UN Deputy Secretary-General’s Remarks to General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, New York, 19 April 2016

President Lykketoft, Heads of State and Government, Ministers, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, I thank you for inviting me to address this General Assembly meeting on the world drug problem on behalf of the Secretary-General who’s on travel.

This special session provides an opportunity to assess the achievements, shortcomings and challenges of the international drug control regime.

The world drug problem affects virtually every nation and all sectors of society. I am sure that you all thought about the victims and tragedies caused by this scourge when you observed the moment of silence a while ago.

Drug trafficking and organised criminal networks fuel violence and feed corruption. They weaken institutions and the rule of law.  

As the Security Council has recognized, profits from drug-trafficking are funding terrorism and violent extremism in today’s world.  

Drug policies have serious human rights implications. Some people dare not seek the care they need, fearing punishment or forced treatment.

Drug abuse causes tragic and terrible human costs to users and, not least, to their families and to their communities. It kills and injures millions of people. It is linked to the spread of HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

It is vital that we engage at the highest level to provide care and treatment to those affected. We must end the cynical exploitation for profit of the most vulnerable people in our societies.  

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

The ultimate goal of the international drug control conventions is to ensure the health and welfare of humankind. In applying these conventions, we must balance security and public safety concerns with considerations of health, human rights and development.

We all know that some aspects of the drug agenda are sensitive and controversial. We also know that some countries and regions have suffered more than others. It is therefore important that we listen to each other and learn from each others’ experiences, not least of how the well-being of people is affected.

I commend Member States for your informed and wide-ranging discussions in the lead-up to today’s special session and for your dedication to reach consensus agreement on the outcome document. I thank the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and, in particular Chair of Board, Ambassador Shamaa for their work on this important document.

I also want to thank civil society around the world for their critical contributions to moving this important agenda forward.

Addressing the world drug problem requires the active and continued involvement of all governments, all sectors of society and, I would strongly claim, all parts of the United Nations system. Now is the time for implementation of what has been agreed after serious and productive negotiations.

It is encouraging that Member States are committed to treatment and rehabilitation of people with drug use disorders.

Prevention and treatment require human-rights based approaches adapted to the needs of individuals. We must, for instance, also recognize that people in need have access to vital medicines.  

Drug policies should make use of all the tools of the conventions and agreements on drugs, on corruption, on organized crime and terrorism. At the same time, respect for human rights and accountability in operations to enforce the law are critical.

This means considering alternatives to conviction or punishment when appropriate. It means sentencing those convicted in proportion to their crimes. And it means in our view refraining from applying the death penalty in conformity with human rights obligations.  

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

Poverty and inequality drive illicit drug production and use.

The best prevention policy is working decisively and universally towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals which was so skilfully negotiated and endorsed last year.  

Countering drug-related crime and corruption is imperative for us to achieve stable societies and effective institutions, which constitute a foundation for sustainable development. Drugs simply threaten not only development and lives in dignity but also stability and security.  

The challenges posed by the world drug problem require a global response that is simultaneously effective, compassionate and humane. We need a mobilization of efforts and good forces on this basis and in this spirit.

Looking forward to 2019, we should focus on new challenges and threats, including the emergence of new psychoactive substances. UN Member States, UNODC, WHO and the whole UN system must respond in a timely, effective and flexible fashion to these and other looming dangers.

We must base our decisions on research, data and scientific evidence. And we must not shy away from new ideas and approaches – even if these sometimes may challenge traditional assumptions.

The health and welfare of people around the world should be our overarching objective — in the spirit of “We The Peoples” – the first three words of the UN Charter. It is the people we are to serve.  

I encourage you to continue the debate in the most open and inclusive way possible towards the conclusion of the 10-year period established in the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action.

This outcome document gives you a good basis to take concrete steps forward both nationally and internationally. Again, I congratulate Member States for reaching a consensus outcome at this critical stage of our work.  

Let us make the most of this special session to set a course for policies which support our common aspirations for healthy people, peaceful and just societies, and a better future for all.

Thank you.