Reflections upon this year’s CND are mixed. On the one hand, some states went further than ever before in openly challenging the current regime on the grounds that, after a century, it needs modernising. That the government of Uruguay is currently considering a domestic policy on cannabis that would put it in breach of the Single Convention shows that, in one instance at least, we have moved beyond rhetoric and posturing.
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.
UN member states are currently in the process of hammering out a ‘Joint Ministerial Statement’ for the upcoming High Level Review of the world drug response – at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March. At the most recent ‘inter-sessional meeting’, exasperated delegates of all ideological persuasions repeated variations of the refrain “we’ve already done this…this language is in the Political Declaration…we debated this last year…this paragraph was already settled by consensus.”
The United Nations (UN) member states are currently working on a ‘Joint Ministerial Statement’ to review progress and challenges in international drug control since the agreement of a Political Declaration on drugs in 2009. The Statement will be released in March. This intersessional meeting was another opportunity for member state delegations to discuss and recommend changes to the text of the Statement. Below is an overview of the main interventions that were made ...
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna will decide next week between two opposite proposals by China and the WHO about international control of ketamine, an essential anaesthetic in human and veterinary medicine. China originally proposed bringing ketamine under the 1971 Convention’s most severe control regime of Schedule I, which would dramatically affect its availability for surgery in poor rural settings and emergency situations. The WHO Expert Committee reviewed all the evidence and advised against any international control of ketamine, arguing it would trigger a public health disaster.
Major divisions over the global "war on drugs" have been revealed in a leaked draft of a UN document setting out the organisation's long-term strategy. The draft, written in September shows there are serious divisions over the longstanding US-led policy promoting prohibition as an solution to the problem. Instead, a number of countries are pushing for the "war on drugs" to be seen in a different light, placing greater emphasis on treating drug consumption as a public health problem, rather than a criminal justice matter. (See also: Drug control policies are changing: Why? And why has it taken so long?)
An internal United Nations draft document leaked last weekend has offered outsiders a rare look at longstanding disagreements between member states over the course of U.N. drug policy. The document, first publicised by The Guardian and obtained by IPS, contains over 100 specific policy recommendations and proposals from member states, many at odds with the status quo on illicit drug eradication and prohibition.
The intersessional meeting was intended as the first day of formal negotiations on the draft of the Joint Ministerial Statement (JMS) for the 2014 High Level Segment. However, the Peruvian Chair stated at the opening that the original plan – to produce a collation of member state comments/proposals, then work through them systematically in three intersessional meetings – had not worked, and had attracted criticism from many member states. He therefore asked that this session be a general ‘brainstorming’ where member states could propose the broad issues and perspectives.
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.
A useful overview of UN endorsement of harm reduction measures; the legality of harm reduction services under the Drug Conventions; the obligation in human rights law to ensure access to harm reduction services and the global state of harm reduction, listing 82 countries and territories worldwide that presently support or tolerate harm reduction.
United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) New York, 8-10 June 1998
The "United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem" held from 8 to 10 June in New York, did not bring any surprises. The drug summit adopted a global strategy to reduce illicit drug supply and demand by 2008. In the General Assembly room, it was an uninterrupted three day sequence of political speeches. All countries could give their own emphasis to the agenda items and present in seven minutes their own more general view on the drugs issue and their policies to deal with it. But, all in all, it has been a lost opportunity, no evaluation of current drug policies took place whatsoever, it was devoted to (as a New York Times editorial phrased it) "recycling unrealistic pledges".
Change is in the air ... But the pace could be quickened a bit. While the international policymaking body on drugs has long been stuck in neutral, there are signs that alternative voices are finally breaking through. This year's UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs featured some progress though its modest advances are only remarkable by comparison to a dismal past.
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.
The war on drugs is edging towards a truce. Half of Americans want to lift the ban on cannabis. America’s change of heart has led many to wonder if the UN conventions might be reformed to legalise some drugs and treat the use of others as a problem requiring health measures, not criminal or military ones. But as America has drawn back from prohibition, new drug warriors are stepping up to defend it. Russia is foremost among them. “The Russians have taken over the hard-line role that the US used to play,” says Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute.
Drug policy experts and impacted communities from around the world express serious concerns about the preparations and already-drafted outcomes for the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the “world drug problem”.
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.
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.