Note: These views are my own as a drug activist and writer and do not reflect INPUD’s own thoughtful and positioned response to the events at the 2014 CND. For a direct response from INPUD’s Chief Executive Director Eliot Albers, see below.
The Start of the Dance
Wednesday 13th March, 2014 marked the start of the High-Level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) 57th session at the UN headquarters in Vienna. But before we start chatting do let me say: For an interesting and worthwhile insight into the machinations of global drug policy, the CND is a good place to start and you can read more about the event at these chosen sites, to help you enjoy a more rounded news feast that will provide some relief for those suffering drug war stress ulcers.
Where to go to follow the low down on the high level sessions?
Start at the official UNODC’s CND page for your basic brief and structure of the weeks events at http://j.mp/N9oggo, and even check out some of the (permitted) real-time webcasts at http://www.unodc.org/hlr/en/webcast.html where you can see representatives from civil society speak on drug issues as well as some of the world’s more knowledgeable and persuasive speakers – and as always some complete political muppets will get to have a big say (although this is always good for a chuckle) but remember that the CND operates behind closed doors on the whole so many of the more surreal muppet moments will be hidden from our view . Recover yourself with a breath of common sense at the http://cndblog.org where you will get the unofficial official low down on all the news and views from a harm reduction and drug law reformers standpoint (I could have just said common sense overview I suppose) and then you can vent your frustrated opinions by joining the conversation in real time via good ol’ Twitter #CND2014. Add your two pence worth friends!
So What Is the CND in a nutshell?
So, to backtrack a wee bit, the CND is the central policy-making body of the UN’s drug control system which has a two pronged role to a) ensure the UN agreed drug treaties are applied and (more or less) adhered to around the globe, and b) to formally exercise control over the governance of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This includes deciding how 90% of The UN’s drug money is spent. Important stuff. Yet despite these key mandates, the CND chooses to work in secrecy – its meetings are not webcast (though we now have webcasts of side meetings and the plenary) and reports of the week long annual meetings are very limited. The CND also never votes so you don’t get to hear what position your country has taken on certain drug related matters and it stubbornly refuses to behave nothing like other more transparent United Nations bodies. Sounds like a global mafiosi you say? Well, many others have questioned the reasoning behind this approach and it has certainly colluded to give the CND sessions rather a ‘through the glass darkly’ kind of exposure.
However, slowly but surely many civil society organisations and individuals, (in the form of non government orgs like INPUD, HRI and other concerned folk such as busy drug activists), have been using a whole range of tactics to try and bring these very discreet diplomatic wheelings and dealings into the public eye. Some of this work has meant civil society has actually managed to push open a few formally closed doors and gain a reasonably meaningful presence at this important, very secretive, political temperature gauging event. One important inroad has been the possibly perversely named ‘Informal Civil Society Hearings’ which began in 2003 and is a mechanism for these High Level Sessions to involve the otherwise excluded NGO’s. It is a chance for members to listen to the collected views of civil society, including yours truly, INPUD. Shamefully, many of the representatives from member states use this opportunity to go and sight-see in Vienna (ok, I’m surmising) rather than listen to more humane, evidenced based approaches and informed arguments for law reform from the likes of us.
Tellingly, CND sessions still only speak of civil society involvement when it is couched only in UNODC terms; a conservative agenda calling for a drug free society, tackling ‘demand reduction’ (no, there’s never any ‘harm reduction’ here), and happy healthy phrases about alternatives to drug consumption for young people. Tell that to a kid from the favelas. Ultimately, despite the secrecy perhaps the best way I have found to get both the intrigue and useful detail on the sessions is through The CND Blog as mentioned before. This is a joint civil society effort to ensure transparency at these sessions as well as provide timely records of the discussions taking place at the meeting. Click here to read a review of some of the more memorable civil society speeches including questions from the floor. A big thanks here to Alan Clear from New York’s Harm Reduction Coalition. Great stuff.
What’s up for discussion then?
Before I leave you with a rousing speech from INPUD’s own Chief Exec Eliot Albers at the above mentioned Civil society Hearings, I’ll just add a little bit about what are the stand out issues for the week for the CND.
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs will conduct a high-level review of the way Member States’ have implemented the rather wordy and dogmatic 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem. It will debate and review the obstacles and challenges in the updated 2012’s ‘Plan of Action’s Three Pillars; Demand Reduction, Supply Reduction and International Cooperation’. A little bit like the way the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS came up for its own 10 year review in 2011, where global commitments and recommendations of the last decade came up again for scrutiny and new agreements were whispered about, erased, dodged and rewritten, such is the fate of this review. Although I fear it will fair much worse than the surprising last minute turn around at the 2011 HIV/AIDS Political Declaration.
Basically, virtually all of the negotiations behind the review will have been made over the last year or more, in quiet diplomatic meetings and lunches, in a language of push and pull that will be totally unfamiliar to most of us, such is its Freemason like parlance. Of course, there is only a week (or actually 2 days) to finally endorse, regret, commit and consider amended resolutions so the entire affair is a rapid week long flurry of activity, etched out sentence by painful sentence. Worth mentioning here and now however, is the obvious ” lack of will to address the issue of eliminating capital punishment for drug offenders.”
The UNODC Executive Director, Yuri Fedotov released his final ‘contributions’ to the event a few weeks ago. In the 19 page document he admitted “the overall magnitude of drug demand has not substantially changed at the global level” and even provided a rare endorsement of harm reduction, “Countries which have adequately invested in evidence-informed risk and harm reduction programmes aimed at preventing the spread of HIV through injecting drug use have remarkably reduced HIV transmission among people who inject drugs and their sexual partners”. Wow, that comment coming has been like pulling teeth!
Also at the event, preparations are being made for 2016,when the UN General Assembly (the most important global event for a single issue in the UN calendar) will host a special session on the world’s drug problems, and much will be based around the work begun here.
Worth reading is a very interesting speech by the Government of Poland (click here). I found it fascinating to see how far Poland has travelled in its understanding of drug use over te last 15 or so years. Much of that I am certain is to do with the hard working harm reduction, human rights and drug user activists on the ground. Nice work Poland! Just listen to this quote “Mr. Chairman, Poland welcomes and supports the actions of the United Nations furthering the respect for human rights of psychoactive substance users and abusers including their rights to life and freedom, bodily integrity, privacy, access to education, equality before the law, freedom of movement, association and gathering in order to protect their needs and interests… ” Users AND abusers! Usually it is always abuser this misuser that. Rarely user! And human rights, bodily integrity? Fabulous progress Poland.
Check out the UNODC’s World Drug Report to see what we are dealing with here..
And the Political Declaration and Plan of Action document they all will be reviewing, in its previous form can be found here (though we will update you with the new one)…
You can find the Political Declaration in all 7 UN languages here.
But here is our INPUD moment…Over to you Eliot!
INPUD Chief Executive Director , Eliot Albers knocks it out of the room
Dr .Eliot Albers. INPUD.
Over the last few years it has been increasingly widely recognised that two bodies of international law, namely human rights law on the one hand and drug control law on the other, exist in “parallel universes”. Professor Paul Hunt UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health made this remark in a report in which he also noted that “This widespread, systemic abuse of human rights is especially shocking, because drug users include people who are the most vulnerable, most marginal in society. Despite the scale of the abuse, despite the vulnerability, there is no public outrage, no public outcry, no public inquiries, on the contrary: the long litany of abuse scarcely attracts disapproval. Sometimes it even receives some public support.”
Kazatchkine: Arresting Drug Users Increases HIV
How does the CND connect with the UN, the UNODC, ECOSOC and UNDCP? Pray Tell!
The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1946, to assist the ECOSOC in supervising the application of the international drug control treaties. In 1991, the UN General Assembly (GA) further expanded the mandates of the CND to enable it to function as the governing body of the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) and in doing so, structured its agenda into two distinct segments: a ‘normative’ segment, during which the CND performs its treaty-based and normative or standard variety of functions; and an operational segment, during which the CND ‘exercises its role as the governing body of UNODC’. Within this it approves the budget of the Fund of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), which accounts for over 90 per cent of the resources available to the United Nations for drug control. As you can imagine, these functions put the CND High Level Sessions at the center of influencing the world’s drug policy agenda so a lack of transparency here means camouflaging what relays on our streets as the ‘collateral damage’ in this crazy drugs war. Us, the people who use drugs who bear the brunt of incarceration, disease, social exclusion and death because of outdated treaties, old school agendas and political posturing of the worst kind.
The UNODC also incorporates the secretariat of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). The INCB declares itself as an independent, quasi-judicial expert body established by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. Ten of its 13 members are elected from a list of persons nominated by Governments, the other 3 nominated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for their medical, pharmacological or pharmaceutical experience.
The secretariat has in effect a potentially important role at the UNODC, carrying out administrative duties towards enforcing UN drug control treaties. It is thought to be a overly conservative body that continually puts out recommendations and reports that are often non evidenced based and morally centered. For example, it has recently publicly rebuked both Uruguay and the USA for their position on marijuana regulation and legalization. Expect more to follow. See HCLU’s informative 1 minute film about the role of the INCB in todays’ global drug policy
More to follow! – Already being majorly annoying, the INCB