Preparations are gathering pace for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, to be held on the 19th to 21st April 2016 in New York. Following several months of discussion on procedural elements, attention is now focused on negotiating the content of the "short, substantive, concise and action-orientated outcome document comprising a set of operational recommendations" to be approved by the General Assembly next April. At the CND intersessional meeting on 12th June, countries and regional groups were invited to submit their first ideas for what could be included in this Outcome Document, by a deadline of 11th September.
Global disagreement over drug policies provides an important opportunity to reconsider the effectiveness of existing counternarcotics policies, address their problematic side effects, and propose evidence-based alternative strategies. Because of the differences in attitudes on drug policy around the world, a substantial revision of existing counternarcotics treaties is unlikely at UNGASS 2016. (See also: Improving global drug policy: Comparative perspectives and UNGASS 2016)
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.
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.
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.
As the international community finalises the Political Declaration and work plan that will guide the next ten years of international drug policy, it is inconceivable and indeed unconscionable that support for scientifically proven, evidence-based harm reduction programmes will again be blocked. States must show responsible leadership and act in the best interests of public health and human rights, rather than the narrow and failed language of ‘a drug free world’. This issue is much bigger than ideology, semantics and intergovernmental wordplay. It is about saving lives.
Produced by an Oscar-winning studio for the Global Drug Policy Program of the Open Society Institute, International Drug Policy: Animated Report 2009 highlights some of the disastrous effects of drug policy in recent years and proposes solutions for a way forward.
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.
Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the desired results. We are further than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.
Breaking the taboo, acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for the discussion of a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies.
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.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, has called on UN member states to adopt a rights based approach to drug policies in his forthcoming report to the Human Rights Council, IHRA’s HR2 (harm reduction and human rights) team reported. The report submitted for the 10th session of the Council draws the attention of members states to the issues of 'drug users in the context of the criminal justice system and situations resulting from restricted access to drugs for palliative care.'
“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.