Report of the 2007 Commission on Narcotic Drugs

01 March 2007

This briefing paper summarises the proceedings and outcomes of the 2007 CND. It includes a discussion of a wide range of issues - from technical debates on the rescheduling of dronabinol, to the plans for the global review of the 1998 UNGASS objectives - and comments on the performance of the UN agencies in this field, and of the workings of the CND itself.

Summary

This briefing paper reports on the proceedings and outcomes of the 50th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), held in Vienna from 12th - 16th March 2007. The CND is the annual gathering of all United Nations member states to discuss and make decisions on a wide range of issues related to the global drug control system, and the work programme of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

The 2007 meeting, chaired by Hans Lundborg of Sweden, was the last such event before the watershed year of 2008, when the international community will review progress against the objectives set at the General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), held in New York in 1998. This CND was also notable for a significant improvement in Civil Society involvement in the proceedings – there were a record 81 registered Civil Society delegates and many further NGO representatives included in government delegations.

The official NGO Forum was attended by the UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, who opened the proceedings and made himself available for questions. Furthermore the global consultation with NGOs, that is planned to feed in to the UNGASS review process, was formally launched by Michel Perron, Vice-Chair of the Vienna NGO Committee. Several NGOs – the IDPC, Senlis Council, OSI, Sundial - ran briefing sessions or receptions. The IDPC reception, held to launch our ‘5 Policy Positions’ document, was well attended by government representatives and officials of international agencies. On the other hand, there were repeated moves by some country delegations to marginalise NGO involvement in these processes, with questions raised regarding NGO involvement in the Committee of the Whole, and in the UNGASS review process. Clearly, not all member states are yet convinced of the value of interactions with Civil Society.

Across the 5 days of formal proceedings, and numerous satellite meetings, there is a plethora of technical, diplomatic and political exchanges. We have tried to summarise the proceedings and outcomes of just a small number of these, making judgments on which issues are most likely to be of interest to the IDPC readership. At various points in the text, we make reference to the official documents produced for the CND. These are available in several languages on the UNODC website (www.unodc.org) on the CND page.

Conclusions

The annual CND is a crucial moment to assess global trends in drug markets and shifting policy options to deal with drug-related problems, from the fields to the streets and from prisons to treatment centres. Civil society for too long has left this section of the UN system largely to governments and it is a welcome sign that more and more NGOs engage actively in the process. Several lessons can be drawn from this 50th session, some raising concern, others signalling positive developments.

1. The climate and terms of debate at the CND is still far apart from the realities many NGOs working in the field have to deal with. For most it feels like entering a virtual reality with its own agreed language and where the real dilemmas faced in practice cannot be discussed. Political considerations and diplomatic courtesies are the rule rather than scientific evidence or experience from practice. To make the CND a more useful environment its modus operandus needs to be challenged. Also many government delegates complain about the absence of real debate. The plenary is dominated by national statements reciting accomplishments in terms of seizures etc, many of which could simply be put on
paper and distributed in the hallways. It often feels more like an annual ritual meant to avoid debate, than a serious attempt to discuss best options for how to deal with the very real problems in the world today.

2. The thematic debate was introduced a few years ago with the intention to improve conditions for content debate. This year’s topic of precursors has long been an unchallenged field of drug law enforcement, taking place at a safe distance from human harms easily associated with law enforcement at the level of
farmers or users. Trends in precursor control, however, do start to show some worrying aspects. Absence of measurable impact on levels of production leads to a Pavlov-response to expand the scope of controls more and more without serious evaluation or consideration of potential consequences of extending controls to ‘pre-precursors’ and plants. It also tends to further increase inconsistencies between the three drug control treaties and the competence of the mandated agencies involved.

3. The issue of agency competences was one of the more worrying topics that surfaced at this CND. The WHO for years has played a marginal role at CND meetings and its authority was further undermined by the INCB and several Member States. The INCB once again stretched its mandate by selectively condemning certain countries’ policies and showed no willingness to engage in a more transparent discussion about the politicised positions it takes. The Board’s unhelpful attitude was strongly challenged by the WHO and several Member States and NGOs. UNODC remains too dependent on its major donors who pressure the agency in a certain direction in violation of the multilateral spirit that should characterise all UN bodies. By adopting the UNODC strategy, the CND ratified the process of merging the drugs and crime departments. UNAIDS or the WHO are not even mentioned once in that strategy. The crucial health-aspects of drug policy at the UN level and the specialized agencies involved are pushed to the sidelines in spite of the fact that UNODC is a co-sponsor of UNAIDS and that the WHO has a direct mandate laid down in the conventions. More ‘system-wide coherence’ is a UN priority brought to the attention of the CND by the Secretary General with his paper ‘Delivering as one’ (E/CN.7/2007/15). The questions around the role of the INCB, UNODC donor dependence, and a proper balance between drugs, crime and health aspects need to be linked to the broader UN reform agenda, which will be a major challenge for the years to come.

4. Last but not least, the CND agreed on a clear commitment and procedure for a proper evaluation of the 1998 UNGASS objectives and action plans. Four crucial steps in the 2008-2009 process are now defined: the Thematic Debate at the 51st CND session, the NGO conference “Beyond 2008” in June next year, a period of reflection, and a high-level segment at the 52nd CND in 2009. It is now time to shift our attention to the key topics that need to be addressed in that process in order to ensure that appropriate adjustment to the global drug control strategy can be agreed upon by 2009.

The IDPC will continue to monitor the progress of drug policy discussions at the United Nations throughout 2007, and intends to issue an update on plans for the 2008 CND at the end of the year.

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