On 19th to 21st April 2016, there will be a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) held in New York, dedicated to the issue of drug policy. The General Assembly is the highest policy making and representative organ of the United Nations (UN), and its infrequent Special Sessions focus on pertinent topics at the request of member states. The UNGASS on drugs has the potential to be a ground-breaking, open debate about the international drug control system – but there is much work to be done to ensure that it fulfils that potential.
In March 2014, country delegations will gather at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to review progress and challenges in international drug control since the agreement of a Political Declaration on drugs in 2009. Given that the Political Declaration aims to “eliminate or reduce significantly” the use, supply and demand of controlled drugs by 2019, this meeting represents an important opportunity for honest evaluation and an acknowledgement that these targets are not being achieved. With a United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs just two years away, this is an important time for international drug control policy.
Ahead of the High-Level Segment on the world drug problem to take place on 13th and 14th January 2014, the UNODC Executive Director, Yuri Fedotov, has released his "contributions" to the debate. This 19-page document is, in parts, refreshingly honest about the “unequal” progress that has been made since 2009 (with reductions in supply or demand for some drugs in some places being offset by increases elsewhere), the setbacks and new challenges, and the fact that “the overall magnitude of drug demand has not substantially changed at the global level”.
Since 1909 the international community has worked to eradicate the abuse of narcotics. A century on, the efforts are widely acknowledged to have failed, and worse, have spurred black market violence and human rights abuses. How did this drug control system arise, why has it proven so durable in the face of failure, and is there hope for reform?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The "Beyond 2008" NGO Forum was held in Vienna, Austria from July 7-9, 2008. It was the final step in the global consultation of NGOs involved in responding to drug related problems and to provide civil society input for the 10-year UNGASS review.
Three draft resolutions and the draft declaration were subject to a line by line examination and intense debate. At the end of the Forum the Declaration and three Resolutions were adopted by consensus by all those participating in the Forum. This was an historic achievement and reflected the maturity and commitment of the global NGO community.
From 7-9 July, 2008, 300 delegates met in Vienna for the Beyond 2008 NGO Forum meant to provide civil society input for the 10-year UNGASS review. The goal was to produce a consensus statement on behalf of the global civil society to the high level governmental meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), to be held in Vienna in March 2009. The Hungarian Civil Liberty Union (HCLU) produced a 10 minute video interviewing the participants.
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.
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.
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.
On thursday 28 February 2008 the Dutch Parliamentary Justice Commission devoted its debate to the drugs UNGASS review. Martin Jelsma was invited as one of the experts to share with the commission TNI's views on the importance of the review process. In his contribution he highlights the opportunity to use the 2008/9 period to achieve a breakthrough on harm reduction acceptance at the UN level, to evaluate the performance of UN agencies like UNODC and the INCB, and to open the door for a revision of the UN drug control treaty system. only available in Dutch
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.
Meetings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) are no forum for debate and change. The author, a former senior officer of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), shows how CND meetings are manipulated in the interests of 17 developed countries that largely fund UNDCP – the CND’s ‘civil service’. However, these major donors are not united on policy or on how to apply the UN drug Conventions, so CND decisions reflect the lowest level of disagreement, with major splits on policy ignored.