Bangladesh and other UN Member States made public commitments to jointly reduce abuse, illicit trafficking and the harm that drugs cause to societies. To tailor measures to the specific needs of children, youth and other vulnerable members of society. To make parents more supportive, social environments healthier and education and vocational training equally accessible. There was one unequivocal appeal: “Put People First.”

In Bangladesh, an estimated 2.5 million people are addicted to drugs, as per a 2013 study of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) in Dhaka. The Department of Narcotics Control (DNC), Bangladesh's apex drug control agency, reported in 2017 that people between 16 and 40 comprise 88.39% of the drug abusing population. The yaba drug has further amplified problems pertaining to addiction and trafficking. As per DNC statistics, law enforcement agencies seized a mammoth cache of 40,079,443 yaba tablets in 2017.

Clearly, addressing drug abuse, reducing demand and illicit trafficking in Bangladesh requires complementary efforts of health, education, social and law enforcement agencies. Respect for human rights and the rule of law must be the fundamental element in any anti-drugs strategy with evidence-based and balanced responses, which create trust in State authorities.

There must be outreach programmes for children and youth in schools, and well-informed media campaigns. It is also an imperative for governments to ensure that people do not face marginalization or stigma. They do not lose their human rights and dignity because they use drugs. They enjoy equal rights to health, life, non-discrimination, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. This is essential because the stigmatization and the fear of discrimination may dissuade many from seeking treatment, as addressed in the recent resolution 61/11 of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Drug abuse and drug trafficking

Bangladesh has been an active partner of the United Nations efforts against drug abuse and illicit trafficking, and commits to address the crisis from health and law enforcement perspectives. However, the recent incidents of alleged extrajudicial executions and other human rights abuses that have come to light from mainstream media reports and civil society are concerning.

According to the International Narcotics Control Board, an independent, quasi-judicial expert body that monitors the implementation of UN drug conventions, extrajudicial responses to drug-related criminality are violations of the conventions, and drug-related crimes must be addressed through formal criminal justice responses. Authorities and agencies working on prevention of crime should follow due processes of law and respect the rights of the accused. There is no room for impunity for human rights violations in the name of drug control. 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently expressed concern about the alleged violations in Bangladesh and called for an investigation. The UN and others have been calling for many years for a focus on alternative criminal justice responses and for resources for prevention, treatment, and social reintegration, including anonymous drug dependence treatments and harm reduction services.

Bangladesh has been making efforts to provide such responses, supported by the UN and partners, for example through drop-in centers for drug users, review of policies, support to HIV prevention, and capacity building for law enforcement and civil society partners.

The people of Bangladesh deserve a life free from drugs, and effective drug policies that uphold their basic rights. This is particularly important to ensure that the youth and children continue to enjoy their rights to education, health, and information, and remain free from the experience of violence. The UN stands ready to work with Bangladesh towards these goals.