Saturday, December 2

Calls for Russian not to join UN drugs agency, The World Today, ABC Radio

Date: 25 June 2010

Harm Reduction International’s Damon Barrett on ABC radio and ex INCB member Brian Watters disagreeing

Apparently its doesn’t matter who leads the UN agency responsible for HIV related to injecting drug use.

SHANE MCLEOD: The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is being urged to disregard Russia for a key position on the UN drugs agency.

An international coalition of anti-drug groups says it has credible information that a high level Russian diplomat Yuri Fedetov is set to be appointed to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The association says Russia has an appalling record in dealing with drugs and appointing Fedetov would be a backward step.

Lindy Kerin reports.

LINDY KERIN: It’s estimated around two million people in Russia regularly inject heroin and around 30,000 drug users die there every year.

It’s because of these staggering figures that a global coalition of drug and HIV organisations is opposing Russia’s bid to gain a position on the UN drugs agency.

Damon Barrett is a senior human rights analyst with the International Harm Reduction Association.

DAMON BARRETT: Russia’s record on drug policies and in particular on HIV prevention among people who inject drugs is appalling. In Russia we have almost two million injecting drug users at this point, about 37 per cent HIV prevalence among them and a government that’s categorically refusing to do anything about it.

Now the reason that’s a problem for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime is because it’s supposed to be the lead agency in the United Nations system for that particular issue. So to have a representative of the Russian government as the lead would be unthinkable from our perspective.

LINDY KERIN: The NGO working on drug related harm policies has joined more than 20 anti-drug and HIV groups in the campaign against Russia.

Damon Barrett says credible sources have told the group that Yuri Fedetov, a career diplomat from Russia is the front runner for a position with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Mr Fedetov is the current Russian Ambassador to the UK and has also been the deputy foreign minister.

DAMON BARRETT: Being so heavily involved with the government for so long the independence of the position would be affected. The UNDC needs credibility in order to take a lead on human rights and drugs and to take a lead on HIV and injecting drug use. And that credibility would immediately be shot with this particular candidate.

LINDY KERIN: So you’ve written to the UN General-Secretary about your concerns along with a wide range of other organisations. What’s been the response so far?

DAMON BARRETT: There has been none so far. The letter only went out very recently.

I am not sure if we expect a direct response either. These processes at this level in the United Nations are notoriously lacking in transparency.

This information we found about Mr Fedetov’s application for this job we learned by chance. From what we know there may be as many as 30 candidates going for the role and we don’t know many of them.

The lack of transparency in this is one of our major, major concerns.

LINDY KERIN: Major Brian Watters has experience as Australia’s representative on a different UN committee – the International Narcotics Control Board. But he resigned from the position in May.

He says the campaign against Russia is unfortunate.

BRIAN WATTERS: I mean Russia’s a very, very important element in the whole problem of drugs in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe. It’s a country being used to transport drugs from Afghanistan and other places. They have huge drug problems themselves.

And it would seem very appropriate to have somebody from that country working with the United Nations office on drugs and crime. Russia has not got a good record in contemporary terms of dealing with harm reduction; that is providing alternatives and needle exchanges etc. But having him there within the fold rather than outside the fold would mean that he can be shown these and exposed to these other approaches to things which can only be helpful.

LINDY KERIN: Major Brian Watters has also rejected claims that the appointment of Russia’s Yuri Fedetov would severely damage the credibility of the UN drug control agency.

BRIAN WATTERS: I think they’re talking nonsense. It’s a huge office. It works under the conventions of the United Nations. It works very closely with the World Health Organization.

The head of the United Nations office on Drug and Crime Mr Costa has spoken at harm reduction conferences and speaks very, very clearly on the promotion of harm reduction strategies.

Now I mean having one man in an organisation like that is not going to change it. And the big hope is that they can change his approach to things.

LINDY KERIN: Criticism about the UN Office of Drugs and Crime comes as the organisation prepares to mark the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking this Saturday.

SHANE MCLEOD: Lindy Kerin reporting.