First informal civil society hearing takes place at 2012 CND

This is the first civil society hearing which is taking place at the CND. Different representatives are now presenting some of the work that they are doing to promote the role of civil society in drug policy.

First Panel:

The INCB showed how civil society could be involved both at the CND and also at the national level during INCB country visits. The INCB representative highlighted the key role of civil society in the role of the INCB but recognised that more transparency and accountability was needed to ensure real engagement.

The EU has many mechanisms to involve civil society in the design and implementation of EU drug policies. It is not always easy to involve civil society as they are sometimes divided, but it is part of the process and it is crucial to engage with civil society. In any case, it is worth the investment in EU policy development and to reach people who need support.

In the United States, there are two separate entities in one entity. We can help sustain and fund the work of NGOs nationally and internationally. Our commitment to drug prevention comes from the decision of our Director in Texas to develop partnerships and serve our communities. We also provide leadership at the national level. We cut across all categories in terms of service delivery – prevention, community tools and skills provided so that young people can make an informal choice about their lives. Resources are focused on three issues: effectiveness, sustainability and scale. We also provide the research and evaluation to check the effectiveness of those measures.

UNAIDS is unique in its process to promote civil society participation. We have so many ways in which we touch civil society because UNAIDS has always acknowledged that people affected by HIV had to be at the centre of any HIV response so there was no point doing any action without partnerships with affected populations and civil society. There are three categories: governance (NGOs have a place in our government body), programmatic areas (includes delivery of services but also advocacy), practical engagement with civil society (e.g. development of Guidelines for HIV prevention among sex workers). All of us benefit from civil society involvement. We also realise the need to engage with young people. They are often those most affected by policies and initiatives around HIV and drug policy and they are distinctly absent from decision making bodies. We have a team of very active youths looking at how to involve them more.

Mike Trace talks on behalf of IDPC: We welcome what has happened over the past year at the INCB about the country missions. What we are discussing is the amount of time given by the INCB before the meetings take place. We request that you give us more time to organise so that NGOs are prepared for the INCB country visits.

Second Panel:

The purpose of this new session is the involvement of NGOs within the mandate of the CND.

Czech Republic representative:
We proposed a resolution on overdose prevention. We are helping the VNGOC to keep some contacts with governments at the CND. Last year was important for NGOs with the resolution on the participation of civil society. This is a good start and you now need to keep formalising your presence. Although it is limited, the participation of NGOs at the round tables is also an improvement. The Chair of the CND will make sure that the report of the CND 2012 will be released as soon as possible. It is important to realise a few elements from the side of NGOs. When we talk to diplomats and government officials, we need to show our added value in the debates, especially in the area of harm reduction. The NGO voice is still weak. When we look at the practical level, without NGOs, prevention and treatment programmes would be extremely limited, so NGOs should have a permanent voice in places like the CND. But we also need to work on our language. A good example is the resolution on the prevention of overdoses which was mainly written by NGOs. We should take advantage more actively in possibilities to engage with governments and discuss common language.

International Drug Policy Consortium:
IDPC has been calling for a civil society hearing for some years now and this is a very positive development. We also thank sponsoring countries and their support to civil society participation to their work. We are an international network of NGOs from around the world. We are interested in UN debates and the CND. Our mission is to promote debates so we are keen to see discussions that are open and transparent. I have been coming to the CND for more than 15 years, as a government representative, a UN representative and an NGO representative. The normative segments of the CND and resolutions have to go through consensus and every government has the need and the right to have its own space to discuss drug policy at the CND. So there is little space for NGOs. There is also very little time for real debate to take place. The debate now is more important than ever. We need to find time and space to debate credibly and respectfully.

There is a rapidly changing situation all around us, and we have to be very good to keep up with these changes, and exchanging perspectives on this rapidly changing environment. There is of course a lot of political, cultural and scientific difference between us all. We need to assess what sets of policies and objectives are fit for purpose in the 21st century. The Vienna agencies are behind in the way they are involving civil society. We have heard examples from the environment, health and development fields on how civil society can be involved in the debate.

There have been times in the past where there were concerted efforts to stop civil society participation. This has very much changed now. We have achieved a lot of progress over the past few years. We should all commit to an open and vibrant debate on drug policy, it must be respectful and constructive. What we have all tried to do with the Beyond 2008 and Resolution 54/11 is to reach this objective despite differences of opinions between different civil society organisations. This rises challenges – no policy was ever developed through inertia. We are asking of institutions and member states not to be afraid of challenges. We want to hear diverse views, we want to be challenged and hear about new strategies. We need to improve the participation of NGOs in the Plenary and better access to information between civil society and governments.

Community anti-drug coalition of America:
We are working in many countries from around the world and have members from within communities (youth, parents, law enforcement, service providers, etc.). If those coalitions work with communities, we can push back illicit drug use. The goal is to build the capacity to solve local problems. The CND is an important policy forum to discuss drugs issues. It is important for NGOs to be part of this movement and be heard. This civil society hearing should happen every year. Many NGOs provide a unique perspective to the debate both in the Plenary and the Committee of the Whole to make the resolutions more tailored to what needs to be done. There should be better follow up with NGOs before and after the CND through member states. NGOs do play a critical role in policy development and implementation across the spectrum of drug issues. Member states should ensure that the voices of NGOs are utilised in the development and implementation of drug policies across the world. The emphasis on demand reduction is important.

World Federation Against Drugs:
World Federation Against Drugs supports a drug free goal and the UN treaties to protect all children from drug use. The work of NGOs is crucial to the success of drug prevention programmes. NGOs give communities a voice. NGOs are usually committed towards the same aim. They enjoy good levels of public trust and confidence. NGOs have the capacity to work together in a collaborative way. The strength of the international drug control system is its universality. Drug policies are too important to be left to governments alone, it requires society-wide involvement. We need support, community-based programmes, etc. Polices need to focus on the well being of individuals. NGOs are important partners of policies on drugs. National, regional and local governments can ensure that NGOs have the financial resources and policy space to act effectively.

Third Panel:

New Zealand Drug Foundation:
Governments are scared and uncertain of NGOs. They count on us for service delivery but when it comes to drug policy making, governments cannot decide whether they need us or whether we have some secret plan to legalise drugs and supply drugs to their children. We have some interesting examples in New Zealand which may put governments’ minds at ease. We first provide services for people dependent on drugs, we are an umbrella NGO, we provide education, harm reduction, treatment, etc. This puts us in a privileged place in the country to understand what is happening on the ground. It brings governments great benefit. Drug control is now undergoing a fundamental review. For the 1st time in 35 years, the government reviewed the Misuse of Drugs Act to cope with the new range of substances emerging in the market. The current government found that there was no controls over these new substances. Legal highs were actually created in New Zealand. The government also wanted to see whether the law was fit for purpose. The government put together a Law Commission. The New Zealand Drug Foundation engaged and supported in the review. I thought the Commission wouldn’t get connected with NGOs, but it did give a big space for NGOs and we arranged consultations across the country, we connected them with drug policy experts, we peer reviewed their work, etc. Some governments at the CND are seeking to review their drug laws, and the use of a law commission is very useful. In 2009, our government nominated for the first time an NGO representative in their delegation to the CND. The same happened last year. We need to interconnect more formally with governments with the CND proceedings. The pre- and post-CND work is not yet done properly. Sadly, some progress can be short-lived because of national politics. For the first time in 15 years, there is no government delegation here this year. However, the New Zealand has agreed to co-sponsor this event thanks to the great work of the VNGOC.

Rebirth Society, Iran:
Rebirth Society is the biggest NGO in the region, focusing on harm reduction and drug dependence treatment. We have 100 rehabilitation centres and 40 drop-in centres. We have had a successful experience with governments regarding our activities in Iran. We found that there was good capacity at the time to develop our activities in Iran. The constitution of Iran gave us the opportunity to create these activities. There is also a religious culture which promotes the role of NGOs as well in the country. The people who founded this society sought to give a chance to people to tackle their drugs problems. Our strategy is based on communication, advocacy and sharing of information. Our role as well is to link high level and low level government officials in our activities.

UNODC:
Role of NGOs in Colombia – There are 5,500 NGOs operating in Colombia. With regards to NGOs operating on drugs, we have a very heterogeneous community. But they are very important to build synergies on the drug problem. Colombia has very high rates of drug use and is a producing country. Prevention NGOs work with families and schools. The objective is to integrate creativity and work on conflict resolution and social work. Last year, the UNOC launched a drug free campaign in the country targeted at young people. Pressure from NGOs has been central the recognition that we do have a drug problem in Colombia. We have also developed, in cooperation with NGOs, a health approach to drug use. Demand reduction programmes have been developed by NGOs through a multidisciplinary approach and with interactions between government and non-government agencies. We need to involve many partners to share a common understanding and language. It is also important to empower young communities. We have also contributed to make NGOs partners in the development of policies.

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