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Russia must not be rewarded with key UN drugs post, says the International Harm Reduction Association and HIV/AIDS activists


Russia must not be rewarded with key UN drugs post, says the International Harm Reduction Association and HIV/AIDS activists

New UN drugs chief must be a leader in human rights and the HIV/AIDS response, says International Harm Reduction Association

China expected to carry out public executions on Saturday June 26 to mark the UN International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Thursday, June 24, 2010 (London, UK)–The strongly rumoured appointment of Yuri Fedotov, the current Russian Ambassador to the UK, as the new Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC), would be a step backwards for the organisation’s future work on HIV, drug use and human rights, the International Harm Reduction Association, (IHRA) and leading international AIDS and harm reduction activists said today ahead of the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on Saturday June 26.

“There are almost two million people in Russia who inject drugs, most abandoned to HIV and often premature death by their government,” said Rick Lines, IHRA Deputy Director.

It is estimated that in Russia 37 per cent of people who inject drugs are now living with HIV. Injecting drug use now accounts for some 80 per cent of new HIV infections, the vast majority occurring in people under 30.

“Russia’s appalling record on addressing the health and human rights issues associated with injecting drug use and HIV, and its repeated attempts to use its political clout to block international progress in these areas, mean that Russia’s candidate, a long serving Government official, will not have the necessary credibility and support. Moreover, the independence of the office could be called into question,” said Lines.

Over 20 organisations, including IHRA (1), have this week written to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to caution against the appointment of Russia’s candidate, Yuri Fedotov, a career diplomat of 40 years service and current Ambassador to the UK, who appears to be a front runner for the post. The current Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, leaves office at the end of July.

The organisations are concerned that, due to Russia’s poor record on human rights and HIV, the appointment of a Russian Government offical would severely damage the credibility of the UN drug control agency as the lead within the UN system on HIV related to injecting drug use and prisons.

“Russia’s well known and much criticised neglect of HIV among its most vulnerable populations as illustrated by the country’s refusal to provide access to opioid substitution therapy (such as methadone) and harm reduction services cannot be rewarded with a high profile appointment such as this,”said Daria Ocheret, Chair of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network . “We are asking the Secretary-General to think this through very carefully.”

“We need leadership from the UN that is clear and unambiguous about the best way to prevent HIV infections amongst injecting drug users,” said Alvaro Bermejo, Executive Director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. “The evidence base is clear about the effectiveness of a harm reduction approach to prevent HIV. The new head of UNODC must be a champion of harm reduction and evidence based interventions.”

Concerns over the appointment come a few days after IHRA this week released a report identifying potential UN complicity in human rights abuses in the context of counter-narcotics operations. The IHRA report “Complicity or Abolition? The death penalty and international support for drug enforcement” (2) recommended a number of basic safeguards and concrete steps that the UNODC must put in place to avoid complicity in human rights abuses, in particular the application of the death penalty for drugs.

“This is a critical juncture for the UN’s lead agency on drug control,” said Matthew Southwell, Project Manager of the International Network of People Who Use Drugs. “After recent promising moves by the outgoing UNODC head to steer the organisation in the right direction on HIV and human rights, the next post-holder will have to be a strong, credible leader in these areas to ensure that the UNODC continues to move in the same direction. Every year June 26th serves as a stark reminder of the need for change” concluded Southwell.

It is expected that public executions in China will be carried out this coming Saturday June 26th to mark the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The IHRA report demonstrated that in past years some of those executed by Chinese authorities to mark the day in that country were arrested as a direct result of European Commission and UNODC funded and supported programmes.


Notes to Editors:

(1) Signatory organisations:

International Harm Reduction Association

International HIV/AIDS Alliance

AIDS Action Europe

Eurasian Harm Reduction Network

International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD)

European Harm Reduction Network

Asian Harm Reduction Network

Caribbean Harm Reduction Coalition

Sub-Saharan African Harm Reduction Network

Canadian Harm Reduction Network

Harm Reduction Coalition (United States)

Youth R.I.S.E (Youth harm reduction network)

International Nurses Harm Reduction Network

Women’s International Harm Reduction Network

International Doctors for Healthy Drug Policies Network

Substance Misuse Management in General Practice Network

Intercambios (Argentina)

European AIDS Treatment Group

Swedish Drug Users Union

ACESS (France)

International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine

Caribbean Drug and Alcohol Research Institute


Health Connections International

(2) Complicity or Abolition? The Death Penalty and International Support for Drug Enforcement, Rick Lines, Damon Barrett and Patrick Gallahue