The 66th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) took place in Vienna, Austria from March 13 to 17, at a moment when a renewed push for greater convergence between human rights and drug policy commitments is taking place across the United Nations system. UNITE Member, Honourable Seth Acheampong attended as Head of Delegation of Ghana, highlighting the country’s role as a key supporter of a human rights and public health approach to drug policy, demonstrated by its recent drug law reform.
The 66th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) took place in Vienna, Austria from March 13 to 17. This year’s session took place in the context of Member States preparing for the 2024 Mid-Term Review of the implementation of commitments made in the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on strengthening actions to address the world drug problem.
This meeting of the CND also followed the adoption of a historic resolution on drugs by the United Nations General Assembly, which featured some of the strongest human rights language relating to drug policy ever adopted. Concurrently to the proceedings in Vienna, negotiations were taking place in the Human Rights Council in Geneva, leading to the adoption of the most ambitious and progressive resolution on drug policy to date, titled ‘Contribution of the Human Rights Council with regard to the human rights implications of drug policy’.
Against this backdrop, while discussions of human rights impacts of drug policies have been historically limited in Vienna, the 66th Session showed promising signs of greater convergence between human rights and drug policy bodies within the United Nations system. Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, addressed the Commission in an opening statement, urging Member States that the 2024 Mid-Term Review provides an occasion to make a renewed, strong commitment to human rights as part of a transformative change to address the global drug situation.
The High Commissioner further highlighted a number of countries that have led the way forward, including Colombia’s efforts towards a paradigm shift in drug policies, as well as the role of Ghana as a key supporter of a human rights and public health approach to drug policy, demonstrated by its recent drug law reform.
Member of the UNITE Network, Honourable Seth Acheampong participated in this year’s proceedings of the Commission as the Head of Delegation of Ghana. In his opening statement at the Plenary, Hon. Acheampong reiterated that: “We have a shared and common responsibility to address the world drug situation. For that, Ghana has adopted evidence-based policies centered on health, development, human rights and global best practices.” He further declared that these objectives “are consistent with the SDG 3 [Good Health and Well-Being], which will not be achieved if we continue to leave people who use drugs behind”.
Hon. Acheampong and the Delegation of Ghana have also led, co-sponsored and participated in numerous side events during the week of CND, discussing Ghana’s approach to policy reform, its process and rationale. In the event titled “The efforts of Ghana towards placing health and human rights at the heart of national drug policy: lessons learned and future opportunities”, Hon. Acheampong explained:
“Ghana’s journey to drug policy reform was influenced by three decades of running purely on supply and demand reduction mechanisms. We realized that the fight was never being won, the war on drugs kept waging on. […] We all know that the fundamentals of drug policy should be health, safety, security and socio-economic wellbeing. These were missing in the previous law. The review of the law sought to address the policy gaps. Why was it necessary? Drug use was still in ascendance despite the law. We wanted to do something that was evidence-based and provide services for people who use drugs – and especially harm reduction.”
The Parliament of Ghana passed the historic Narcotics Control Commission Bill into law in March 2020, offering alternatives to incarceration for people who use drugs. Especially in the context of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impacts of the reform on public health could not have been overstated. Implementing alternatives to incarceration pave the way towards decongesting prisons, while the new law also allows for the first time the implementation of harm reduction services for people who use drugs to reduce the transmission of bloodborne diseases, overdose deaths and drug dependence.
From Principle to Policy to Practice: Implementing a Human Rights Approach with People who Use Drugs. Side event at the 66th CND, organised by the Release Legal Emergency and Drugs Service Limited with the support of Ghana, Norway, the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy.
Elaborating further on the process of developing the new framework during the side event “From principle to policy to practice: implementing a human rights approach with people who use drugs”, Hon. Acheampong highlighted that as a democratic state, civic engagement has been crucial, including consultations with academics, civil society, and community, as well as a national dialogue on the implementation of the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy.
In summarizing the key lessons learned from Ghana’s experience of reforming national drug policies, Hon. Acheampong stated that “we need an open and honest debate on the drug situation in the region: there is no one size fits all. We cannot arrest our way through the problem. Drugs are not just a security issue but a health, human rights and development issue. We need to ensure solutions are people and community centered, with human rights at their core.”