Thursday, January 29, 2009

Harm Reduction Coalition’s UNGASS Sign-On Letter to Obama

January 1, 2009

Dear President-elect Obama,

Congratulations on your historic election. As advocates working to address US government policy on drug use and HIV, we hope that your administration will shift US policy in this critical area away from ideology and to positions based firmly on evidence, public health principles, and human rights.

We are fast approaching a very important meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs. In March 2009, UN Member States will gather in Vienna for a high level meeting to assess progress since the 1998 General Assembly Special Session addressing world drug problems. The political declaration coming out of this two-day meeting will set the framework for the next phase of international drug control and will set the course for the global response to the HIV epidemic.

This political declaration is being drafted right now and will be largely completed by the end of January, shortly after you take office. Bush Administration State Department negotiators are currently taking advantage of the US government's status as a world power to undermine and block accepted World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS approaches to HIV prevention among drug users – strategies that are now strongly supported by the vast majority of UN Member States. The negotiators for the outgoing US administration are defending positions that will inhibit essential public health interventions in the many parts of the world where HIV epidemics are driven by drug injection.

We are concerned that because this key international meeting comes at a time shortly after you assume office and will be facing extraordinary demands, the default response may be a continuation by the US negotiators of the harmful status quo. We believe that those currently representing the US government in Vienna do not reflect the values you espoused in your successful election campaign, and that your own administration will wish to chart a quite different course. The March 2009 meeting represents an immediate and important opportunity for the US government to adjust course, and to work with other UN Member States in supporting a new, evidence-based drug and HIV policy.

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