NOTE: . Following on from this will be a special feature from ‘Inside the INPUD Drug Peace Protest’, covering the thoughts and views of INPUD members on the protest and the future of INPUD.
The Songs of the Silent – Vienna 2009
Board members from The International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) and 20 of its representatives from over a dozen countries across the world, met in Vienna on the 11th March for the UN High Level Segment Commission on Narcotic Drugs. INPUD’s aim at the event was to promote the human rights of drug users on an international level, increase the visibility and voice of the drug community, and expand grassroots involvement. Crucially important was the development of relationships and constructive discussion with a range of politicians, NGO’s, individuals and delegates. At the centre of this approach was the first INPUD international protest calling for a Drugs Peace, in the face of such a damaging drugs war.
The Commission for Narcotic Drugs event in Vienna holds particular importance for the drug using community as 25million dependent drug users around the world continue to bear the brunt of the todays ‘collateral damage’ in the global war on drugs – or – the war on drug users.
During the High Level sessions held over 11-12th March, Ministers and delegates from 139 member states discussed the effectiveness of past drug control and prohibition strategies and, tackled the task of reviewing the Commission for Narcotic Drugs previous 10 year Declaration on Drugs. This year however, the sessions held a more historic note in that member states were finally piecing together the next decades global Political Declaration on Drugs, a document with potentially critical ramifications for many countries and indeed civil society itself..
The summit has come in the wake of high-profile indictments of the UN’s drug strategy as a European Commission report published on the 10th March stated the strategy had not made any progress in cutting supply and demand, which is most of the focus of the CND remit. However, in opening the talks in Vienna, the UN’s top drug control official Antonio Costa told the CND addiction to illicit drugs had “stabilised” in the past few years although he admitted that a “dramatic unintended consequence” of the battle to stamp out the illicit trade was that drug cartels had become so rich they could destabilise impoverished and vulnerable nations such as in Africa and South America.
He also warned, (clearly speaking to the law reformers present), that drug control has had “a dramatic unintended consequence: a criminal black market of staggering proportions” that is “undermining security and development and causing some to make a dangerous wager in favour of legalization”. “Drugs are not harmful because they are controlled, they are controlled because they are harmful”, said Mr. Costa, a known right wing conservative on drug policy.
Nevertheless, the political declaration was signed despite many NGO’s and member states remaining vocal yet again, about the term ‘Harm Reduction’ being totally excluded from the Declaration, leaving its many supporters extremely frustrated and worried for the future. Witharguably the two most important words not appearing even once in the entire document, Alan Campbell, who led the UK delegation, could be correct for stating that the British delegates were disappointed with the outcome.
“We will of course be signing up to the declaration, but there are a number of criticisms we will be making quite clear.” Britain had supported the inclusion of harm reduction strategies in the document with Mr Campbell stating he did not think the emerging strategy was ” bold enough”.
Campaigning groups including Human Rights Watch and the International Aids Society also said the proposed political declaration lacked “critically important measures for treating and stemming the spread of HIV”.
It was inspiring however, to see YouthRise, an international youth network for reducing drug related harms, continuing to spread? their important messages. Speaking at the Demand Reduction Roundtable of the High Level Segment of CND, Caitlin Padgett of YR received warm applause however, in private she remained frustrated at the “unwelcoming, inflexible and bureaucratic structures within the CND and UNODC that are preventing young people from constructive participation” within this type of event. Repeatedly and rather ironically, political messages throughout the day pointed to ‘protecting our young people’ yet when a delegation of articulate, passionate and knowledgeable youth were available for the highest levels of discussion, Caitlin spoke of her colleagues being viewed with suspicion, their ID tags repeatedly checked, and of generally being ignored. YouthRise’s sheer determination and ability has ensured that however, is set to change. Perhaps one of the most staggering statistics to emerge from Caitlin’s speech was the news that almost 50% of new infections of HIV are from those under 25 years of age….
Historic: OPEN DRUG USER IN UK DELEGATION
Mat Southwell was the first open drug user to be part of any governments delegation attending the high level sessions. Funded by International Harm Reduction Assoc, Mat delivered a speech that spoke clearly of missed opportunities to involve drug users in policy and of the CND/UNODC’s questionable participative processes with civil society.
“My community is routinely denied the human rights that this organisation was founded to defend.” (Mat Southwell)
Although perhaps constrained by the need to follow the UK government line, Mat was still able to pack a significant punch to those listening. Wearing a bright blue shirt in a row of exclusively dark suits, Southwell clearly appeared as ‘isolated’, a visual proclamation which reverberated around the room as he spoke of the exclusion of the drug using community in the coordination of global drug policy. Following diplomatic protocol when finishing his speech Mat said, “We, the International Network of People who Use Drugs, offer our hand in friendship and invite you to begin negotiations to bring to an end this failed war on drugs”.
THE PROTEST! SUPPORTING A DRUGS PEACE
On the morning of the 11th, directly outside the Vienna International where the UNODC meetings were being held, INPUD members liaised with many other NGO’s (from HCLU, ENCOD, YouthRISE and Students for Sensible Drug Policy) rallying around the arranged open air press conference which was organized just prior to the official protest. The speakers pointed out the huge gap between reality and UN targets in the field of drug policy. There were 8 foot tall iron cages erected at the entrance to the Sessions symbolizing the incarceration and exclusion of the using community, and many speakers spoke eloquently – and some urgently- from within the cages about the damage the drugs war is wrecking on millions of lives. Containers filled with symbolic urine samples on podiums gave delegates a quick insight into some of the more absurd rituals of the war on drugs.
INPUD members had a clear strategy on how they wished their protest to be perceived. An INPUD spokesperson said “Rather than confront the participants with information on how their policies harm drug users, INPUD proposes a ceasefire and a ‘roadmap to peace’. The war on drugs, or the war on drug users, must end.”
Working with the main event organizers, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), INPUD activists greeted delegates as they arrived at the summit carrying placards which read “The war on drugs destroys lives” and “We are not Collateral Damage We are People’ and ‘Drug war PEACE’.
It was heralded as a success and raised the profile significantly of INPUD and it’s determination to get the voices and issues of the drugs community heard at an International level. On the evening of the 12th as the majority of the drug using community packed up and headed for home, INPUD board member Jude Byrne from Australia was heard over the worlds airwaves as her interview with the world service rang out across the globe. She spoke powerfully and directly about the human rights violations suffered by the drugs community, and the very real urgency to end the war on drugs and drug users. Jude was also heard outlining the new political strategy for INPUD in pursuing a drug peace – cleverly polarizing those who still wish to follow the current disastrous drugs war. Good on ya Jude!
Point of interest:
President Evo Morales of Bolivia said he was at the CND to correct the “historical mistakes” of the 1961 Single Convention that phased out traditional consumption of coca over a 25-year period. Since coca is not a narcotic it cannot be scheduled, he said, adding that even the Convention stated that coca-chewing did not cause addiction. Morales held up a coca leaf to the hundreds of delegates and said “I am not a criminal. If I am a criminal throw me in jail. Throw the President of Bolivia in jail!”. Brilliant!
Well done to everyone who took part. This was written from a UK context, a further article on the full protest from day 1 and day 2 will be forwarded this week as will an extended version of INPUDs members thoughts and views on INPUD, the event, and the future before March 25th.
(written by Erin O’Mara, editor of Black Poppy Magazine, The UK’s health and lifestyle magazine for drug users http://www.blackpoppy.org.uk
see photos and text:
blogg on Vienna UNODC / CND www.cndblogg.org
additional info www.UNODC.com