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Briefing by the Civil Society Task Force for UNGASS 2016

Panel 1 – Updates and highlights from the CSTF regional consultations


Members of the Civil Society Task Force. From left to right, Allan Clear (treasurer), Heather Haase (Chair), Esbjorn Hornberg (Chair), Elisa Rubini (vice-chair)

Alternative development, farmers and Latin America – Pien Metaal 

There will be a global farmers forum next January with farmer from 20 different countries around the world. The ICAD2 meeting took place recently as well and there was a good discussion there on the rights of subsistence farmers. I would like to make a few key points: most involved in illicit cultivation do not become beneficiaries of AD progs. Most communities do not get access to development programmes.

Fallen victims to interventions which eradicate their crops by force which is counterproductive and adds to already stressed situation – often between conflicting parties where the crops grow. Interventions contribute to further stress of these populations and does not make them stakeholders or citizens whose rights are protected.

We must end forced eradication. This is one of the points that will be made. The second point is the meaningful involvement of affected farmers and communities in the design and implementation of policies and programmes. There is a small amount of people involved in AD programmes, but even those who have were not involved as meaningful stakeholders. Involvement should be meaningful, it should not be a dead letter.

The third point refers to cannabis cultivation. It makes sense to open the debate around this issue. Some countries claim the right of AD for cannabis cultivation and it would be interesting to see what comes out of the forum on this issue.

Voices of prevention – Linda Nilsson

This presentation is not supposed to be an account of the full report, but a snapshot. I have been in touch with many organisations working on drug use prevention. All have highlighted the need to focus on demand reduction as this will have an effect on supply reduction. We must enable children to live in a healthy environment and be protected from drugs. There is a worry about the normalisation of drugs. We should focus on the well-being of people.

Most organisations work on empowering – and this requires working with parents. Many organisations work on self-awareness, self-confidence, good responses on stress. Using the youth themselves is also very important. Many organisations are applying this method. Many activities carried out are managing social norms to enable people to take less harmful decisions. There is also a need to identify the risks and work on early intervention. Civil Society has a different way of addressing these risks and identify the children who are particularly at risk of drug use.

Some of the identified challenges include the lack of information on the local context – patterns of drug use, which objectives the prevention project should address. There is also a need for more cooperation between different sectors of society (CSOs, faith based organisations, government services, etc.). It is also important to make better use of available resources. There should also be a link to treatment. Other challenges include children raised in slums who have little access to health programmes – how can we support them? How to tackle corruption and unemployment? These are only a few problems and obstacles.

We need to think long term for prevention programmes. We also need to encourage member states to be more active on prevention. Prevention is everybody’s business, and this sometimes leads to a situation where it is nobody’s business. Prevention is nonetheless of vital importance.

Prevention requires national implementation, it shouldn’t be just an academic exercise. Many sectors are understaffed, under-trained and this should be tackled. UNGASS should generate funds for the development and implementation of prevention.

Palliative care/essential medicines – Katherine Pettus and Dr. Emmanuel Luyirika

Katherine Pettus – many people do not have the opportunity to come to these events and I am here to present a video from Mr. Luyirika, who is promoting access to palliative care in Africa. The control of essential medicines leads to many people left in pain for lack of palliative care.

Emmanuel Luyirika – African Palliative Care Association established in 2002. Medicines are inaccessible in Africa because of healthcare providers are unfamiliar with it. As a result, millions suffer and die in unnecessary pain. We consume less than 1 milligram of morphine per capita. The situation is escalating. African countries are also struggling with their battle with HIV and other conditions for which palliative care is essential. We must ensure that people live in peace and dignity. Governments and CSOs should support the availability of controlled substances for medical purposes. Human resources remain a big barrier. Our countries need technical assistance on healthcare. The AU Plan of Action highlighted the issue of pain management as a strategic priority. We call for a truly open, transparent and inclusive debate on this matter. The AU common position calls on the international community for support in access to palliative care.

Voices of recovered users – Boro Goic

I want to start with what the CSTF is – it is designed to coordinate civil society engagement and promote CSO voices at the UNGASS. We sent a survey out to 70 organisations and partners. We reached around 200 organisations in total. We held consultations electronically and were in contact with NGOs from all around the world, as well as professionals and experts, as well as current and recovered drug users, their families and friends. We ran consultations in Warsaw, at national level, in the Balkans, during international symposiums, in Sweden and the UK. The last participation was regional in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, organised by the Turkish Green Crescent.

Recovered drug users are essential in the debate. Investing on recovery is essential. Successful treatment is essential. Refusing stigma is also helpful to reach recovery goals and successful reintegration in society. We must offer them tools. We must start treating drug addiction as a chronic relapsing condition. Recovery activities include primary prevention and interventions. Harm reduction aims to address drug related harm. It can lead to recovery, and recovery is the ultimate harm reduction objective. Recreational drug use is harmful to the public interest. Recovery has a long-term effect on society and communities. The patient’s health is critical. Empowerment of people who want to pursue an improvement in their life is necessary.

There are best practices in recovery, such as in the UK. Instead of focusing primarily on reducing harm, we aim at reducing the prevalence of drug use as a primary purpose, stated a UK official. We must focus on abstinence and recovery instead of reducing drug-related harm only. We must invest in support services for friends and families of addicts. This can also motivate others. We urge the need for acknowledging the abstinence goal, we must strengthen the evidence base and involve families and friends, member states should develop policies that include prevention, treatment, law enforcement, recovery and harm reduction for healthy policies for all.

South Asia: regional issues and concerns – Pubudu Sumanasekera

We have concluded the consultation from South Asia. We discussed and agreed that we need a comprehensive approach in South Asia, including youth. We should acknowledge that people have the right to be free from drugs. Many organisations presented their ideas on what they want for UNGASS 2016. We agreed to share experiences and expertise in the field.

Latin America and the Caribbean: regional issues and concerns

Pablog Symerman & Margarita Maria Sanchez Villegas – We will summarise some of the conclusions and challenges of the report which was released a few days ago. Latin America has played an important role in the call to review drug policies, and held a critical view on the current system. This is characterised in Latin America with high poverty rates, violence,corruption. the result has been an increase in violence, human rights violations, prison overload, lack of services for drug users, stigma and discrimination for those involved in drug markets. We want to share recommendations made by CSOs from the region. The aim of the document is to make sure that the debate is informed through enough contributions of different representatives in the region. We systematised feedback based on the five thematic areas of the UNGASS. We used the Civil Society Survey as a tool, 243 organisations responded to that survey. Numerous regional and thematic consultations were also conducted, resulting in declarations, mandates, recommendations and contributions. Interviews with key stakeholders and affected populations where conducted.

We will now summarise the main issues highlighted: the greatest challenge lies on exercising autonomy in drug policy to respond to the realities of the countries in the region. It is necessary to review the drug conventions as they have failed to meet their objectives and have had collateral damage. We should move forward to a new paradigm and renewed concepts. We must reduce violence and abolish control militarisation We must decriminalise vulnerable groups. We must respect the right of people to choose their lifestyle and actions. We must recognised the use of traditional plants. We must take into account the structural, political and social causes of drug use, production and trafficking. We must redistribute resources. Policies that have had collateral effects must be monitored, evaluated and reviewed. We must adjust indicators that measure the success and failure of drug policies. Governments should retain their autonomy to implement drug market regulation and harm reduction without retaliation from the international community. We must involve affected groups in the design and implementation of drug policies. We must renew the role of UN drug agencies.

Regarding health and drugs – improve the right to health of people who use drugs and strengthen health systems, improve access to harm reduction services, guarantee voluntary care for drug users and diversity in comprehensive care approaches, reduce stigma and discrimination, develop new alternatives for prevention and care, access to HIV and TB prevention and care.

Drugs and crime – Decriminalisation of drug consumption, reinforcement f social policies,ensure principles of legality, innocence, proportionality and minimal use of prisons, impede a discretional application of laws, find alternatives to imprisonment and improve prison conditions.

Drugs and human rights – create mechanisms of monitoring on rights violations, social inclusion approaches to drug policies, fulfil the obligations of the states with regards to human rights over the UN drug control conventions, mechanisms of observance of human rights should be implemented, need for the active participation of vulnerable groups.

Drugs and development – advance policies based on sustainable development, fostering alternative and farmer economies, advance the regulation of cannabis, poppy and the coca leaf. Advance skills building for rural communities, research and transfer knowledge on plant properties and the exploration of their virtues, advance decriminalisation and destigmatisation of farmers and indigenous and afro-descendent cultivators.

Intervention from Mexico

We welcome the work of the CSTF hope that this participation will be reflected within the UNGASS. We will listen to your important contribution. I have a question around farmers – are they included in this process?

Response from Pien Metaal

We are trying to get mixed delegations that consider traditional uses, indigenous populations, we focus on the three plants prohibited by the UN drug conventions so we don’t focus on other psychoactive plants. We focus on coca, cannabis and opium poppy. We try to get regional, cultivation-type, gender, indigenous representation.

Intervention from Katherine Pettus 

These reports are incredibly useful for NGOs that focus on one specific issue. I was particularly interested in opium poppy for traditional use, not just traditionally medicinal purposes as imposed in the conventions.

Intervention from Peru

It is very important for CSOs to contribute, and to hear about different topics: prevention, access to essential medicines, regional issues. One of the proposals was about to modify the conventions. For us, the ultimate goal was to ensure the health and welfare of societies. We understand that the onus has been, in the past, on law enforcement. We are now addressing this through a balanced approach in the implementation of the conventions. I think that to say that the conventions should be modified is too simplistic. What we should do is to implement the conventions in a more balanced manner. We have learned what is working and what is not. We need a strong involvement of communities, but also need the rule of law to be upheld, in particular for alternative development. We need a very strong security focus, we cannot only focus on development. I invite you to visit our very successful development measures in Peru and look forward to share with you.

Part 2 – Update on procedural developments

Elisa Rubini, Vice-Chair of the CSTF

We want to brief you on plans going forward, and what we did so far. We have launched a survey for the UNGASS in several languages and we are now compiling the conclusions of the survey and regional consultations to feed into the UNGASS. We have some interesting insights from the Russian, Spanish and French inputs.

Allan Clear, Treasurer of the CSTF

The presentations today were some of the highlights we got so far. Now we see some interesting trends from inputs in other languages, which include incrased access to treatment, including OST for Russian inputs. There is also a lot of talk around trafficking and micro-trafficking, including not putting micro-traffickers in prison. Another common issue is that for prevention and protection of young people. The Spanish-speaking respondents discussed strongly the issue of farmers and drug users.

Elisa Rubini

Some of the regional consultations are still going on. We will also have an interactive civil society dialogue on 10th February 2016. The CSTF has been tasked to facilitate CSO participation at the UNGASS. We thought this dialogue would be a good opportunity to offer a footmark on civil society participation. It will be a platform for an open debate. This debate will be under the hospices of the PGA. We are closely working with the office of the PGA and UNDESA is working on the format of the event. we are also working closely with UNDESA to publish a call for NGO speakers at the event, and be selected under certain criteria to allow the diversity of civil society inputs in this dialogue.

Allan Clear

We wanted to reflect the UNGASS themes as much as possible. We will have one roundtable on health, and another on human rights, new developments within the field of drugs globally (NPS, HIV, etc.) and development. In the opening, we will have presentations from the PGA, Amb Shamaa, UNODC ED and Esbjorn and Heather. We are expecting 3 or 4 interventions by CSOs and 3-4 presentations from member states.  We will also allow time for the debate.

Elisa Rubini

The idea of having this interactive dialogue in NY is because we wanted to complement the efforts already being done in Vienna. The CSTF is a product of the VNGOC and the NYNGOC and we wanted to reflect that. But we also want to reflect NGOs from the grassroots globally, as well as key thematic areas and examples of what works and what doesn’t.

Heather Haase

A form of these dialogues was held at the margins of some meetings on migration and other areas, but this is the first time this is happening on the drugs issue.

Ambassador Shamaa, chair of the UNGASS Board

I want to thank the CSTF, and it is a pleasure to be here. I want to thank the chair of the CSTF, who has been working tirelessly in promoting the voice of NGOs in the UNGASS preparations. The Board welcomes your contributions. The meaningful participation of NGOs is very important to the CND and the UNGASS Board. This is something that we have been encouraging, to make sure that contributions are posted online. I don’t need to emphasise the need to have inputs from NGOs working in the grassroots level, in particular in developing countries. We have so far over 30 NGO contributions on our website. A number of special events are being organised this week by member states and NGOs that are of interest for the international community. I also need to stress that the UNGASS Board welcomes any additional inputs, especially for those organisations that have not yet been able to provide their inputs. It is all about hearing civil society and the February event will be useful. I want to thank you once again for your dedication in preparing a successful UNGASS meeting and for this event.

Esbjorn Hornberg

From our side, we will really help to promote the voice of civil society from the ground. We will take people from the global south to NY to showcase what is working and what is not. We will publish all the report, but if you want the regional reports, we have several available here. We will see each other more, in Vienna during the CND in March, and we will then meet you in NY in April.

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