The United Nations (UN) member states are currently working on a ‘Joint Ministerial Statement’ to review progress and challenges in international drug control since the agreement of a Political Declaration on drugs in 2009. The Statement will be released in March. This intersessional meeting was another opportunity for member state delegations to discuss and recommend changes to the text of the Statement. Below is an overview of the main interventions that were made – ranging from small edits to broader changes. Reassuringly, many of the suggestions put forward by IDPC members and partners were raised during the day.
The document needs to be shorter and sharper, and the structure needs to change – outlining achievements, challenges and opportunities for each of the three pillars. They also requested support to synchronise this Statement with the “Omnibus Resolution” on drug control that they have submitted in New York.
New drug trafficking routes in Africa should be included. The issue of new psychoactive substances is over-emphasised throughout the text – amphetamine-type substances are also important, as are issues around prescription drugs, cannabis cultivation, reliable data collection, and the need for technical assistance and capacity building.
The issue of precursor chemicals is also not highlighted enough in the text.
The document should reflect achievements, challenges and opportunities. It should underline health and social risks, harm reduction, overdose, the involvement of civil society, and the need for balanced and integrated evidence-based policies that respect human rights. In addition, Norway is strictly opposed to the death penalty in all cases.
The document needs to be shorter and needs to really assess the situation. The structure needs to change.
Delegates must not add new paragraphs at this stage, as there is a consensus to keep the document short – the document could even be split into one political and one technical statement? They stressed the need to remove language that will not meet consensus, such as “harm reduction”.
Lithuania (on behalf of the European Union):
The Statement should articulate the respective roles of UNODC, INCB and WHO within the drug control system. They also added language around young people, balanced approaches, and the need for political action to mitigate the economic crisis and ensure service provision in the face of austerity.
The Statement should articulate concern that – despite all efforts – the drug problem remains and much more needs to be done.
They raised concerns about the process, as it was hard to keep track of the suggestions and edits.
The Statement needs to clearly acknowledge that our main aim is to reduce drug supply and demand, and that this has not been achieved.
They again asked that delegations resist adding new paragraphs, and that all references to “evidence-based” are changed to “scientifically based”. They also proposed to delete text on the role of civil society, and requested the UNODC legal office to assess if civil society engagement is within the CND mandate.
They wanted to highlight the importance of inter-agency cooperation, and added text around the misuse of controlled medicines.
They asked for a new paragraph about the problems and violence in transit countries. Regarding civil society engagement, national legislations have to be taken into account.
They proposed to edit the opening paragraphs and to reverting back to the agreed language from 2009 for civil society engagement.
Regarding civil society engagement, they supported its inclusion in the Statement and reiterated that CND is an ECOSOC body, and so needs to abide by ECOSOC rules.
They confirmed their strong support for civil society engagement.
They inserted amphetamine-type substances and cannabis into the text.
They reinstated references to civil society engagement – “nationally we could not have reached the results we have without the involvement of civil society in both demand and supply reduction”.
They inserted text about substances that are not currently controlled under the conventions.
They requested the deletion of “harm reduction” from the Statement, asking to defer back to the agreed language from the 2009 Political Declaration (i.e. “support services”).
They strongly supported the engagement of civil society.
They reiterated their request for a legal evaluation regarding the CND mandate in relation to civil society engagement. They then also claimed that references to harm reduction were “country specific”, and so should be deleted alongside references to diseases and infections related to injecting drug use (which were seen as not being in line with the conventions).
The goals adopted in the 2009 Political Declaration are not addressed in the text, and there needs to be more precision and self-criticism in the document – the current draft reads like a new Political Declaration rather than a review of progress.
They made several comments, including the insertion of references to injecting drug use, poly-drug use, and the HIV UNGASS target of a 50% reduction in HIV transmission among people who inject drugs by 2015. They also supported the mention of harm reduction and inserted references to “holistic approaches” – stating that law enforcement alone cannot address the challenges.
They made a series of small edits to the text, and made some suggestions for next steps – they are concerned that they will not have enough time to review the next draft.
They cited harm reduction as a “stumbling stone”, and recommended that the USA provides alternative text. In the paragraphs on alternative development, they also inserted “in accordance with the concept of human security”.
They inserted language around “drugged driving” and made other small changes, while questioning some of the evidence behind P32 the focus on new psychoactive substances. They stated that some of the text stigmatises drug producing countries, and asked to delete concepts such as “vulnerable countries” and “porous borders” as well as reference to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
They inserted text around new psychoactive substances, “designer drugs” and “legal highs” and their availability on the internet. They also inserted language expressing concern over the legalisation of certain drugs, and stressing the importance of full implementation of the conventions. They also expressed concerns about the process being followed to negotiate the Statements.
They stated that new psychoactive substances represent challenges not just to countries, but also to the existing drug control systems themselves. They also strongly supported harm reduction, as well as the EU’s comments – and asked that the Statement includes text on the death penalty: “drug offenses do not meet the threshold of most serious crimes for the purposes of international law”.
They asked that the achievements in the report be more concrete – with more details needed, including basic headline figures.
They also asked for greater clarity on the next steps.
They reiterated fears about the process, and supported civil society engagement and harm reduction – stating that many countries are blocking the term despite using this approach domestically. “For our dignity, we need to use this term”. They reminded colleagues that there were always going to be changes and developments within the ten-year lifetime of the Political Declaration: when there are controversial ideas, going back to agreed language from 2009 is not the answer.
They stated that the Statement should be a common consensus and understanding, not a “wish pool of everything”. Therefore, it should not include controversial issues such as the death penalty.
They made several edits to the text, and spoke on harm reduction as a problematic term that is overly broad and ill-defined, meaning different things to different people. In response, they can propose alternative language, but they would rather enumerate specific interventions instead. While the US does employ some harm reduction policies, and are “eager to include them” in the statement, there are other types of treatment and procedures that the US does not agree with.
Ireland and Norway:
They both further supported civil society engagement, and thanked Switzerland for bringing up the issue of the death penalty.
They reiterated that controversial issues should be avoided, and that harm reduction is, in their view, not welcome.
They also supported the call to mention the death penalty in the Statement, and expressed their openness to reaching a compromise on language around harm reduction.
Aligning with the European Union, they asked to remove references to “eradication” from the paragraphs on alternative development: there is no such language in the Political Declaration or the Guiding Principles on alternative development.
They supported references in the text to links between drugs, security, development and corruption, as well as references to new psychoactive substances. They also supported the inclusion of the death penalty and civil society engagement in the text.
On the issue of access to essential medicines, they wanted to keep the reference that “most countries” have inadequate coverage of pain relief. More than 90% of the global consumption of medical opioids can be found in just a few countries.
The Chair (from Peru) then made his closing remarks, responding to concerns about the process of negotiations. Despite many polarized opinions, he will strive to develop a “consensus draft” that is “based on the smallest common denominator” – stating that no extreme positions should be taken in a political statement like this one. If the negotiations have to go on beyond the end of the year (when he will be succeeded by a new Chair from Egypt), then that is fine too. A new draft will be available in the coming days.