U.S. Statement on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and International Drug Control Third Committee, UN General Assembly

Luis E. Arreaga
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
New York City
October 8, 2015

While we know far more about drugs, crime, and criminal justice systems since the ratification of the Single Convention on Drugs in 1961, certain fundamental truths remain the same. Then, as now, drug abuse and addiction knows no borders. It does not discriminate.

It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, what your ethnicity is, or what religion you practice. The way our brains and bodies react to drugs is the same as it was for our parents and grandparents as it will be for our children and grandchildren.

When the Single Convention was last revised, drug addiction was considered principally as a criminal matter; today science informs us that substance abuse is primarily a public health challenge. We have also learned that a comprehensive approach to drugs produces the best outcomes. Not just the best outcomes for addicts and traffickers, but for all touched by drugs. We have also learned that we cannot consider the challenge of drugs in a vacuum. Drug trafficking and use are not isolated from society, but interconnected with it. This comprehensive approach to drugs is integral to successful criminal justice reforms as a whole. Having strong enforcement without a capable, fair judiciary does not advance our cause- indeed, it is harmful to it. To have prisons filled with criminals or addicts without a path to reintegration results in a continuing cycle of abuse and violence. Without a fair, effective, humane, and transparent criminal justice system, all our efforts, including comprehensive global drug reform, will be impaired.

We have a collective responsibility to act and to implement programs that work. One step we can take is the final adoption of the revised UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the “Mandela Rules.” Now is the time to adopt them. Doing so will provide a rulebook that incorporates the extraordinary advancements in our knowledge, and this can lead to improved outcomes for both prisoners and society alike.

Another opportunity that cannot pass us by is a reaffirmation of the critical role of the drug conventions, and the implementation of their mandates, based on debates within many UN for a that we have all been party to over the last 18 months. This includes a stronger public health approach that responds to both long established threats, such as heroin, and emerging ones, such as new psychoactive substances. As we prepare for the UNGA Special Session in April we must also ensure that the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs receives the support it needs from all member states so it can focus on developing concrete operational objectives.

Those here must seize this moment to advance the cause of reducing the impact of drugs, and advance the sustainable development goals that our leaders discussed last month. In all this the UN Office on Drugs and Crime continues to play a leadership role in program development.

Soon we must coalesce around a platform and a plan that reflects both ageless truths about addiction and the human condition, while acknowledging how much our understanding has changed.

This is our mandate, and our challenge, and in the United States you will find an ally, a leader, and a partner in the cause of criminal justice reform.