High Level Segment of CND opens in Vienna with speeches from Antonio Maria Costa and Hamid Ghodse

The High Level Segment of the 52nd session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs opened this morning in Vienna.

The meeting opened with the election of the officers for the meeting. Chairperson – Namibia; 1st Vice Chair – Islamic Rep of Iran; 2nd Vice Chair – Lithuania; 3rd Vice Chair – Switzerland; Rapporteur – Mexico.

The first speaker was UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa. Noting that this meeting coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Shanghai Opium Commission of 1909, Costa posed the question or whether the multiple efforts since that time reduced the world drug problem?’ His answer is that ‘Humanity has made measurable progress’, and the read through a number of statistics on drug production and demand worldwide. He issued a challenge to critics to provide better statistics. Interestingly, those alternative interpretations of the data began almost immediately afetr his speech, and numerous subsequent speakers disputed that progress since 1998 is as sucessful as Mr Costa’s speech concludes. Indeed, he himself noted that the annual value of the world drug trade – which he placed at 300 billion dollars – would place it 21st on the list of GNP is it were a country.

Hi speech did state that harm reduction should be integrated into the response to drugs, and made one mention of human rights. He also was critical of those who advocate drug regulation and control, arguing that using that logic that pedophilia and gun-running should also be legalised.

The complete text of his speech is available here.

Following Costa on the podium was Prof Hamid Ghodse, President of the International Narcotics Control Board. He started his speech by citing INCB data that seemed to quite strongly reject Mr Costa statements on the success of international drug control efforts. Ghodse noted that cannabis cultivated in most countries of the world, that the area of coca leaf cultivation has declined only 5% and that although the area of opium poppy in Asia down by 81%, the area of cultivation in Afghanistan has tripled. Despite these figures, he insisted that the current drug control regime was a failure.

Although he made no references to harm reduction, he did speak quite a bit on human rights. He stated that drug control policies cannot be successful in the long term if they are carried out at the expense of human rights. In fact, he claimed that he had been talking about the need for human rights in drug policy since the 1998 UNGASS on drugs (if that’s true, it certainly has not been reflected in the INCB’s work over the last 10 years). While he made explicit reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he mis-stated and misinterpreted Article 33 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (commonly done by those claiming a human rights justification for strict drug conrol regimes). Prof Ghodse’s speech is available here.

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