In 1995 the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) announced in a press release the publication of the results of the largest global study on cocaine use ever undertaken. A decision in the World Health Assembly banned the publication of the study. The US representative threatened that "if WHO activities relating to drugs failed to reinforce proven drug control approaches, funds for the relevant programmes should be curtailed". This led to the decision to discontinue publication.
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".
Civil society groups need to analyze possibilities to ban Drug War biological weapons at regional and United Nations agencies that work on related issues of environment, genetic resources, health, arms control, and agriculture.
A strong attack against the European practice of 'leniency' regarding cannabis use and possession took place at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) session (11-15 March, 2002) in Vienna. There was an orchestrated attempt to pass a CND resolution to put a dam against the 'leniency'.
By 1998, when the United Nations convened a special General Assembly on drugs, there was already overwhelming evidence that the current approach to global drugs control had failed miserably, given the continuing rise in consumption and production. However, the evidence was ignored and no evaluation of what was wrong with current drug policy took place. Instead, as a New York Times editorial noted, unrealistic pledges were recycled, this time aiming at eliminating all drug production by the year 2008. In mid-April this year, the mid-term review of the goals and targets set by the special session on drugs is to take place in Vienna.
The "international community" presented an apparent unanimity in its endorsement of prohibitive drug control at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in 1998. The reality is that there is a longstanding conflict within the UN system between nations wanting to maintain the prohibition regime and those hoping for a more pragmatic approach.
It is no understatement to claim that there are few plants subject to such tensions as the coca leaf, either in legal and political circuits, or in the medical and anthropological academic world. Before, during and after its inclusion in the number 1 list of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the controversy on whether the coca leaf is or is not to be considered a narcotic drug, worthy of control by the international institutions and mechanisms, reached apparent irreconcilable positions.
A myriad of documents and records of meetings published by the UN, reveal a previously unwritten history of events leading to the 1998 UNGASS meeting. These show the extent to which the hardliners have gone to maintain the status quo through rhetoric, denial, manipulation, selective presentation, misrepresentation and suppression of evidence, selective use of experts, threats to funding, and purging "defeatists" from the UN system.
Martin Jelsma analysed the 2003 UNGASS mid-term review and drew some important conclusions for the 10-year review in 2008: "Alliances have to be constructed rooted in pragmatic approaches and in solidarity with the victims of this War on Drugs on both sides of the spectrum, be they in the North or in the South, consumers or producers. The concepts of ‘co-responsibility’ and a ‘balanced approach’ between demand and supply sides have to be redefined. Only if such a coalition of like-minded countries could be brought together, and act in a coordinated manner to explore more pragmatica drug policies for both the demand and the supply sides, the UN level might become a useful forum. Only then, a stronger political alliance can enforce a more open-minded debate about current anti-drug strategies and challenge the US hegemony and discourse in this field."
The US pressure on the UNODC to withdraw support from needle exchange and other harm reduction approaches backfired at the 48th session of the CND in March 2005. Delegates from around the globe stood up to defend the overwhelming evidence that harm reduction measures are effective against the spread of HIV/AIDS. In this briefing TNIanalyses the proceedings and results of the CND meeting in Vienna in March 2005, and outlines several options for follow-up and recommends next steps to take.
The 48th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), 7-11 March 2005 in Vienna, was plagued by controversy about the legitimacy of harm reduction policies. Ending in stalemate, guidance for UNODC to operate in this field remains ambiguous. In June, at the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), a consensus was reached regarding a mandate for UNAIDS to be involved in needle exchange programmes and other harm reduction activities among injecting drug users. What options are available to clarify UNODC’s mandate in this area and more in general to achieve a breakthrough in policy dilemmas that surfaced recent years at the UN level.
Numerous UN conferences and summits have been devoted to negotiating a harmonized global approach to illicit drugs. Yet more and more cracks are now beginning to appear in the supposedly universal model which is, in reality, based on a highly fragile consensus.
Tensions in US-UNODC relations should be resolved by more sustainable funding mechanisms, not by bowing to Republican flat-earthism. It is time to be guided by the light of science, not by the darkness of ignorance and fear.
The UNGASS mid-term review in April 2003 will present Mr Costa with a high-level political opportunity to convince the world of his commitment to take UNDCP in a more rational direction, to say farewell to the years of crisis, to restore donor confidence and to open up the debate.