The 2016 UNGASS: Challenges and Opportunities

Organized by the Governments of Mexico, the Netherlands and Uruguay, the International Drug Policy Consortium and the Transnational Institute.

Ann Fordham, International Drug Policy ConsortiumMember states need to resist the temptation to treat the UNGASS like a review of the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action. Need a wide ranging and open debate, as Ban Ki Moon advised, and we hope member states will take up that challenge.

Ambassador Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Mexico
Collective recognition of the setbacks, continuing challenges, and weak achievements in the world drug problem thus far. A review of the world drug strategy is indeed needed. Significant amount of divergent opinions of what should be changed and what should be maintained, and why. Different perspectives between states and a number of stakeholders must be taken into account in order to properly have an open, inclusive, and comprehensive debate that involves all inputs and experiences, as Mexico requested for the UNGASS. Significant amount of human and financial resources and great number of lives lost. Evolving challenges now of adverse effects still affecting most of our societies. Have to take into account the social damage. Overall scale of drug-related problems has not substantially changed. Have to ask ourselves how we can coordinate international efforts to achieve better results and save lives. It is a matter of development above all. We need to take into account that this is another crucial year at the UN because of the summit at the end of the year where we will be defining the new development agenda. These have incorporated a new perspective as compared to the MDGs. Everything is now based on the wellbeing of individuals. We need to proceed in the same way with the world drug problem. Need to put an emphasis on the social damage. Debate must focus on achieving better results on the ground, and implementing perhaps a more holistic and humane policy which has human wellbeing at its heart. Our discussions must not only focus on consumption as a challenge, but also on the individuals that suffer physically, psychologically, and are victims of violences related to the drug problem. Th international community must pledge to prevent the negative consequences that our drug polices impose on societies. The social harm cannot be superior to the harm associated with drug consumption. Recognize that we need to go to the UNGASS with this new perspective in mind.

Christopher Hallam, International Drug Policy Consortium 
WHO estimates that 5.5 billion people have inadequate or no access to painkillers for severe pain. UNGASS must defend the role of WHO in the drug control system, and the principle of independent scientific assessment of substances that are considered for scheduling, as this is a vital part of the international drug control system. The INCB has recently spoken about access to morphine and other painkillers, however, the INCB’s position is often undermined by its failure to apply the appropriate level of balance when it is considering a situation. Ketamine is a key example of this. WHO, which is mandated to review substances for control, has recommended three times that ketamine not be scheduled. Can the CND schedule ketamine anyway in spite of the WHO’s recommendation? The Convention of 1971 doesn’t really address this clearly, but the official commentary does, and it is clear that the CND cannot do this. To do so would set a terrible precedent that counters the direction that we are hoping the UNGASS will take us in. Tramadol and khat are likely next on the list if this did go through on a CND vote despite WHO recommendation. Ketamine has an almost unique aesthetic role in developing countries and in situation of armed conflicts, and if it is controlled, there will likely be no access for its use in surgery. This would be a “potential public health disaster” according to WHO. If this should come to a vote on Friday, we would hope member states vote against scheduling because it would restrict access to this essential anaesthetic in the developing world, and because the principle of scientific review by the WHO needs to be defended and strengthened. The system is still balanced in the favour of restriction, rather than public health.

Simon Wallington-Beddoe, AIDS Alliance India
We know that drug use in most countries is a criminal offence. In India, we have some of the most harsh laws against drug use. Criminalization is a major barrier to accessing life saving services. Fear of arrest and imprisonment prevent people who use drugs from accessing harm reduction services, and also prevent access to emergency overdose treatment. Mandatory for the hospital to report to the police, and this is a fear of most people who use drugs. In some parts of Asia, people suspected of drug use are forced to undergo urine testing, and to go to compulsory treatment and detention centres. Harsh laws and penalties are intended to stop people from using drugs, but rather than doing so, they have made it more difficult to reach people who use drugs, the people who are most in need of health services. Criminalization fuels drug-related harms and HIV/AIDS. There is much evidence that decriminalization and harm reduction have positive outcomes on the lives of people who use drugs. Number of people regularly accessing OST is just a fraction of the number using opiates as a result of criminalization. Essential that countries invest more in interventions that reduce drug-related harms rather than focusing on eliminating people who use drugs. Drug policy must focus on making us safer and healthier, and must hear the voice of people that use drugs in Asia and elsewhere. Cannot be silenced by poverty, crime, and unemployment. Must confront the impacts of criminalization and implement harm reduction services where people who use drugs can access health services without any fear.

Coletta Youngers, Washington Office on Latin America & International Drug Policy Consortium 
We need to fundamentally rethink the very concept of alternative development. More often than not, these programs are designed with the objective of reducing the cultivation of prohibited plants. These are doomed to fail in the long-run. Instead we need to promote equitable economic development. Four basic principles:
1) Proper sequencing is crucial. Development must come before significant crop reduction, as with this local farmers are more likely to cooperate with crop reduction efforts.
2) Eradication of such crops is counterproductive unless alternative livelihoods are already in place. Without this, we push people deeper into poverty, lead to human rights violations, insurgency, instability, and reinforce reliance on cultivation of illicit substances.
3) Small scale cultivation should be decriminalized. We need not alienate the populations whose support we need for alternative development. We need meaningful community engagement.
4) Alternative livelihood goals and strategies should be incorporated into local, regional, and international development plans. Mainstreaming counternarcotics in the development programs.
Equitable economic rural development in some of the poorest regions of the world needs to be discussed in the process leading up to and actually at the UNGASS in 2016. We need to have participation from growers and farmers. It is important that outcomes from the Global Forum of Producers of Prohibited Plants by TNI are incorporated in the discussions that take place around the UNGASS and that some representatives participate. Hope that we see meaningful and impactful speeches to the plenary by farmers and people who use drugs at the UNGASS, like we did at the 1998 UNGASS.

Ambassador Milton Romani, Junta Nacional de Drogas, Uruguay
Called for an open debate without taboos. Today, Uruguay is making headlines for its sovereign decision to move ahead with a regulatory market for drug markets. Reiterate that although this is a new and innovative approach, we don’t intend to make it a plan for others to follow. There is no single model for all. Agree with Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, and Ecuador that this preparatory process for the UNGASS should guarantee a real debate, not just a mask in which we praise a supreme being. For years we have called for a broad and diverse debate without constraints or taboo. Process needs to have meaningful and active participation of stakeholders, such as the different UN programs, scientific and academic communities, civil society, and regional bodies. Need to have diversity of representation. CND should take a leading role in this process, while recognizing that the UNGA is the highest body.

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