Weaknesses in the United Nations drug control system have often been identified, related to the functioning of the key organs – the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) –, related to collaboration with the wider UN system – the World Health Organistaion (WHO), UNAIDS, UN Development Programme (UNDP), etc. – and related to the outdated character of several treaty provisions.
The 50th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), held in Vienna from 12-16 March 2007 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. The key decision that had to be taken at the 2007 CND was the timing and procedure for the UNGASS review.
"We respectfully urge you to support syringe exchange, opiate substitution treatment and other harm reduction approaches demonstrated to reduce HIV risk; to affirm the human rights of drug users to health and health services; and to reject efforts to overrule science and tie the hands of those working on the front lines."
In this open letter to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, 334 organisations express their concern about U.S. efforts to force a UNODC retreat from support of syringe exchange and other measures proven to contain the spread of HIV among drug users.
The International AIDS Society (IAS) wrote a letter to the Chair of the Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) to express concern about the absence of language on harm reduction in the draft outcome documents to be adopted by the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2009.
The International AIDS Society is world’s leading independent association of HIV professionals with over 11,000 members from 183 countries; and the custodian of the International AIDS Conference to be held in Vienna in 2010.
The backbone of the United Nations drug control system consists of three UN Drug Conventions. The prohibition of potentially harmful substances has its origin in the desire to protect human well-being. However, the way in which the global regime was set up decades ago and the escalation of repression it has brought about since, has been an historical mistake increasing rather than diminishing the problems. There is no point now in dreaming about how the world might have looked without it, or deluding ourselves that all the problems could be solved by scrapping the conventions. The challenge is to create the political space which would allow a reform process to move ahead. A process guided by pragmatism, open-mindedness and evaluation of practices on the basis of costs and benefits; providing leeway for experimentation and freedom to challenge the wisdom of the existing conventions.
Conflicting views and policies within the UN system on harm reduction have become a major concern. Consistency in messages is crucial especially where it concerns joint global programmes such as the efforts to slow down the HIV/AIDS epidemic; efforts in which harm reduction practices like needle exchange and substitution treatment play a pivotal role.
The review of the objectives and action plans agreed at the 1998 UNGASS on Drugs has reached a critical stage. Following the thematic debate at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and the five expert working groups held in Vienna over the summer, the attention now moves to the political process of negotiating the text of a political declaration to be agreed at the high level meeting in March 2009.
As we noted previously, Mr. Costa opening speech included some remarkably positive - and in the context of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs - sometimes daring statements. His remarks were further elaborated in a so-called Conference Room Paper (CRP) that was distributed at the CND. However, that paper is nowhere to be found on the UNODC website. But you can find it on the Transform blogspot.
Our worries about a possible censorship of Mr. Costa's Conference Room Paper "Making drug control 'fit for purpose': Building on the UNGASS decade" are unfounded. It is now available at the UNODC website.
At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March 2008 in Vienna three resolutions on cannabis were tabled. They were all clearly against 'lenient policies' in some countries depenalising or decriminalizing the use of cannabis. One of the resolutions called for the criminalization of drug abuse that would have significantly expanded the UN drug conventions.
In response to the 2007 annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which called on countries to 'abolish or prohibit coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of coca tea', President Evo Morales of Bolivia sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon to express profound concern and discontent with the INCB in relation to the coca leaf, the practice of chewing it and the other traditional uses that have 3,000 years of history and are fully legally recognised in Bolivia.
The 51st Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was designated as the point at which the international community would debate the progress made in the 10 years since the Political Declaration of the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS). The 1998 UNGASS called for the eradication or significant reduction of the cultivation, supply and demand of illicit drugs. Few governments acknowledged the real policy dilemmas arising from the failure to achieve these reductions, or came forward with proposals on how the international drug control system could be improved. One of the most debated issues was a resolution on human rights and international drug control introduced by Uruguay.
Martin Jelsma, from the Transnational Institute, prepared an analysis for theLatin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, explaining the drug policy situation in the European Union and the current state of debate in the United Nations agenda. The commission is an initiative born of former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, from Brazil, César Gaviria, from Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo, from Mexico, to respond to concerns related to the problems of drug consumption and traffic in Latin America. The idea to constitute a commission capable of consolidating a debate concerning this problematic also responds to the necessity of reviewing the world drug policies in the scope of the United Nations, which began in March 2008.
UNDCPs 1998 plan to eradicate the cultivation of both coca and opium poppy by the year 2008 was a rare opportunity to re-think current drugs efforts. Member states were asked to endorse a plan, known as SCOPE, for the eradication of drugs-linked crops by 2008. Is SCOPE viable? And what impact would it have on poor farmers who grow drugs-linked crops to survive?
The Bush administration is quietly extending a policy that undermines the global battle against AIDS. "The State Department's new leadership needs to end this bullying flat-earthism. It won't help President Bush's current effort to relaunch his image among allies. And it's almost certain to kill people."
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) made some interesting video news items on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. In this one leading civils society spokespersons comment Mr. Costa, the UNODC Executive Director, opening speech. Costa's opening speech was somewhat surprising in that he coincided on some points that have been raised by civil society groups over the past years. He stressed that too many people in prison, and too few in health services; that there are too few resources for prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation; and that there is too much eradication of drug crops, and not enough eradication of poverty.