they are risky. Drugs are infinitely more dangerous when produced and sold by criminals who do not worry about any safety measures. Legal regulation protects health. Consumers need to be aware of what they are taking and have clear information on health risks and how to minimize them. Governments need to be able to regulate vendors and outlets according to how much harm a drug can cause. The most risky drugs should never be available “over the counter” but only via medical prescription for people registered as dependent users, as is already happening here in Switzerland. Drug policies should be grounded in scientific evidence and a deep concern for health and human rights. That is why we strongly believe the time is right for a smarter, health-based approach to drug policy.
15 December 2016