Home » Side event: The EU Common Position on the UNGASS

Side event: The EU Common Position on the UNGASS

Side event organised by the European Union

HE Mr. Didier Lenoir – We see the UNGASS as an important opportunity to address the world drug problem, assess what works and what doesn’t, and offer recommendations to address the problem. The UN is obviously a key forum to address the issue as the drugs issue is a complex global problem. This is the reason why we wanted to organise this event to exchange views on next steps. The EU common position was elaborated through an inclusive process including all EU member states, the EMCDDA, Europol and civil society. It tries to address all issues on the world drug problem, via a balanced, evidence based, comprehensive and integrated approach.

  • Regarding the framework, we want to reiterate our commitment to the 3 UN drug convention, which allows for enough flexibility.
  • We should be flexible in implementing this framework, based on evidence, experience shows that access to research, monitoring and evaluation are critical to our approach. We need a targeted prevention strategy applied to specific groups. We must be ready to face new challenges, including trafficking and NPS.
  • We should respect a number of principles – in particular respect for human rights. We therefore call for the abolition of the death penalty, proportionate sentencing and alternatives to incarceration. We should be clear on the objectives of drug control – the health and welfare of humankind, including risk and harm reduction, prevention, early detection and treatment and care as well as social rehabilitation and care. This also includes improving access to essential medicines. We must promote alternative development.
  • We must manage the drug problem in an efficient way, and this should involve civil society and the scientific community in the implementation of drug policy at all levels. We must ensure coordinated programmes to ensure an appropriate response to the complex issue of drugs. The SDG Agenda should address the issue of drug policy.


HE Mr. Camille Weis, Luxembourg – Human rights are at the heart of the UN Charter. All UN member states and bodies are bound by the principles of human rights. We must acknowledge that serious gaps remain, and drug control continues to be implemented in violation of human rights – extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention, denial of healthcare and services. The UN drug conventions aim to protect the health and welfare of mankind. Human rights cut across all different pillars of drug policy.

One key principle for the EU is the abolition of the death penalty. 33 countries and territories apply capital punishment for drug offences. The EU has a principle opposition to the death penalty as a violation of international law as drug offences don’t meet the threshold of the most serious crimes as identified by UN human rights bodies. We must acknowledge that the death penalty fails to deter criminal behaviour and violates human dignity. I believe that discussions in Vienna, Geneva and NY on the death penalty show that there is an increased awareness to address the issue. UNGASS is a crucial opportunity to discuss this issue.

Comprehensive human rights legal instruments are also critical for criminal justice issues. I want to briefly mention the legal framework of member states which should provide alternatives to prison, as well as ensure proportionality of sentencing. UNGASS 2016 should reflect these issues in the outcome document.

The implementation of drug policy should include the abolition any practice not in line with dignity, the rule of law and human rights. Informed consent is essential to protect the health and welfare of humankind in the implementation of drug dependence treatment programmes. Member states must make sure that all persons involved in the drug trade do not see their human rights being violated. There is substantial room for improvement on this issue, in particular for drug users. A public health approach to drug policy fits with the EU position on drug policy.

We have to attach great importance on the role of CSOs in the elaboration and monitoring of drug policies, in particular on the protection of human rights. This is strongly linked to empowerment. We are committed to ensure that human rights protections are established for drug policy to protect the lives of millions of people.

HE Mr Marco Hennis, Netherlands – The EU and Netherlands have a long history of evidence on public health aspects. It is gaining interest from other member states. The EU can play a vital role in global discussions and guidance on recommendations. Public health is strongly reflected in the EU position for UNGASS. Demand reduction and harm reduction are key concepts – the aim is to prevent drug use, but also to reduce harms to individuals, communities and society. We emphasise that drug users should be people in need of attention, care and treatment, as well as social reintegration to end stigma and marginalisation. Human beings and healths should be at the centre of drug policy.

Law enforcement should focus on criminals, not drug users. We need to base policy on needs assessments. We should improve access to evidence-based prevention. All those in need of treatment, including offenders dependent on drugs, can access it, which will help reduce future illegal activities. Treatment should include medical and non-medical options tailored to the needs of users. Treatment should be accessible without discrimination to all members of society to guarantee that treatment is available and accessible. Governments should ensure access to risk and harm reduction as these services have proved their effectiveness at reducing drug related deaths and blood-borne infections. The guidance by WHO, UNODC and UNAIDS is crucial, providing clear guidance on how to design and implement interventions. I want to highlight OST as a proven intervention. We need a division of labour in Vienna – the HIV section of UNODC, or others. But there should also be collaboration with other UN agencies such as WHO.

Mr Danilo Ballotta, EMCDDA – The EMCDDA has been created to create a neutral and non-partisan view on drugs. The EU approach is one of the most humane, balanced and realistic evidence based policy in the world. I can offer some examples to justify this statement. It expressly mentioned evidence in its strategy. The position on the UNGASS mentions evidence 11 times. The EU is the only region that explicitly mentions risk and harm reduction as a key strategy alongside demand and supply. The EU aims to promote alternatives for drug using offenders, not just to incarceration, but also to coercive sanctions. The model promoted by Portugal is the most obvious example. But other examples exist. The reach of PWUD to evidence based treatment is the highest in the world, and imprisonment of drug offenders is also the lowest in the world. The abolition of the death penalty is mainly a European call.

At EMCDDA, we observe trends over time. We have seen progression from ideology towards evidence. This has been driven by policy initiatives in countries, and has led to an agreement that policies should be balanced and integrated, as well as evidence-based. We can trace back the beginning of these interventions to the end of the 1980s with the occurrence of HIV among people who use drugs. The EC then invested on objective data gathering, analysis and assessment. This led to the creation of an independent regional observatory, the EMCDDA. We discuss in an impartial, scientific way, the positions of the EU. The agreement and common understanding reached a technical level that influenced the political views and rhetoric on drug control at EU level. This led to a common understanding and position at EU level. Objective, reliable and constant data put on the table of decision makers has allowed decisions to be based on scientific arguments. This is thanks to this approach that it has allowed countries to accept policy options that would not have otherwise been supported.

From the UNGASS, we clearly see that there is a similar need to unify all regions of the world to get realistic, scientific and reliable impartial information on which to base drug policies. We have started this 20 years ago, and we still see the positive effect today. We need to rebalance drug policies between demand and supply. We have made this investment in Europe. UNGASS and the post-UNGASS process towards 2019 has practically arrived. The EU has a crucial role to bring evidence into the debate in this critical moment. Europe can help in this process.

Maria Phelan, chair of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs

Thank you to the Presidencies of Luxembourg, and the European Commission for giving the civil society forum the opportunity to speak today. We have been asked to talk about the importance civil society engagement in policy and programmatic processes including design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation. The importance of civil society involvement in international policy-making and decision-making processes is widely recognised and promoted as best practice.

Programmes that are planned, carried out and monitored by the communities they aim to serve are often the most effective. Similarly, those most keenly affected by policies and decisions made through multilateral processes tend to be those who bring the most informed and insightful contributions to the table. In this sense, non-governmental and community-based organisations are often well placed to help develop targeted and specific strategies and responses to drug issues. Civil society organisations have valuable, and often differing, opinions and perspectives from those of governments and multilateral bodies and there is agreement across multilateral agencies – at least in principle – that the meaningful and active involvement of civil society is integral to relevant and accurate policy and programmes.

The EU civil society forum on drugs, or CSF, was formed in 2007 and serves as a platform for informal exchange of views and information between the Commission and civil society but also provides input in the EU Council’s Horizontal Group on Drugs (HDG). Given that this side event is outlining the EU’s vision of UNGASS we thought it appropriate to take a few moments to outlines the CSF’s recommendations for UNGASS. Recently presented to the HDG these recommendations focus specifically on civil society participation, human rights and risk and harm reduction.

Recommendations on civil society participation at the UNGASS

  • The rules around civil society participation at the UNGASS should ensure that all civil society organisations wishing to participate are able to attend the Special Session, as is the case for regular sessions of the CND.
  • Civil society organisations should be invited to actively participate in all preparatory sessions of the UNGASS, and at the Special Session itself, and be allowed to engage in the debates using the UNGASS Special Segment in March 2015 as an example of best practice – where each panel included an NGO representative, and NGOs were able to make statements from the floor throughout the sessions, rather than using the more common practice of only allowing NGO representatives to take the floor at the end of the session if time allows.
  • The Civil Society Task Force should be fully recognised as the official NGO mechanism for engagement with the UN and member states on the UNGASS on drugs – and member states should commit to funding it. The Civil Society Task Force should be consulted to identify and recommend NGO speakers for UNGASS sessions.
  • Governments should support the organisation of the Civil Society Hearing which is set to take place in February 2016.

Recommendations on health for the UNGASS outcome document

  • Promote improved access to health interventions for those who need them, including access to evidence-based prevention, drug dependence treatment, risk and harm reduction services, and treatment for drug-related health harms (such as HIV, hepatitis, etc.). Services and interventions available should better address co-morbidities.
  • Allocate greater funding for prevention, risk and harm reduction, treatment and care, recovery and rehabilitation interventions.
  • Ensure greater access to drug demand reduction services for people in closed settings, including prisons.
  • Ensure the scaling up of demand reduction services, as well as the implementation of international quality standards for demand reduction.
  • Commit to ensuring adequate and affordable access to internationally controlled drugs for medical purposes, such as for pain relief, palliative care and other diseases like multiple sclerosis, etc.
  • Develop a new set of human rights indicators to measure the health outcomes of drug policy and WHO recommended programmes.


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