Informal civil society hearing – Panel 2

Panel 2. When is it ‘appropriate’ for affected populations and civil society entities to play a participatory role in the formulation and implementation of drug policy?

The objective of this session was to define the “were appropriate” from the Political Declaration.

Sandeep Chawla, UNODC
This question is part of the bureaucracy of the process. In the question posed before the panel, there is another question – “drug policy”: what is drug policy? The principle we are talking about here is the protection of public health. Beyond that, we are not quite sure about what we mean about drug policy. Our international system states that, because some drugs are harmful, they need to be controlled in some form or another. The level of control was decided 50 years ago and was developed since then. If we want to change this, there is a system to do this, but this takes a long time. We cannot change a 50 year old system in 2 years. Drug policy reform has to be rooted in the international system. The CND constitutes the system we are working in. We are also working in the context of absolute sovereignty of member states.

We all know that among equals, some are more equal than others in the world of politics and powers. This goes with individuals and countries. International politics are often run between pragmatic realists and idealists.

Globalisation has brought many challenges, including transnational organised crime, trafficking, etc. International law was an attempt to address those issues. We have handed the control of drugs to law enforcement agencies, forgetting the first principle of protecting public health. Law enforcement still has an important role to play. CSOs have a crucial role to play to re-focus the drug control system. CSOs have a role to play in gathering information from the ground on how the situation is evolving. CSOs also have the role of watchdogs. What is not appropriate for CSOs to do, is to “shoot the messenger”. Often, the UN is the messenger, and often watchdog organisations condemn the UN for things they are not responsible for. This is very frequent on issues related to drugs and human rights. All we can do is encourage governments to protect human rights, but the UN cannot force states to do things.

Michael Conroy, Head of drugs policy unit and national drugs coordinator, Ireland
It is very important for civil society to be part of drug policy processes. We are talking about working together, as a team, for best outcomes. My personal experience shifted my view on drug policy formulation and implementation. When I look at our history, in Ireland, little was being done in the beginning and local communities and CSOs pressured the government into doing something. The government tried to fund a programme for communities, grounded on civil society thinking. We formed task forces, made up of reps of government departments, agencies and community groups. Statutory and civil society members interact within those task forces. CSOs are also a key part of implementation. We have a supervisory group in which CSOs also have a place. CSOs are the most important form of implementation of Irish drug strategy.

When we drafted the strategy 2009-2016, we had numerous consultations. This was a difficult and time consuming process. We need inter-agency strategic thinking on drugs. For example, for treatment and rehabilitation, we are working on plans including social support, housing, treatment, etc. We are trying to address all aspects of a person’s needs through inter-agency work.

The voluntary sector group used to be critical of the government, but is now working in collaboration with us. The process is easier and less time consuming. It enables us to bring more services to drug users. We are aiming at breaking the cycle between poverty, drug use, crime and imprisonment. We have now groups working together to improve the situation of drug users. A police force is working with family groups as well. Everything is not perfect, but people are expressing satisfaction that the situation is improving.

One of the biggest challenges in Ireland are working together among ministries, but this goes through consultations and compromise. CSOs come from many types of organisations and have various views. Often, it is hard to move funding from one to the other as priorities change. Finally, it is also important to acknowledge progress and successes, in addition to criticising failure.
Affected populations and CSOs should play a role in drug policy on an on-going basis. We can achieve more by working together.

Question: now we need to move forward and consider ‘how’ it is appropriate, how we can better enable civil society to participate.

Thanasis:  regarding Bolivia’s moves to change treaties, is that the right way to pursue change?

Elliott, INPUD:  We are treated either a criminals or people in need of salvation, and would like to see a system that can allow us to get on with our lives.

Question, Art: how best can NGOs play a role in the reviews that will take place in 2014 and 2016?

Question, Jo: comment on work ‘appropriate’, I think that word it important because things become outdated if appropriate is defined so it depends on culture, economic means. If we become too prescriptive the whole thing could topple and fall.

Damon Barrett: there are lots of ways that CSOs can appropriately participate, but it can also be responded if we reverse the question and ask when is it not appropriate?

Sandeep: it is appropriate for individual states to act whatever way they can, the process Bolivia went through controversial but Secretariat can only play role as mediator. I agree drug users cannot be treated as only criminals or in need of salvation. What is inappropriate for UN to do? To tell member states what to do with their own policies.

Michael Conroy: when there was a large increase in consumption of NPS, I think it was due to liberalisation of drug laws.

Michel P: many of us who work on substance abuse also work on alcohol, and even prescription drugs. But the question of what are the harms that should be addressed in drug policies should involve CSOs.

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