TNI: Cracks in the Vienna consensus

17 April 2003

In a first analysis of the outcomes of the 2003 UNGASS mid-term review in April 2003, TNI concluded that the outcomes were very disappointing. The absence of significant progress over the past five years had not led to self-reflection and evaluation. The goals and targets of the UNGASS were simply re-affirmed. Most countries concentrated on a stock taking halfway of the implemented measures, without an honest analysis of the impact. The result is a distorted picture of virtual progress in order to justify to stay on the same course. The illusion is kept alive that reality will somehow fall into line with wishful thinking.

1. The outcomes of this 46th CND session and the mid-term review are most disappointing. The absence of significant progress over the past five years has not led to self-reflection and evaluation. The goals and targets of the UNGASS have been simply re-affirmed. Most countries concentrated on a stock taking halfway of the implemented measures, without an honest analysis of the impact these measured have had. The result is a distorted picture of virtual progress in order to justify to stay on the same course. The illusion is kept alive that reality will somehow fall into line with wishful thinking.

2. In fact, there are examples of encouraging progress, especially in the field of Harm Reduction. Several countries can show a reduction in the number of drug-related deaths and a slowing down of the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases. There is a better variety of treatment options available. In spite of the direct contribution in terms of alleviating human suffering, this encouraging progress is considered to be politically not correct by the fierce defenders of zero-tolerance. In stead of applauding this development, attacks were made during the session to condemn them and to turn the clock back. Even on needle exchange and methadone treatment, no basic agreement could be found.

3. Rapid advances in cannabis policies and Harm Reduction practices are now reaching a crisis point at the UN level. Policy differences have always existed but now the divergence has led to cracks in the Vienna consensus. The INCB has discredited itself by condemning the democratic path some countries have taken. The legitimacy of the Board itself is at stake. Instead of trying to accommodate the pragmatic and evidence-based policy developments, the INCB is taking a collusion course with several countries. Differences become also more apparent between the INCB and UNODC, seemingly more willing to find solutions other than just pressuring sovereign nations to adapt their policies. Acknowledging to some extent that drug control treaties, as they stand, have been rendered out of synch with reality.

4. Promising things happened on the side of civil society interaction with the UN debate. Without doubt the discussions here upstairs at the Civic Centre have been more interesting than downstairs in the official sessions. The articulation of sincere voices on NGO side has clearly improved over the years and UN ODC is struggling to redefine its relationship. On the one hand they gave unprecedented legitimacy during the plenary session to a very particular zero-tolerance expression from civil society in an attempt to neutralise those voices that question the effectiveness of current drug control and are trying to open the debate about the conventions. On the other hand, ODC starts to recognise the constructive contribution NGOs can play also on the level of policy debate. We've most appreciated the open spirit of ODC officials at the panels and discussion here at the Civic Centre. This type of dialogue gives hope for the future that creative solutions for the current impasse can be found through an open minded discussion. Our commitment is to keep working in that direction, convinced that a more just and effective as well as more flexible framework can be developed.

See also:
Progress Report by TNI as a contribution to the Mid-term (2003) Review of UNGASS:

Measuring Progress: Global Supply of Illicit Drugs, TNI Policy Briefing 6, April 2003
Change of Course. An Agenda for Vienna, Drugs & Conflict 6, March 2003.
A special briefing of TNI for the mid-term review in Vienna. Read the Press Release.


 

 


TNI Press Release
April 17, 2003