HOW HUMAN RIGHTS CAN EFFECT CHANGE
As detailed above, for the drug law to be in compliance with human rights law our officials must show that the drug law is neither a discriminatory practice nor more repressive or severe than absolutely necessary for the general welfare.
As a society we have never before looked into this. Nonetheless, after more than 50 years of a global war on drugs, we have learned enough about drugs and drug prohibition to make a case that the drug law represents a discriminatory, disproportional, and arbitrary practice—and that we therefore are dealing with a violation of human rights.
This being so, the human rights conventions affirm that we shall have an effective remedy. What this means is that the State is not only under a contractual obligation to respect our rights but also to help us vindicate those rights.
When it comes to this, all branches of government have a responsibility to assist us in having the problematic relationship between drug law and human rights law reviewed. Provided therefore that we present officials with evidence indicative of a human rights violation, they must see to it that the issue is brought to light under the auspices of an independent, impartial, and competent commission. Cessation of an ongoing violation is an essential element of the right to an effective remedy, and if our officials fail to investigate these serious allegations they commit a punishable offense.
We mention this because historically we find that a culture of impunity is the greatest threat to the advancement of human rights. Strengthening accountability of public officials, therefore, is an important contributor to human rights protection, and under no circumstances may a State party relieve perpetrators from personal responsibility.
Knowing this, politicians should be eager to assist us in having the issue properly reviewed. However, over the past 50 years prohibition has become a deeply rooted social practice. To most civil servants it is still synonymous with all things good and decent, and as it takes a certain modicum of integrity for a public official to help us vindicate our rights, we should not be surprised if some fail to abide by their duties to human rights law.
Politicians, however, are not the only civil servants under a responsibility to help us have this issue reviewed. Also the judiciary is obligated to do so, and should you find yourself on trial for violating the drug law, you can avail yourself of your rights as a defendant to have the legality of the law examined.
In any case, then, whether we go to the judiciary, the executive, or the legislative branch of government, our civil servants’ obligations are the same; they are all duty-bound to let the issue be determined by an independent, impartial, and competent tribunal, and any failure to do so will result in legal responsibility. The law is clear, and this being so we can use our rights as defendants/citizens to have the relationship between prohibition and the human rights conventions reviewed.
That being said, many prohibitionists have irrational fear-based reactions about this topic and feeling threatened by the implications of the rights-oriented debate, they are not that enthusiastic about the notion of rights-oriented drug policies. Nevertheless, we would like to stress that it should not matter if we are prohibitionists or abolitionists: Getting to the bottom of this should be our priority number one, for if drug prohibition really is a discriminatory, disproportional and arbitrary practice it is of utmost importance that we end it as soon as possible.
The rule of law dictates that we do, and as nobody is served by the enforcement of such practices, both sides of the argument should be equally committed to the advancement of the rights-oriented debate.
When it comes to this, there are several ways forward: If you are a civil servant, you should immediately look into this issue and use your position to ensure that it is resolved. If you are a regular citizen, the simplest way of giving a voice to the promotion of rights-oriented policies would be by joining AROD and discussing the issue with friends, colleagues, and family members. For those who want to go further, writing to politicians, the media, or demonstrating is a good way of expressing your concern; and for those who find themselves on trial, accused of violating the drug law, availing yourselves of your right to have the legality of the law reviewed is an excellent way of promoting human rights.
When dealing with such gross human rights violations all non-violent options are on the table, and if you want to know more about our civil servants’ obligations to the human rights conventions, you can read chapter 5 of “To End a War”. This chapter will also elaborate on the implications of our right to an effective remedy, as well as the performance standards against which our officials can be held accountable (chapter 4 of this book might also be helpful). For a full overview of of how drug prohibition violates the Bill of Rights, see our 2018 report “Human Rising“. For Americans, we reccommend our case study, which details how the US Justice system has mistreated constitutional challenges to the drug law.