Unique in International Relations?

A Comparison of the International Narcotics Control Board and the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies
Damon Barrett
International Harm Reduction Association
February 2008

In a new report released in February 2008 by the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), the INCB comes in for some heavy criticism for being overly secretive, closed to external dialogue with civil society, and out of kilter with similar agencies in other UN programmes. IHRA also debunks the INCB’s defence that it is ‘unique in international relations’. 

Download the full report (PDF)

Most secretive body in the UN system

The report notes that: "The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB or the Board) plays an important role in the international drug control system, serving as an independent body monitoring states’ implementation of their obligations under the international drug conventions. It has, however, been criticised for being one of the most secretive bodies in the UN system. It holds its meetings behind closed doors. No minutes are published. There is no opportunity for nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) or civil society organisations to observe or make submissions.

The INCB has claimed that it is ‘unique in international relations’, and has used this allegedly unique status to justify its exclusion of civil society from its deliberations and its closed meetings. However, far from being unique, the INCB is instead an early example of the ‘independent committee of experts’ model that has been adopted and developed within the UN human rights system, and regional human rights systems, over the past four decades. It is a common model that continues to be used today. Yet in contrast to these similar bodies, the INCB has failed to modernise its processes, and retains working practices inherited from defunct monitoring bodies."

This is the third publication from the HR2 (Harm Reduction and Human Rights) programme. The report points out that whilst the INCB was established along the same lines as the UN human rights treaties, it does not engage with civil society in the way parallel organisations do.

Various recommendations are made in order to reform the INCB:

  • Clarify the scope of the mandate
  • Include civil society and NGO input
  • Promote transparency
  • Make all documents and minutes public
  • Get guidance from the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • Work with NGOs, people with HIV/AIDS and drug users during country visits
  • Seek assistance from WHO and UNAIDS for drawing up guidelines for dealing with drug users and people living with HIV/AIDS
This is not the first time the INCB has been comprehensively critiqued by the NGO sector. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, accused it of being 'an obstacle to effective programs to prevent and treat HIV and chemical dependence'.

See: UN INCB is 'obstacle' to HIV prevention and drug treatment programs, News Release, February 27, 2007