It’s That Time Again – the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs .

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, and even check out some of the (permitted) real-time webcasts at 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 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?

Yuri Fedotov, Exec Director of UNODC

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.

Last round of negotiations…

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

Eliot Ross Albers

Eliot Albers INPUD Chief Exec Director

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.”

To be explicit, the pursuit of repressive drug control in the name of the war on drugs, has inexorably driven rampant human rights abuses against people who use drugs and their communities. That one set of international laws is systemically driving breaches of another is an increasingly untenable situation. Whilst there is no hierarchy of legal systems, it is arguable that human rights law and the principles upon which it is based, principles that are defined as indivisible, inalienable, and universal, should unequivocally trump the pursuit of another set of laws that are producing such gross rights violations. When the pursuit of drug control law becomes a driver of widespread human rights abuses, on what is unquestionably a massive scale, it is without doubt time to call for a thorough review of those laws. As The Global Commission on Drug Policy put in in their report ‘The Negative Impact of the War on Drugs on Public Health: The Hidden Hepatitis C Epidemic’:  “instead of investing in effective prevention and treatment programmes to achieve the required coverage, governments continue to waste billions of dollars each year on arresting and punishing drug users – a gross misallocation of limited resources that could be more efficiently used for public health and preventive approaches. At the same time, repressive drug policies have fuelled the stigmatisation, discrimination and mass incarceration of people who use drugs”. This passage makes clear the mechanism by which repressive drug policies drive and produce violations of the human rights of people who use drugs.
That the pursuit of drug control, the maintenance of punitive prohibition, and the war on people who use drugs is indeed driving such breaches is now beyond question. When you define the pursuit of public policy, defined by both national and international law, as a war you are going to produce war casualties, and arguably unintended, and in this case, decidedly negative consequences. In response to this war we are calling for a peace, we are calling for an amnesty for drug war prisoners, an end to the violence and rights violations that have been heaped upon our community, and we are calling for an intelligent and open debate on alternatives. The state of war in which we are living is one waged in the name of morality, of social order, and in defence of the right of the state to control the bodies of its citizens. This war against the supposed threat to society that the “evils of drugs” pose has in reality made communities of people who use drugs the real targets, has made us into casualties of war, it has stigmatised us, discriminated against us, pathologised us, and made us scapegoats for much of society’s ills.
It can no longer be claimed that human rights violations occurring in the name of the war on drugs are aberrations, they are rather a logical consequence of the pursuit of this war. As such, we all upon the human rights community, and society at large not to remain silent, but to join us in calling for an end to the war on drugs, an end to the war on our communities, and an end to the endemic stigmatisation, marginalisation, discrimination and structural violence that it has entailed.
These conditions have fostered an environment in which people who use, and in particular, people who inject drugs, have suffered from systemic denials of their rights to health, to privacy, to integrity of body and mind, to be free from discrimination, torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, and to liberty. The deep stigma that people who use drugs are subject to has seen us denied access to appropriate health care services (including access to sterile needles and syringes, opiate substitution programmes, and treatment for HIV and hepatitis C), education, and the right to vote, denied the right to enter, stay and reside in numerous countries, has seen us flung into jails, prisons, and forced detoxification centres that are nothing more than forced labour camps, has seen us denied access to our children, and subject to corporal and capital punishment. 
All of this for what is in reality a victimless crime, for we would argue that what drugs an adult chooses to use should not be the business of the police, or judicial authorities, or that of any other agent of the state. That it has become so has fuelled an epidemic of imprisonment, incarceration, denial of appropriate medical care, and ill treatment that defies, and makes a mockery of human rights norms.
The combination of repressive legal environments, structural barriers and impediments to health care, legal redress and support has directly fuelled the twin epidemics of HIV and viral hepatitis currently raging through the drug using, and in particular, injecting, community. The skewed and disproportionate burden of these blood borne viruses carried by the injecting community is directly attributable to the legal environment in which we live and the discrimination to which we are subject. HIV is as much a biological fact as it is an exploiter of social vulnerability, poverty, and structural faultlines. That it thrives amongst communities who by dint of their sexual orientation (the LGBT community), choice of profession (sex workers), gender identity (transgender people), or choice of drugs and mode of administration (people who inject drugs, and in some contexts people who smoke stimulants, particularly people living in poverty who smoke crack) are criminalised, marginalised, and discriminated against makes its prevention and the fight against it, first and foremost a human rights issue. As such, a socio-political, human rights respecting, and community based response is as, if not more imperative, than a purely bio-medical one.
The extent of the human rights violations to which people who use drugs are subject is extensive. Beyond the criminalisation of drug use and possession which is in and of itself a legally enshrined violation of the right not to be interfered with or to privacy, in terms of what drugs one chooses to use, these violations range from, and include, the hundreds of thousands of actual or suspected drug users thrown into drug detention or ‘rehabilitation’ centres in South East Asia in which torture, forced labour, abuse, violence and degradation are the norm; the prisons in the USA, Russia and countless other countries that are filled with non-violent drugs offenders, with a disproportionately large number of those in the USA being people of colour, African Americans and Latinos; denial of access to health care, most notably denial of access to treatment for HIV and for hepatitis C; the denial of our agency and ability to make decisions about our well being; and arbitrary police violence and harassment.
The war on people who use drugs has fallen most heavily on ethnic minorities, the poor, and women who use drugs. These multiple markers of stigma and exclusion have fuelled mass incarceration, forced sterilisation, police victimisation, violence, and actively driven the twin epidemics of HIV and viral hepatitis amongst these sectors of our community.
This tidal wave of flagrant, systemically driven human rights abuses must be brought to an end, and the only way to do so is to attack the problem at its root.  In this case this means calling for a thorough overhaul of the three UN conventions that together comprise the global regime of drug prohibition. Superficial redress, and minor reform will not staunch the flow of systemic rights abuses directed at people who use drugs, their families and communities. Only the end of the war on people who use drugs through international legal reform will suffice to end this panoply of rights violations. To ensure that this war ends we are calling upon human rights defenders and advocates to join with drug user activists, harm reduction and drug law reform advocates in working to ensure that ending the architecture of global prohibition is firmly on the table at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016. 
And one last thing….

Kazatchkine: Arresting Drug Users Increases HIV

Another short but powerful speech by a master on the subject. If you want the evidence that harm reduction works, look no further.
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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


About Erin

Freelance writer and journalist for the global drug user press
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One Response to It’s That Time Again – the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs .

  1. Pingback: That Old Viennese Waltz Begins Again …It’s the Commission on Narcotic Drugs | Black Poppy's Junk Mail

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