Side event: CSTF Global Civil Society Consultation 2018: Preliminary results and report

Jamie Bridge, VNGOC Chair. Thank you so much for attending our side event today, as we launch the preliminary results of the Civil Society Task Force’s global online consultation. We appreciate your time, your continued support, and your consideration of our findings.

Civil society has a long history of engaging in, and contributing to, the drug policy debates here in Vienna – dating all the way back to the very first Commission on Narcotic Drugs in the 1940s.

In more recent years, the Beyond 2008 initiative was a global, ground-breaking and ambitious programme of regional consultations and events involving over 550 NGOs from 116 countries. Discussions culminated in a global forum of 300 civil society participants in Vienna, where a consensus declaration and a series of resolutions were agreed to feed into the member state negotiations for the 2009 Political Declaration. These positions are still available on the VNGOC website, and remain of value and interest a decade later.

In time for the UNGASS in 2016, the Vienna and New York NGO Committees came together once again, and this time formed a Civil Society Task Force – the CSTF. The Task Force: selected speakers for the UNGASS and its preparatory meetings; organised an Informal Interactive Stakeholder Consultation alongside the President of the General Assembly in New York; held regional and thematic consultations; and conducted a global web-based survey. Based on all the information gathered, civil society findings and recommendations were submitted to member states to inform their deliberations. These documents are available on the CSTF website, and included a number of specific recommendations related to health, crime, human rights, alternative development, new challenges, the death penalty, and access to essential medicines.

With March 2019 in mind, the Civil Society Task Force was reformed by the Vienna and New York NGO Committees. The CSTF comprises civil society representatives from every region of the world, from affected populations, and from key global issues – and it serves to coordinate and promote constructive and impactful civil society engagement in the Ministerial Segment of CND.

This year, we have already worked hard to select civil society speakers for key events – including the recent CND intersessionals – through open calls. In October, we launched a global online consultation in all six UN languages to gather and collate the views and recommendations from NGOs related to the 2009 Political Declaration and its targets, the UNGASS Outcome Document, the 2019 Ministerial Segment, and the Sustainable Development Goals. Coming so soon after the UNGASS processes, the goal of this year’s consultation was to build upon, rather than repeat, the surveys and discussions from 2016.

It is my absolute pleasure to be able to share the preliminary consultation results with you today, and I hope that these will be valuable inputs to your ongoing deliberations as we fast approach next March. We had an incredible response from more than 500 NGOs all across the world.

Given that the surveys only closed in early November in all six languages, it is a great achievement to be able to share some of the findings with you all today, and my thanks go to the Task Force members, but especially to Dr Sheila Vakharia, an independent academic who has worked extremely hard to get us to this stage so quickly. I also want to thank Benjamin Phillips from Harm Reduction Coalition who hosted the survey.

Meaningful, coordinated and well-resourced civil society engagement in drug policy debates is essential. As the UNGASS Outcome Document itself acknowledges, civil society plays an important role and should be enabled to play a participatory role in the formulation, implementation, and evaluating drug control policies and programmes. I thank the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations in Vienna for co-hosting this event, I thank the UNODC Civil Society Team for their continued support and guidance, and I thank those governments that have directly or indirectly funded the CSTF project to date.

Thank you for your kind attention. Without further delay, I would like to hand over the floor to Mr John Brandolino, the UNODC’s Director for Treaty Affairs, for some opening remarks.

Mr. John Brandolino, UNODC’s Director for Treaty Affairs. Thank you for enabling us to speak. We welcome this online consultation, it is relevant to the work of UNODC and member states we move towards March 2019. We recognise the need for partnerships with civil society. We make it a policy to work with civil society in all our efforts. We are active on the ground, and work closely with CSOs in many of our project, whether on treatment, prevention and other aspects of our work. Here in Vienna, we have had to be challenged to find ways to get civil society involved. It’s usually easier to get their voice heard on the ground than here in Vienna.

We are pleased to see the progression in civil society participation, we have come a long way in the past few years. There is also a recognition that civil society doesn’t have the means to come here, but we find innovative ways to get them engaged.

The survey is an innovative way to increase civil society’s voice heard. I am impressed with the number and different types of civil society organisations that have participated. We appreciate the work of the CSTF in pulling this together.

I will leave this here as we want to focus on the survey results, but I want to reiterate UNODC’s support to the work of civil society. The UNODC Executive Director is unfortunately not here as he is in a mission in Asia, but he extends his thanks to the CSTF, Jamie and all those involved.

Dr. Sheila Vakharia. These are preliminary results because I am still going through the findings. We used multiple choice and open-ended questions to cover a wide variety of topics. Firstly, we covered the 2009 Political Declaration and reviewed the goals, and he degree to which there was progress towards achieving the goals. The second section was around implementation of the 2016 UNGASS recommendations. The final section focused on NGO work towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The survey was translated into all 6 UN languages and shared widely. It remained active between 2nd October and 4th November. We received 485 fully completed surveys. I tallied qualitative and quantitative data. I covered the larger topic areas, shared themes and ideas covered in the survey responses.

English was the language most people used to respond to the survey, although it doesn’t mean that they came from English-speaking countries. According to the map representing all countries covered by the survey response, we covered most of the world. Regarding the type of NGOs, a significant portion were direct service providers or advocacy organisations. 45% were national organisations, with a quarter being international, and another quarter local. A quarter of NGOs respondents were working in the area of prevention, 18% on harm reduction, etc. But they came from various areas of work.

Section A results on the 2009 Political Declaration: This is a selective snapshot of the responses received. In this section, we asked people to scale whether there had been significant or no progress towards the goal of eliminating or significantly reducing opium, coca and cannabis cultivation. 48% felt there was significant or some regression, while 21% felt there was progress. There was division on whether this goal should be extended: 51% yes, 42% against. For those wishing for the goal not to be extended, we asked them which goals should be considered. They suggested the following alternatives:

  • To legalise and regulate the cultivation of these plants
  • Promote greater economic development and fight poverty in these regions, many of which are rural
  • Focus efforts on upholding human rights of farmers/growers
  • Focus efforts upon risk and demand reduction to have an indirect impact on cultivation

We then moved to Goal 2 on reducing demand and drug-related risks. More people felt there was progress, but most felt there had not been significant or some progress towards this goal. Almost 70% said this goal was worth extending beyond 2019. Alternative goals proposed will be presented in the final report.

On Goal 3 around eliminating or reducing the illicit market for synthetic drugs, the majority felt that there was no progress. When asked whether the goal should be extended to 2029, 59% felt this should be so.

On Goal 4 around precursors, there was less consensus on whether there was progress or regression: only a third said there was regression in this area, with 20% seeing progress. This lack of ability to respond to this question was felt around whether this goal should be extended. This goes to show that some of these concepts might not translate into the work of NGOs on the ground and may not be easy for them to understand.

On Goal 5 on money laundering, 20% felt progress, while 38% felt regression. The largest group felt this should be extended with 72% supporting it.

This was followed by a few open-ended questions, focusing on progress with regard to the world drug problem, and were there any challenges or setbacks. There was significant overlap in terms of those thinking some elements were progress, while others felt these same elements were regress. This will be further looked into within the final report.

In terms of progress, there is increased access to evidence-based prevention and treatment options, others saw decriminalisation and regulatory models as progress. Another progress was increased awareness and willingness to discuss drugs and drug-related issues, with less stigma. Others felt that there was extended health and harm reduction efforts. Others felt increased discussions between international bodies, and more willingness to recognise the human rights of PWUD, and more CSOs emerged to address the issue. There was also greater international and regional coordination and communication on drugs.

Regarding setbacks, some discussed the ongoing or increased criminalisation, policing and filling up prisons with people who use drugs; increased human rights violations (death penalty, extrajudicial killings) against people who use drugs; few resources devoted to prevention, harm reduction and treatment (funds drying up, few funder options, different funding priorities); country-specific barriers including corruption, lack of political will and inconsistent leadership; some nations moving towards marijuana legalisation presenting dangers on drug use; concerns about the emergence of NPS in their countries.

We then asked whether people believed that international drug policy efforts could be adequately implemented, tracked and advanced to achieved the goal of a drug free world. 50% said no, 46% said yes. This shows the diversity of the responses.

We then moved towards the implementation of the UNGASS outcome document since 2016. We first asked whether people were familiar with the UNGASS outcome document, and only 2/3 were familiar with it. If somebody said no, this section was skipped. We also asked whether stakeholders in their country knew the document, and 1/3 said no, 1/3 said yes, 1/3 weren’t sure.

For those who were familiar with the UNGASS outcome document, we then asked whether it was helpful to their work, 75% said that it was.

We then asked about the 7 themes of the UNGASS outcome document. There was a divide here in terms of efforts made by their government in implementing the seven operational recommendations. There was diversity on the degree to which progress had been made in implementation. 25% felt they weren’t sure. 33% said yes, 41% didn’t feel that there had been any change. I will look into regional trends in the final report.

The last section of the survey asked about the SDGs. About 33% responded that the SDGs were related to their work. Almost all responded that their work was related to SDG 3 on health. Some were surprising: goal 16 (peaceful and inclusive societies), 5 (gender), 4 (education) and 1 (poverty) were considered as relevant to NGOs’ work.


Questions and answers:

Michael Krawitz, Medicinal Cannabis Access Association. Could you help to get data on which of those respondents who felt there was progress called for the goals to be extended, and vice and versa.

Sheila. People’s responses to the ‘no’ questions were quite revealing. On Goal 1, the reason why this goal should be extended was that if there were regulation, there would no longer be illicit cultivation. When people talked about Goal 2 on demand, they seemed to disagree on reducing demand, but they agreed on reducing health and social risks – they agreed to extend only the second half of the goal. When people talked about Goal 3, they felt that synthetic markets would be reduced with a licit regulated market, so this goal would be achieved.

Jamie. This is a great idea to cross-compare those data.

Russian delegation. Why did no NGO participate in supply reduction?

Jamie. This was a surprise to us too, with no NGO focusing on supply reduction. It is a challenge for us. All the systems provided by VNGOC and the NYNGOC focus on demand, but not supply reduction. However, many NGOs focus on development, human rights, farmers, etc. So this shows that UN language doesn’t necessarily works for people on the ground.

Amy King, FAAAT. How many NGOs are under your umbrella that you sent the survey to? You indicated that 480 filled the whole survey – how many did not finish completing the survey? I felt overwhelmed myself in filling it and I didn’t finish it.

Sheila. This was about 27-33% of responses, so there were around 1,200-1,400 surveys started and not finished. I acknowledge the length and breadth of the survey in trying to incorporate such a broad array of views. The way we tried to address this was with a skip option for those who could not respond to some questions.

Jamie. The survey was more or less the same length as the one from 2016. On the first part of your question, we sent it widely on social media, but it is impossible for us to know how many people this was actually sent to.

Esbjorn, IOGT International and WFAD. Thank you for doing this so quickly. My organisation represents the prevention, treatment, recovery side. I can understand that we are going backwards with regards to the world situation, but we want to retain the goals. When we work with people in Africa, they want to do their best for their society to keep the goals. I am looking forward to the more detailed results of the data.

Jamie. This is not that the two results contradict each other on whether there has been progress and whether the goals will be extended. This paints a complex picture.

Sheila. On the spread of the responses, I will represent the number of responses per country.

Isaac Morales, Mexican delegation. Congratulations for all your efforts and for producing this important survey. For us, this is a clear example of how civil society organisations can provide substantive inputs towards 2019. We will be anxiously waiting for the final report. On the last slide on SDGs, it is indicative of how drug policy and the 2030 agenda are complementary. But there were only 5 goals included in the presentation. Do you have responses for all goals?

Sheila. We looked into all SDGs. The bottom-most goal in terms of relevance to work was 33%. It is amazing how much the SDGs align with their work, and we will further describe this in the final report.

Jamie. It is amazing how much overlap there is between drug policy and the SDGs, and civil society appreciates this link.

Paul, Kenya. My concern is related to one of the participants who asked about the regional responses. In Africa, many people did not receive the survey. It would be interesting to see the response coverage from Africa. Is it possibly because there is no representation from organisations from the global south in international forums? Or is it lack of interest at national level?

Jamie. The survey was supposed to close on the 30th of October, but we were concerned about the responses coming from Africa and the Middle East and this is why we extended the deadline and gave a final push to these regions. We really had to make sure we covered all regions. There are a number of reasons for this lack of response from some regions: the length, lack of interest, the complexity, the fact that you couldn’t save and come back to it later, the lack of internet access, etc. There are a lot of lessons to be learned, but we are pleased with the responses. The full report will provide more details on the respondents.

Sheila. There are plenty of people doing great work at local and national level, but they are not engaged in international debates and did not know what the UNGASS outcome document was, it can seem abstract and irrelevant to many.

Russian delegation. We express our gratitude to the CSTF and the VNGOC for fostering dialogue among CSOs with this well-prepared survey. We encourage the VNGOC to make better use of the Marketplace which we promote from our side. We are grateful that the survey was translated into all 6 UN languages, promoting more participation from Russian NGOs. I also have a small question: When there was a response on whether the goal was not achieved, did you ask whether they had ideas on how to accelerate progress towards the goal?

Sheila. We didn’t ask that explicitly. We did for the UNGASS outcome document recommendations, around what efforts they thought should be maintained.

Jamie. Thank you so much for giving your time to come today. The full report will be ready early in the new year, and we will circulate it widely once it is available. Thanks to Russia and Mexico for their support.

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