The Civil Society Task Force (CSTF) for the 2016 UNGASS was launched in Vienna on Wednesday 3rd December by the Vienna and New York NGO Committees. The event was chaired by H.E. Ambassador Bente Angell –Hansen of Norway.
The first speaker was Aldo Lale-Demoz, Director, UNODC Division for Operations who emphasized that civil society is “part and parcel of our monitoring and evaluation, and our programme delivery. It is very important to have everybody at the table”. He emphasized that global input is needed for this global task and wished this joint effort for the CSTF much success as it will help to ensure the UNGASS is as informed and evidence based as possible.
Ambassador Khaled Shamaa, 57th Chair of the CND, noted that the VNGOC has a track record in facilitating civil society involvement and that has had the pleasure to participate in a number of civil society forums. He emphasized that NGO involvement cannot be understated. NGOs are a precious resource in developing health based and evidence based policies. He said he was happy that NGOs are heavily involved in the UNGASS preparations and he pointed the UNGASS website where NGOs are encouraged to upload their submissions. He went on to say, “It is a global task so we need global inputs. I thank Esbjörn for stressing ‘globalness’ of the committee. A number of NGOs have been attending intersessionals and making interventions.” He encouraged more NGO side events over the coming period and advised member state delegations to encourage NGOS working on the ground to submit reflections on their work so “we do not repeat the same mistakes”.
Ambassador Bente Angellbefore introducing the NYNGOC, noted that “the humanitarian spirit should guide us in drug policy making” and in particular pointed to the issue of access to essential medicines highlighted that many cancer sufferers around the world do not have access to pain relief and we must work harder to people are not deprived.
Heather Haase, Chair of the NYNGOC, gave a short history of the committee and the 30 years of collaboration with VNGOC. She said that, “It was a complicated undertaking to develop a process of civil society engagement for the UNGASS but what has been developed is led by precedent and will bring the voices of civil society around the world to the UNGASS”. Elisa Rubini, Acting Vice-Chair, of the VNGOC described the process for the CSTF as outlined in the terms ofreference. Allan Clear from the NYGNOC spoke of his excitement that the CSTF is now being set up and welcomed the strengthened collaboration between Vienna and New York. Mirella Dummar Frahi confirmed that the UNODC Civil Society Unit will do its best to support the work of the CSTF.
Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba Góngora of Mexico strongly encouraged member states to include civil society representatives on their delegations and to push for civil society participation in formal settings rather than just on the margins, inviting member states to include good practices and topics, such as migration and indigenous people – facilitators coming from indigenous interaction should be welcomed. He stated that governments are sometimes reluctant to talk about new issues, challenges and approaches, therefore the civil society biggest countribution might be to brainstorm. He sincerely hoped the UNGASS outcome document wouldn’t be another ‘cut and paste’ exercise like the process of the Joint Ministerial Statement. He also stressed the need of elevating the level of discussion, and encouraged the participation of NGOs without consultative status in the civil society task force and remember that decisions will allow the commission to grant special invitations.
Allan Clear, from Harm Reduction Coalition, remembered that on 1st December the World AIDS Day was celebrated and recalled that drug injection the most serious source of HIV in NY. He highlighted the need of creating programs and services directed by people who use them and acknowledged how the civil society voice has had an impact over time, providing solutions to problems.
Katherine Pettus stressed how access to medicine stronger than aspirin for severe cancer pain, end stage AIDS pain, surgery, and other types of traumatic conditions needs to be ensure, and recall how millions of people who are dying are denied palliative care. She call the state members to thoroughly address the issue of access to essential controlled medicines for pain relief and
The Swedish Ambassador stated the importance of bringing substance into the discussion and welcome active support from civil society to put pressure on us governments to be much more concrete action-oriented.
Mike Trace, Chair of IDPC, stressed that what happens at UNGASS depends on the rules: “If we follow the usual CND rules there is always going to be a big limit on civil society voice. We need to use the UNGA rules, especially in preparatory meetings.” He also remembered that both the Vienna and the NY committee need funding and called on member states to fund it.
Jim Applegate of the US permanent Mission welcomed contribution of NGOs and stressed the need of reducing demand and supply of drugs: Treatment, prevention, public health, etc. are needed. He also stressed that he is looking forward to engaging with leadership of task forces and stated that the ambassadors are working on this issue and for the preparations seeking action oriented outcomes. He highlighted how needed the civil society task is to provide context-sensitive vision and understandings, as well as fact based implementation. Finally, he underscored the point on the regions here: “We need to work with a limited set of NGOs working in the areas. This does not necessarily mean agreeing on all important issues, but to find a modality to carry it over rather than disguising in unintelligible language”
Elisa Rubini stated that all NGOs are welcome to send nominees, not just ECOSOC NGOs.