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Tensions in the UN between therapeutic and criminal justice approaches to providing HIV/AIDS services to injecting drug users, prisoners and human trafficking victims

74 Leichhardt Street, Griffith, ACT, Paul Williams
11 April 2007

Paul Williams
Expert, HIV/AIDS Unit
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


Seminar objectives:

  • discuss the history and strategic approach of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) HIV/AIDS programme
  • describe how UNODC and member states are addressing tensions among member states, within and between UNODC and other UN agencies, and in civil society.

The UNODC is the UN custodian of the international drug control treaties; the Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Palermo Human Trafficking Protocol, which have an over-riding objective of a 'drug free world'.

In June 2005, Member States, through the Programme Coordinating Board of the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) charged UNODC with the task of implementing a range of therapeutic measures for harm reduction, primarily targeted to injecting drug users and prison settings. This was after decades of exclusively promoting, and implementing, a criminal justice and law enforcement approach to drug control eg. crop eradication, drug demand reduction, and abstinence-based drug treatment activities.

In September 2005 the cosponsoring organisations of UNAIDS extended this mandate to include the facilitation of a UN system-wide strategy for HIV/AIDS prevention, and the care for people vulnerable to human trafficking. The shift in focus has created tensions amongst key stakeholders groups.

About the speaker

Paul Williams is currently an HIV/AIDS Expert at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, where he is the United Nations Global Focal Point for HIV/AIDS associated with human trafficking, and the East Asia and the Pacific Regional Focal point for HIV/AIDS and injecting drug use, and HIV/AIDS in prison settings. Immediately prior to his current position, Paul worked for the World Health Organisation and the UNAIDS. Between 1999 and 2002 Paul was the Manager of the Public Policy and Drugs research programme at the Australian Institute of Criminology. Prior to 1999 Paul worked at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing as a research analyst on drug data collections and on programme evaluation (e.g. childhood immunisation, illicit drug use, HIV/AIDS).