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Global Commission Panel urges more humane approach to drug policy

Ruth Dreifuss, a former Swiss president, attends a Global Commission on Drug Policy meeting in Warsaw in 2012


A prominent member of a commission dedicated to reforming drug policies around the world called on Thursday for kinder, gentler policies toward drug addicts.

Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general, told the Graduate Institute in Geneva on Thursday that a more humane approach will bring more effective solutions. 

“Obviously we all want to protect our families from drugs, but if they do develop a drug problem they should be seen as patients in need of treatment and not criminals,” said Annan, who lives in Geneva and is one of 25 political leaders and prominent thinkers who make up the 5-year-old commissionexternal link.

He also said that Geneva’s status as a centre of global governance will help to “strengthen the human rights and health-based approaches to drug policy”.

The commission, coordinated by the Geneva secretariat that opened in June, recommends that countries end civil and criminal penalties for drug use and possession. It also advocates stronger drug treatment services in less affluent countries.

It recently criticised the UN’s lacklustre effort to combat drug abuse, due to deep divisions among UN member states on how to proceed.

Swiss approach

The commission’s chair, Ruth Dreifuss, who in 1999 became the first woman to serve as president of Switzerland, said the aim is “to show vulnerable populations that they matter and we care.”

Dreifuss also called Geneva a “powerful platform” for the commission’s work because of the presence of key organisations like the UN’s top human rights body, the UN’s health agency and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

She advocates the Swiss government’s pragmatic drug policy of prevention, therapy, damage limitation and repression. That approach sparked controversy when it was first introduced in 1991, but other countries have since replicated it.

The Swiss efforts were a reflection of how officials grappled with Zurich’s drug problems of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1994, the Swiss let doctors prescribe heroin for the chronically addicted.

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