Posts Tagged 'Russia'

Cautious Optimism: Yuri Fedotov named head of UNODC

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced yesterday that Mr Yuri Fedotov will take over leadership of the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime, many of us involved in advocating for and institutionalising sound harm reduction strategies globally greeted the news with what can only be described as trepidation.

We at Health Connections International (HCI) are no different.

Still, we extend our sincerest congratulations to Mr Fedotov, who succeeds Antonio Maria Costa as head of UNODC. Mr Fedotov has previously served as Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom. We look forward to seeing the shape of Mr Fedotov’s reign as Executive Director of UNODC.

Yet, below we detail a few of our concerns with this appointment and what lies behind our scepticism.

As outlined in a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the position of Executive Director of UNODC demands enthusiastic support for and promotion of a human rights–based approach to global drug policies, demonstrated leadership in the response to HIV, and strong advocacy skills for the adoption of a balanced and evidence-based approach to drug control and policies. There are those from the international harm reduction community who have questioned the legitimacy of a Russian candidate given that country’s past and present drug policies.

To date, the Russian Federation holds an abysmal track record on fair treatment and practices towards drug users. Extending the principles of human rights to the country’s estimated 2-3 million drug users let alone the promotion of those rights has been a daily struggle for activists for more than a decade with very little policy change visible. To illustrate this point, we make note of the fact that Russia has consistently refused to implement both proven HIV prevention measures targeted to drug users and evidence-based drug dependence treatment protocols such as opiate substitution therapy.

Equally worrisome, at the 53rd meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) a few months ago, the delegation from the Russian Federation made repeated statements to the effect that human rights did not belong in the resolutions of the CND.

In light of this, it is easy to understand why many are describing Mr Fedotov’s appointment as a ‘giant leap backwards’.

In saying all this, we at HCI do not wish to pre-emptively condemn the appointment of Mr Fedotov. After all, he is an ‘individual’ and not a ‘country’. Rather, we prefer to remain cautiously optimistic and hope that Mr Fedotov will continue the UNODC trend of moving away from policies and programmes that punish, stigmatise and marginalise drug users.

We also hope that he will stand for a balanced rights-based and public health approach to drugs policy and control. That is, an agenda that addresses the supply and trafficking of narcotics which is evidence-based and -informed. We also hope that Mr Fedotov takes the reins as a leading advocate in the promotion of human rights for those who use drugs within international drug policy discussions and decision-making.

As stated by the International Drug Policy Consortium, ‘In a time of uncertainty for global drug control policy, the new Executive Director will need to balance the increasingly divergent views of Member States in this difficult policy area, and modernise the operation of the Office to restore trust amongst donors and civil society’.

We couldn’t agree more, and hope that Mr Fedotov keeps this very much in mind.

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