The 2009 Commission on Narcotic Drugs and its High Level Segment (HLS) marked the end of the 2-year process of the 10-year review of the 1998 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem. The event was marked by the call of the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, to remove the coca leaf from the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which represented the first ever truly open challenge by any nation state to the structure of the international drug control system. The HLS adopted a new Political Declaration and Plan of Action. A dissenting Interpretative Statement by 26 countries on harm reduction, not mentioned in the Political Declaration, marked a clear divide in drug control approaches.
A clear divide in drug control approaches became apparent at the end of the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on March 11-12 in Vienna, where countries gathered to review to progress since the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) and set a framework for the next 10 years through a Political Declaration and Plan of Action.
At one side of the divide a growing number of countries opt for pragmatic evidence-based harm reduction policies, while at the other side countries desperately cling to a zero tolerance approach that has failed to produce any significant result the past decade. Despite the diplomatic façade, the conclusion cannot be otherwise that the Vienna consensus on drug control that has paralysed progress in international drug control for decades, has fallen apart.
Political representatives from over 130 countries gathered at a United Nations high level meeting in Vienna on March 11-12, 2009, to conclude a 2-year long review of progress achieved within the global drug control system. Despite calls from other UN agencies and international civil society urging the CND to affirm its support for harm reduction measures, and to rebalance the drug control system towards a public health and human rights approach, the new Political Declaration simply reaffirms the commitments of the 1998 UNGASS - repeating illusionary pledges for a society 'free of drug abuse' and setting another 10-year target date to eliminate or reduce significantly the illicit cultivation of opium poppy, coca bush and cannabis plant. This briefing paper examines the procedural and institutional factors that we believe have contributed to such a weak and incoherent outcome.
The last of the four ‘round tables’ of the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was devoted to the broad issue of Countering illicit drug traffic and supply, and alternative development. TNI had been nominated by the Vienna NGO Committee to give a statement on the issue of Alternative Development (AD), being one of the few member NGOs with a track record on this issue and having actively participated in the Beyond 2008 initiative, including the negotiations at the July NGO forum to reach consensus on the text of a paragraph on AD in the final declaration. This is our impression of the event.
The first day at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was marked by the announcement of President Evo Morales of Bolivia that he would start the process to remove the coca leaf from the 1961 Single Convention as well as the suspension of the paragraphs of that convention that prohibit the traditional chewing of coca leaf. Holding up a coca leaf in front of delegates at the UN summit on drugs he underlined his demand.
Peter Reuter (RAND), Franz Trautmann (Trimbos Institute) (eds.)
15 March 2009
This report commissioned by the European Commission, found no evidence that the global drug problem has been reduced during the period from 1998 to 2007 – the primary target of the 1998 UNGASS, which aimed to significantly reduce the global illicit drugs problem by 2008 through international cooperation and measures in the field of drug supply and drug demand reduction. Broadly speaking the situation has improved a little in some of the richer countries, while for others it worsened, and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially', among which are a few large developing or transitional countries. Given the limitations of the data, a fair judgment is that the problem became somewhat more severe.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) filmed the speech of the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, at the high level UN meeting in Vienna on March 11, 2009, in which he announced that Bolivia would start the process to remove the coca leaf from the 1961 Single Convention as well as the suspension of the paragraphs of that convention that prohibit the traditional chewing of coca leaf. You can watch the video with English subtitles.
As political leaders from around the world gather in Vienna on 11-12 March to review the last decade of international drug control, and set a framework for the next ten years with the signing of a Political Declaration, any hopes for progress or a new pragmatism in approaches to the world drug problem are fading fast.
News about the disappointing content of the Political Declaration to be adopted at the High Level Segment of the 52nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) next week in Vienna is filtering to the outside media. Meanwhile, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is gearing up to claim success for the failing international drug control system.
Marco Perduca and Donatella Poretti, senators of the Radical Party have asked the Italian under-secretary on drug issues, Carlo Giovanardi, if it is true that Italy has abandoned the common position of the European Union on harm reduction in the negotiations for the Political Declaration for the High-level Segment of the 52nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna. They requested an explanation from the under-secretary why and on what grounds this happened.
The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, wrote a letter to the delegates negotiating the Political Declaration for the 52nd session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna on March 11-12, 2009, dedicated to review of the progress achieved and the difficulties encountered by in meeting the goals and targets set out in the 1998 UNGASS.
The Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Michel Kazatchkine, urged the president of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to send a strong message to the world with clear and specific language that calls for comprehensive harm reduction services.
“We will be aiming for no less than securing the inclusion of harm reduction in the political declaration by which member states determine international drugs policy,” the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Bert Koenders told the Donor Conference on Harm Reduction that took place on January 28-30, 2009, in Amsterdam. “We will do the same when, in 2010, the honour of chairing the UNAIDS governing board falls to the Netherlands. You can count on that.”
The fight over the introduction of harm reduction in the Political Declaration of the UNGASS review has now reached the newspapers. A report by Reuters said that the 'US and Europe split over drugs policy'. "US negotiators are trying to push through anti-drug programmes that were promoted during the former Bush administration but which are no longer advocated by President Barack Obama," participants at the talks in Vienna told Reuters.
The US delegation in Vienna continues to block any inclusion of harm reduction in the new Political Declaration – to be approved in March 2009 at the high-level segment of the 52nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Three members of the US Congress have written a letter to the new US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, to call for new instructions to be given to the delegation.
Allan Clear of the Harm Reduction Coalition made an urgent appeal on the Obama White House to intervene in the current negotiations about the Political Declaration on the 1998 UNGASS review that has to be adopted in March 2009 at the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). For more than two million people living with HIV, mainly in Africa, hopes are high for a change in Obama's foreign policy.
It is still not clear what the drug policy of President Obama will be. He has not appointed his drug czar. Many high-ranking Bush Administration officials have yet to leave office and are still setting the agenda on drug policy.
The Obama White House announced today that the new President supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of HIV/AIDS infection among drug users. Will he also lift the ban on the concept of harm reduction, which has paralysed the international drug policy debate under his predecessors?
The issue of harm reduction continues to be controversial during the negotiations in Vienna for the Political Declaration that has to be adopted in March 2009 at the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). There is severe pressure on delegates to drop their insistence on incorporating the language and principles of harm reduction in the political declaration, or to accept some watered down version.