Bridging the Global and Personal: International Drug Control Law and Behavioural Compliance

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Damon BARRETT, University of Stockholm, Sweden, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, United Kingdom
Drug control represents an early example of multilateral efforts to respond to health concerns through international law. Traditionally, international law regulates the conduct of states. But as treaties enter ever more into the realm of complex social phenomena, their effectiveness is determined more by their ability to solve the problems through which they gain their legitimacy. Compliance is no longer merely that of states, but that of the private individuals whose behaviours are the subject matter of international agreements.

In this paper behavioural compliance as an aim of the UN drug control treaties will be explored as will the ‘command and control’ approach legally enshrined within them, involving proscriptions on various behaviours buttressed by the criminal law. This approach is tested against four propositions for the prediction of compliance failure using Professor Kent Weaver’s comprehensive framework for understanding barriers to behavioural compliance. This incudes sanctions and incentives (deterrence, social opprobrium), monitoring and enforcement problems, willingness to respond (e.g. peer effects and behavioural heuristics), capacity to respond (e.g. autonomy problems), and the social construction of target populations.

Adopting this framework we can see that compliance failure was predictable when the command and control approach within the treaties is assessed against barriers to behaviour change. Negative outcomes in terms of human rights were also predictable. However, as internationally binding law, the drugs conventions operate as a legal ‘default’ and policy anchor inhibiting change.

The insights gleaned from this approach reinforce charges of systemic human rights problems within the UN drug control system and calls for states to more fully utilise the flexibilities within the treaties, even where this creates tensions with the suppressive aims of the regime. They also suggest the need for a reassessment of the idea of ‘compliance’ in international drug control law.