In July, Global Drug Policy Observatory staff Professors David Bewley Taylor and Julia Buxton delivered the 10 day intensive Human Rights and Drug Policy summer school, at the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary. Funded by the Open Society’s Global Drug Policy Programme, the summer school was attended by 24 participants from across the world. This included colleagues from Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Hungary, Jamaica, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, United States of America, Poland, Ireland and the United Kingdom. With backgrounds in journalism, social work, harm reduction, legal services, advocacy, political service and the security sector, the participants brought extensive professional experience to the course, which presented an excellent opportunity for global networking and knowledge exchange.
The summer school was delivered by academics and practitioners through lectures, discussion groups and workshops that enabled participants to analyse core issues and debates at the interface of human rights and drug policy. This began with David Bewley Taylor’s day-long session exploring the treaty framework and institutions of the international drug control regime administered by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Key questions included the remit and mandate of bodies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the extent to which current reform of cannabis laws constitute a breach of the 1961 Single Convention. On the second day, participants considered international human rights conventions and obligations supported by key cases in human rights law. Delivered by Damon Barrett, Deputy Director and Head of Research and Advocacy at the Harm Reduction International and Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, the session incorporated a focus on the rights of children and of minority religious groups particularly Rastafari.
Niamh Eastwood, the Executive Director of the drug policy reform and legal services organisation Release delivered the third day’s session. This addressed racial disparities in drug policy enforcement, trends in incarceration for drug related offences, and, returning to a theme raised earlier by Bewley Taylor, the politics of drug scheduling. Course participants welcomed back Peter Sarosi and Denes Balazs from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) at the end of the week. The first engagement for participants at the beginning of the course had been an informative and moving visit to a needle injecting facility with Peter Sarosi. In this second session with HCLU, participants enjoyed a day of media training in drugs advocacy. This involved submitting to a recorded camera interview, which was played back to the class for comments.
As the summer school is an intensive course, designed to maximise the ability of professionals to take time from work to attend, participants were back in the classroom on Saturday with Dr Katherine Pettus, Advocacy Officer at the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care. This was a challenging session, requiring participants to focus on the impacts in poor and developing countries of lack of access to essential medicines. The session threaded with earlier discussions on the scheduling of controlled drugs and the role of drug control bodies (CND but particularly the INCB) in impeding access to medicines that are essential for pain relief in terminal illness. Participants did enjoy a break on the Sunday, with the majority taking the opportunity of a boat cruise along the Danube to Szentendre.
The final three days of the course were delivered by Kasia Malinowska Sempruch the Director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Programme and Julia Buxton. With Kasia, participants examined the record and principles of global harm reduction initiatives, including safe injecting facilities and methadone maintenance programmes. The impact on women of drug policy enforcement was considered, developing the argument forwarded earlier in the course by Niamh Eastwood relating to bias in the policing and treatment of drug-related offences. Julia Buxton examined why the international community focuses attention on naturally occurring (cocaine and opioid) drugs that are produced in the Global South, rather than more widely abused synthetic drugs manufactured in Europe, North America and China. Following this discussion, participants considered the cost paid by developing and conflict prone countries in their role as ‘front line’ states in the international drug war. The final session was applied in orientation, and focused on writing drug policy reports. Participants presented and discussed different topics for a Situation Analysis, supporting each other in constructing brief, focused analytical pieces.
Feedback from the course was extremely positive, with friendship and close working relations making for excellent group dynamics throughout the 10 day period of study. This was the final year Human Rights and Drug policy will be delivered at the CEU, with the course relocating to other institutions in India, Ghana and Mexico for 2015. With Julia Buxton’s move to the School of Public Policy at the CEU in January 2015, work will begin to develop a Masters level programme in Human Rights and Drug Policy; a programme that will aim to maintain a close relationship with Swansea University and the GDPO.