Informal NGO dialogue with the UNODC Executive Director

Esbjorn Hornberg, Chair of VNGOC

For the first time in many years, the director of the UNODC is not able to be present here. But, we have questions coming into us and we will proceed with that. Also, we have the deputy director of the UNODC here, among others.

Elisa Rubini, VNGOC

I’ll start with the first question which I’ll read, which comes from the Slum Child Foundation, Kenya: What is UNODC doing to ensure NGOs working in prevention in terms of providing manuals about the health impacts of taking drugs? In one case, children believed that marijuana cured ebola.

UNODC Deputy

Once again I’d like to apologise for the fact that the executive director could not be here, but I assure you that he treats these dialogues with enormous importance.

We have no higher calling than to facilitate interaction and communication around the world. The drug control issue is experienced by countries in different ways. There are common things to underline though, and they are a health-based approach and making it one based on human rights.

There has been a massive increase in the number of NGOs engaged in this process.

As regards to the questions – drug education has to be one of the most important things that we do. There are many myths in the field. There is no bigger contribution to be made than to incorporate into the curriculum a health, evidence-based education in schools.

We’re here to exchange information to ensure everybody has access to best practice. We’re also committed to science based information. The only way to debunk myths around drugs is with evidence and utilising best practice. It’s important there are patient, non-ideological interventions.

Gilberto Gerra, UNODC

One person has said that exposure to cannabis during the teens has implications for psychological well-being. But, we also have to admit that people smoking cannabis may have pre-existing conditions. This is an under-explored area and one where we need more research.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu

On the UNODC web page you will find published material on youth and cannabis use which you might wish to disseminate for education purposes.

Question from Virginians Against Drug Violence

Many observers have noted the relationship between drug laws and violence. Many believe that prohibition leads to violence. There are questions surrounding this. If a nation’s leaders believe that in order to improve the welfare of their people they need to explore regulating substances, what does the UNODC say to this?

UNODC

The conventions are there and we have an obligation to member states to uphold them. However, we must work to ensure that the human rights elements are adhered to. There are of course tensions in the drug control system. But, we must be more effective and clever in interpreting the conventions to bridge the gap. It is not about changing the conventions.

Gilberto Gerra, UNODC

Concerning rights violations that take place due to a country’s drug policies, we look at it and determine if they are applying the conventions correctly. In these cases, countries are normally not. Therefore, we need a group of lawyers to properly analyse the conventions and determine how best they should be implemented. The conventions do not oblige countries to apply the death penalty for drugs, nor be punitive and repressive. We need to work with member states to improve their approach.

UNODC Deputy 

We are sometimes proactive with the conventions. Look at drug detention centres –  we are working extremely hard to shut them down as they are not imposed by the conventions.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu

Somewhat of a different angle, I spent most of my time in producing and transit countries. I have witnessed the abusive nature of organised crime groups working in drug trafficking and this is an issue we must address.

Elisa Rubini

Following up on the previous question – I have a question from the IDPC. How has the UNODC advised countries on the execution of people for drug offences, in particular Iran, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia? I would combine this question with on from INPUD – you’re aware of the current and ongoing execution of people Indonesia. Will you formerly condemn their actions and attempt to intercede in person?

UNODC Deputy

We have and continue to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. Execution is not an appropriate sanction for drug offences. We are doing a lot publicly and behind the scenes diplomatically. We’re doing out very best to put this issue on the table squarely. It’s as simple as this. All we can do, and I am witness to this, is use diplomatic channels and put pressure so that the fundamental beliefs of the international community are taken into account.

Question from IDPC

In light of the negative consequences of punitive drug policy, how does the UNODC ensure that human rights are adhered to when countries impose their drug laws?

UNODC Deputy 

We put our mouth where our beliefs are. We have a number of programs around the world where we advocate for public goods, for values we hold. There are lots of norms and values we produce with the help of civil society. Are they being applied by all countries? Of course not. But, we are working to give member states proper guidelines to make sense of this.

Gilberto Gerra

On the issue of proportionality in sentencing, in the 1988 convention it says cases of a minor nature – for example, possession of a small amount to sell — should be taken into account. This could be interpreted as someone who is vulnerable and may be selling a small amount to fund his use, and may have psychiatric conditions. Can we put someone like this in prison? There’e an enormous unexplored area that legislators can and should look at. These areas have simply been ignored.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu

In Myanmar in 2002, HIV was not discussable by the government. Two years later, we had OST and harm reduction rolled out, the first in south east Asia. The point is engagement with those regimes enables access to decision makers in manners not available to those on the outside of the country.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana Question

What is the UNODC doing to counter messages countries around the world are hearing from the marijuana industry in the US concerning the effects of the drug?

UNODC Deputy

We believe there is no such thing as harmless use, marijuana included. What we are doing is bringing together the best evidence and science that exists so people can get the real truth.

Gilberto Gerra

We should never consider the use of controlled drugs harmless, and this is the message of the convention. The health approach is always with a view to protecting the minority most at risk.

Question from Drug Policy Futures

How can we members of civil society properly utilise the arena provided by the UNODC to work together in the lead up to the UNGASS?

UNODC Deputy

It’s heartening to hear this is an arena where information can be exchanged, particularly as civil society are so involved. It used to be difficult for civil society to even penetrate these discussions. This is now ancient history. You probably don’t realise how you [civil society] are enriching the preparatory process. I have worked with NGOs on the design and implementation of UNODC programs. We have come a long way.

Mike Trace, IDPC

One of the exchanges we’ve had is the difficulty of the UNODC in providing technical assistance, and we would like to see more from the UNODC in helping countries move away from punitive policies. How is the UNODC working to address this issue given how quickly the landscape for drug policy is evolving? The multilateral role is making sure the best science is disseminated. However, there is pure science, and other opinions that are less robust. Can you tell us the status about what is the status of the design of the centre contained in the Russian resolution this week, and how this might look?

UNODC

We have a deficit concerning technical assistance and we’re working hard to address this. We believe we’re short in out capacity to provide to a number of countries evidence-based legal advice on the conventions.

Gilberto Gerra

On the issue of our legal advice – we’ve demonstrated in less than a year that through working with civil society we’ve been able to produce a document on guidelines for the conventions. I will submit this to the INCB for approval, and failing that we will go to Yury Fedotov. Regarding the scientific proposal – we have to think about reenforcing the existing team of experts which is poorly resourced. Firstly I ask for reenforcement of what is there already. Creating a new institution would cost a lot of money.

UNODC Deputy

We always need money, but in the current environment this is not realistic. There is more we can do with the limited resources. I hope that from the UNGASS comes a stronger partnership with practitioners in the science community. We can and will do more on this issue.

Soroptimist International Question

I’d like to speak about gender-based differences in approach. We observe a lack of gender-based data. The experience of women is very different from men. UNODC has a few documents concerning this, but we need to convince member states to do more. Considering drug misuse impacts on child custody and can lead to sterilisation, a focus on gender-based issues should be at the UNGASS next year. We need the support of the UNODC and national delegations. What can you do to help us push this issue next year at the UNGASS?

UNODC Deputy

The focus on women and drugs is something that I have personally taken on. We’ve increased the number of side events on this issue, and attendance is growing at these. All our programs are increasingly gender specific. In terms of there not being not enough funds for this, I disagree. Increasing number of states are insisting on designing special programs for women and drugs. We’re not alone everyone who believes dearly in this. There is a special momentum for this.

Gilberto Gerra

There is a special event this afternoon concerning women and drugs. Our medical discipline [addiction] is the only one where we don’t want to see the patient. If only one patient comes and you receive your salary, you’re happy. You don’t want a lot of patients. We must create an environment to encourage more professionals to get involved in this area.

Esbjorn Hornberg

The request concerning women is very pertinent, thank you. I hope that this informal dialogue will continue. There is a commitment from the UNODC to do this.

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