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 "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.
Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala delivered a landmark declaration to the United Nations Secretary General calling on the organization to lead a debate on alternative approaches to the current war on drugs, though it is likely to fall on deaf ears. The statement, issued to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on October 1, contains 11 points outlining the three countries’ views on the current state of organized crime and counternarcotics policy in the Americas (see declaration in English here, and in Spanish here).
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.
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.
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.
Cannabis was condemned by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a psychoactive drug with “particularly dangerous properties” and hardly any therapeutic value. Ever since, an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime’s strictures through soft defections, stretching its legal flexibility to sometimes questionable limits.
If you actually read the treaties, while they do set firm limitations on the legal, "non-medical" or "non-scientific" sale of schedule drugs — limits that Uruguay, Colorado and Washington ignored when legalizing cannabis — they don’t otherwise obligate countries to penalize drug use. Even the 1988 convention, the harshest of the three, which instructs countries to criminalize use, still provides an out for states, allowing such laws only as they are "subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system." This loophole has been used by the Dutch to argue legally for their coffee shops.
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.
International tensions over Uruguay’s decision to regulate the cannabis market reached new levels when Raymond Yans, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), accused Uruguay of negligence with regard to public health concerns, deliberately blocking dialogue attempts and having a "pirate attitude" towards the UN conventions. President Mujica reacted angrily, declaring that someone should "tell that guy to stop lying," while Milton Romani, ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), said that Yans "should consider resigning because this is not how you treat sovereign states."
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.
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 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.
Britain's funding of Iran's anti-drugs trafficking programmes has been called into question after a UN watchdog expressed alarm at a sharp rise in the number of narcotics smugglers executed in the Islamic state. A new report by Christof Heyns, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, spells out concerns that the flow of overseas aid to Iran has been followed by an increase in hangings.
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.
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”.
In its 2006 World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) struggles to construct success stories to convince the world that the global drug control regime has been an effective instrument. An escape-route used in this year's World Drug Report is to fabricate comparisons with higher opium production levels a century ago and with higher prevalence figures for tobacco.