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.
In a confidential and authoritative memorandum to the INCB, UNODC legal experts argue that most harm reduction measures are in fact acceptable under the conventions. According to the Legal Affairs Section "it could easily be argued that the Guiding Principles of Drug Demand Reduction provide a clear mandate for the institution of harm reduction policies that, respecting cultural and gender differences, provide for a more supportive environment for drug users."
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
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 – and related to the outdated character of several treaty provisions.
In his speech to the NGO forum at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Wednesday 12 March, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), emphasized that he doesn’t need NGOs as "silent partners" and called for challenging his views. However, when someone did challenge him he refused to answer the question.
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.
During IHRA's 19th international conference this month the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) recorded a film which poses a series of questions to Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UNODC, from a range of user representatives, harm reduction experts and drug policy advocates.
Antonio Costa, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Frederick Polak, a Dutch psychiatrist have been engaged in an interesting (and worldwide) debate about Dutch cannabis policy. Polak challenges Costa to answer the question why cannabis use in the Netherlands is lower than in many neighbouring countries despite the free availability of cannabis in coffee shops for adults over 18 years. After a recent visit to Amsterdam, Costa is claiming that cannabis use in that city is three times higher than anywhere else in Europe. Is this true?
The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Costa, recently visited Amsterdam on 24 April. Accompanied by some officials of the Netherlands Ministry of Health and of the City of Amsterdam and UNODC staff, he dropped in on the coffeeshop De Dampkring (the Atmosphere) and a user room (for inhalation and injection of heroin and cocaine). He wrote his personal account for his blog Costa’s corner but it was never published. Apparently it proved to be too controversial with his Dutch host. It now has popped up on the Transform drug policy blog and the ENCOD website.
Today, June 8, it is 10 years ago that the world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem. "A drug free world – We can do it!", was the slogan under which they met. Ten years later, Mr. Costa, the current director of the UNODC seems to deny that the UN ever used the phrase. Let us refresh Mr. Costa’s memory.
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.
Today, June 26, is the official UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. At the TNI Drugs & Democracy programme we have always found it a difficult day to deal with, full of mixed emotions. Too often the day has been desecrated by countries eager to highlight their toughest anti-drug actions. That includes each year a high number of executions in China especially saved up for June 26th. Killing drug law offenders to celebrate a UN day, in spite of the General Assembly adopting last year a resolution opposing the death penalty.
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.
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.