A Russian speaks about human rights


The new Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV) and Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) –the Russian Yury Fedotov took office today.

He has signalled that  the UNODC will continue to focus on public health and human rights.

“UNODC works to improve the lives of people and communities worldwide,” said Mr. Fedotov, a former Deputy Foreign Minister.  “Public health and human rights must therefore be central to that work.” 

 “I want this Office to make a significant contribution to economic and social progress,” said Mr. Fedotov. “Illicit drugs, crime and corruption cut lives short and retard prosperity, whereas justice and health spur development. We can play our part in the global fight against poverty and to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals.”

“As ever, the poor and vulnerable suffer most. Whether we talk of the victims of human trafficking, communities oppressed by corrupt leaders, unfair criminal justice systems or drug users marginalized by society, we are committed to making a positive difference.”

“Drug dependence is a health disorder, and drug users need humane and effective treatment - not punishment,” he added. “Drug treatment should also promote the prevention of HIV.”

There were many fears expressed when it was announced that a Russian would become head of the UNODC. Russia has a terrible record of failure in tackling the public health implications of the intravenous heroin use that is a huge factor in the frighteningly rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the country. 

Russia has also expressed the desire to see the aerial spraying of the Afghan opium fields. Aerial spraying of ‘coca’ has wrought havoc in Colombia, damaging the livelihood of all of those living on the land in the affected areas.

Mr. Fedotov succeeds Antonio Maria Costa, who headed UNODC and UNOV since 2002. There was often controversy whilst Costa led the organisation. He often appeared hostile to the harm reduction strategies and an approach based on human rights. A wonderful example of his attitude from the 2009 World Drug Report:

“Ghettos do not create junkies and the jobless: it is often the other way around”

These attitudes appeared to soften in the last year with the preamble of the 2010 World Drug Report being filled with positive language as if written by one of the heroic partisans of the human rights and lets hope that despite the fears of many NGOs working in the field there may be more positive change at the UNODC.