Informal dialogue with UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov

Photo by Oriol Esculies
Photo by Oriol Esculies

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. I welcome the work of the VNGOC and the CSTF. You have done useful preparations for the UNGASS. This dialogue is a useful tradition. The voice of NGOs is important.

Active participation of NGOs, CSO representatives for an inclusive UNGASS preparatory process is important. 35 side events are organised by NGOs and we had the CSTF briefing for member states. We will also launch the Marketplace initiative this afternoon. NGOs will also be involved in side events and in the debate.

NGOs are key partners for prevention, harm reduction, treatment, social integration and alternative development. We supported 85 NGOs in 46 countries in 2012 to realise prevention activities empowering young people. We also provided grants for NGOs for HIV prevention and care, deliver HIV and hep C treatment services. NGOs have contributed to NGO technical assistance in the Mekong sub-region. We also worked with them to increase access to controlled medicines for medical purposes. And we hope that this partnership will continue to grow from strength to strength.

I have very little time but will try to respond to as many questions as possible.

Esbjorn, VNGOC. We will now go to questions sent in advance. We will focus first on alternatives to incarceration.

Gloria Lai, IDPC. We want to seek clarification around alternatives to incarceration – activities or circumstances under which UNODC is recommending alternatives to incarceration.

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. We recommend that states use non-custodial measures to reduce overcrowding. We must implement the conventions in a flexible way as they provide for alternatives for minor offences such as possession for personal consumption. It makes no sense to put people in jail, there are other means. We will continue to promote the policy of non-custodial measures for minor offences.

ECAD. Our experience from the alcohol field is that the concept of harms to others is important. Harms of use relate to others too. We want your opinion on how harms to others can be included as a concept for UNGASS. We also want to ask about prevalence of drug use – 90% of the population don’t use drugs.  Your data on prevalence of drug use is important. How can we use this prevalence figure be included in the UNGASS outcome document.

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. I agree there should be a more inclusive approach to the health aspects of the world drug problem and this should not be limited to medication and treatment. We work with many partners including government agencies who have been very vocal in trying to address the world drug problem, as well as WHO. Since 2009, the UNODC/WHO programme created guidelines on how to reduce opioid mortality. The most recent edition is the international standards for treatment. We’ve just launched it. This is a draft we will test on the ground and we will see what impact it will have in practical terms. We will then update and finalise it. We are one of the 10 co sponsors of UNAIDS to deal with HIV among PWUD and in prison settings and we will continue to work in this regard.

The second question is also very interesting – although we’re concerned with the challenges of the world drug problem we need to build our response on positive experience, including the fact that despite shortcomings the number of users is not tremendously increasing. We have another opportunity – the SDGs just adopted by the UN. Targets 3.5 is critical. We have to do this jointly with WHO and other relevant partners. Prevention is another important area and we must dedicate more resources on prevention – we need more financial support. Finally, advocacy campaigns are also important and we count on your support in this matter.

Esbjorn, VNGOC. Under category 2 on proportionality of sentencing.

Gloria Lai, IDPC. We want to ask UNODC in its work in collaboration with governments in countries that retain the death penalty for drug offences – how will you ensure that the death penalty is not applied?

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. Our position is based on resolutions of the UNGA that call for the abolition of the death penalty or to see it in exceptional cases related to most serious crimes. My position is also very clear. I believe that the death penalty is not supported by any of the UN conventions on drug control. We also have no evidence that the death penalty can change the situation in a country. And thirdly, the use of death penalty can jeopardise international cooperation and coordination of efforts to face the world drug problem. That’s why, in my personal contribution to the UNGASS which was distributed as a Conference Room paper, I put this position clearly. We must exercise restraint and establish a moratorium on the death penalty. In practical terms we discuss this issue with relevant governments, sometimes we have glimpses of hope and sometimes not, but we will keep working.

LEAP. The treaties have been in effect for 55 years. I want to know whether the UNODC has done a comprehensive study to determine if its policies of prohibition with markets controlled by criminals are better than legal markets to reach the goal of reducing death, criminality and use.

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. The conventions are not about prohibition but about drug control, to limit use to medical and scientific purposes. These provisions are fully implemented and should not be restrained by national legislation – people should access relevant medications. UNODC publishes every year its world drug reports which include trends, figures and statistics, spread of drugs in different regions, one variety of drugs in one area and other, changes in trends in consumption and production with successes in one area sometimes linked to increases in others. We must decrease the use of drugs to mitigate the harmful effects of drugs in another area.

Esbjorn, VNGOC. We now turn to category 3. When it comes to the impact of drug policies on women, WOLA or IDPC.

Gloria Lai, IDPC/WOLA. Women are being incarcerated for drug offences at an alarming rate. This has little impact on the trade but has significant impacts on their lives and that of their families.

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. I just referred to my contribution to the UNGASS which includes a gender component. We are aware of the issue. Available data suggests that women are being used as couriers and transporters for small amounts of money. Whatever the approach, the Bangkok Rules should be fully applied to support women in prison. But the best way to consider is whether these offences could be considered as minor offences, in this case they could be dealt with in a non-custodial way.

CADCA. I asked for your considerations on community-wide strategies to address the drug problem. Programmes are important but do not solve the problem by themselves. I would like to ask UNODC how to provide prevention to the whole society.

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. I pay tribute to your work in the area of prevention, which does not only include health, but also social work. When it is done, it is informed with positive experience, for example in the Balkans. But we are not satisfied with the scope of the work, we need to do more. Recently, when UNODC for the first time invited member states highlighted prevention as a key priority. We provide guidance to member states, including our international guidelines on prevention, although we understand that it is general and should be adapted to the specificities of each region. There is a broader consent on the need to do prevention. It is less expensive than treatment. But we must face budget restrictions and austerity.

Uganda NGO. From my last 4 days here, a lot of interventions have been shared by UNODC in terms of prevention and treatment tools. My question is – how can we use the UNGASS to help disseminate these good practices so that people can take these good practices home and do more prevention?

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. We try to highlight this issue of prevention in the forthcoming UNGASS. We are planning an event with Sweden and France. Sweden will be presented by Queen Silvia. We invite you all to join us. Side events in NY will be different from those here. We will have more than 20 presidents, ministers, etc. at the opening, as well as roundtables, and UN high level officials including the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many will discuss the issue of prevention. But UNGASS itself is not a destination, it marks the way to 2019 and the review of the political declaration and plan of action. These events should be used meaningfully.

Gloria Lai, IDPC. Seek clarity on whether UNODC supports the recommendations from WHO and UNAIDS to remove criminal penalties for possession for personal use – also known as decriminalisation.

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. I discussed this already. Drug use is not criminalised in the conventions. What is criminalised is possession, cultivation, sale. Possession for personal use can be considered as a minor offence that should be dealt without putting people in jail. There are other measures provided for by the conventions as alternatives to incarceration – it is the best way. Incarceration for minor offences makes no sense because it does not help people to recover, it creates more problems for health and criminal behaviour and it creates problems for the criminal justice system with overcrowding. Another important factor is  that when minor criminals (who represent the majority of the prison population in many places) are held with high level criminals, they become an easy prey for recruitment. We should prevent this. I hope this trend will continue to develop in a positive way, and this is fully in line with the provisions of the drug control conventions.

ECAD. The UNGASS doc is very good as it is now, it has good formulations. It is interesting and a high level text. But if you are an ordinary citizen, we need more idea that will mobilise people – why don’t we say we will mobilise 1 million people behind prevention?

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. Thank you for the tip. Prevention is not well understood among people. At UNODC we try to translate this language via practical programmes on the ground. We work very hard with local governments, NGOs and other stakeholders to translate the provisions of the resolutions into practical steps. If people see changes in practical terms, they will change their mind. For now, the culture of an organisation is driven by donor contributions so the more we can deliver, the more we can get.

Dave Borden, StoptheDrugWar.org. I have a question on the death penalty. I appreciate your strong words against the use of the death penalty for drug offences. In 2012 guidance was published by UNODC, with UNODC having no choice than to withdraw support to countries using the death penalty for drug offences. Yet, UNODC continues to provide millions of dollars to Iran which is a lead country in executing non-violent drug offenders. Has UNODC made requests for guarantees to seize executions for drug-related offences and have high level interventions been made in this regard? If not, when will that be done towards Iran and others? Is there political will to follow through on this issue?

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. Two points – we are addressing this issue with the Iranian delegation with the Minister of Interior and head of the Anti-Narcotics Board. The Iranian position is that there are signs of hope – they are prepared to discuss the issue, and they let us know that there are discussions in their Parliament to change legislation. We will follow this matter closely. Secondly, we do little assistance with law enforcement agencies in Iran. We support other parts – recovery treatment, rehab. Iran does a lot of efforts with NGOs to support harm reduction because for them it is a real issue, it is a national catastrophe (drug addiction). UNODC supports this by all means.  We have donors funding these programmes in Iran.

Dave Borden, StoptheDrugWar.org. How much is going to law enforcement and to other programmes?

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. We do very little in law enforcement. We cooperate and coordinate efforts to prevent illicit drug trafficking.

Esbjorn, VNGOC. The CSTF has one representative in Iran who conducted regional consultations in Tehran with UNODC and attended by the government, and they say that the support comes to harm reduction and treatment centres – and this is very important. They have another side event, if you would like to know more on the situation of Iran, get in touch with the regional representative for the CSTF for Central Asia. Can we now take a question from the Caucasus? Nobody is there so we move to Scott from OSF.

Scott Bernstein, OSF. Yesterday at a side event, civil society statement was discounted although it was signed by over 200 NGOs, worrying on the inclusiveness of the process for the outcome document. It raises concerns on the fact that many member states are not represented in Vienna, the fact that many statements from UN agencies, CSOs and states were not reflected in the draft outcome document. Other concerns were that all negotiations are done behind closed doors where NGOs are not allowed in – it raises questions on transparency and openness. What are your thoughts on the inclusiveness and openness of the process on the UNAGSS outcome document? What are steps taken by UNODC to ensure that not only NGOs have a real impact in the content of the UNGASS but also that member states are given opportunities to have their inputs considered seriously in the outcome document?

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. It is an issue you need to discuss with member states – it is driven by then. From my personal UN experience, I can say we are facing one of the most transparent processes of negotiations of UN documents. But this time, the consultations on the draft have been preceded by a number of events in NY and Geneva with participation from member states and NGOs. Some member states cannot engage in Vienna but we held conferences with them. CND is a functional commission of ECOSOC with limited membership. Recently, many delegations were supported by colleagues including from NY. We also had events in NY with delegates, and I didn’t see much difference in the positions from governments here and NY. But they benefited from a number of inputs from CSOs, international organisations, etc. The UNGASS website includes a compilation of a number of contributions. But the process is very sensitive – no one asked to put the paper to vote. All are trying hard to have a consensus document which is the best to ensure universal support for the document. I urge that member states conclude the document before the end of the CND Session as there is no other way the UNGASS will provide for a tool to continue the negotiations. We expect a high level meeting with participation from many heads of states discussing priorities of drug policy. This is fully understood by those participating in the discussion. They are aware of the positions taken by NGOs but they have their own positions too. They are struggling for the best outcomes they can have. Yesterday they suspended the negotiations at 11pm and progress has been made.

Esbjorn, VNGOC. This is a challenge for CSOs and VNGOC. We have had this as a challenge for a long time – how to ensure that NGOs have a dialogue with their national governments to share best practices and ensure that this is reflected in governments’ positions. It is one thing to meet them in Vienna, Geneva and NY, but it is another thing to meet them back home. We need to find a way to empower our membership to impact on real issues back home.

Katherine Pettus, IAHPC. I have a brief question about balance in the World Drug Report to include the issue of access to controlled medicines in the next report.

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. We did this in 2014. I don’t think there has been tremendous change before then. We can try and do this for next time.

Kevin Sabet, Drug Policy Futures. I thank you for all your work and support here, and for helping us get statements from the floor. I also emphasize the diversity of NGOs here, we have some agreements on prevention, treatment, evidence. But we also have some differences – harm reduction for the purpose of recovery as my organisation and WFAD. My question is about the WHO report on cannabis and recent laws on cannabis around the world. INCB has the mandate in the treaties. But here considering WHO has a report on this issue, what are the steps to share the report conclusions to governments that receive conflicted info on the issue.

Yury Fedotov, UNODC. This is an interesting report and WHO was not able to organise a side event, but the report will be shared at the UNGASS and be available to all member states. It will hopefully inform the debates at UNGASS and other forums. It is an important contribution to the preparatory process. I now have to go to CND which is still on. My colleagues will stay here with you to answer any remaining issues.

Radio Journalist from Sydney, supporting Drug Free Australia. I thank you for the opportunity to come here, it is my first experience and it is an amazing experience. I have heard my colleagues’ remarks on UN language. I have found that colleagues have an amazing ability to explain their positions. Participating and listening to stories from other regions is very interesting. Australia is at the top of the list on illicit drug use. I commend our people here today for their work. My question follows up on the distance issue – for those coming from other places may consider this to be European centric. I am pleased about that, there is some history, powerhouse activities happening for many years. But I take my colleagues’ comments from Kenya with information from some countries about drugs that are yet to be fully revealed. I encourage this organisation to look at ways to disseminate and communicate with some of the countries that don’t have the resources the rest of us do. I encourage the group to take the coms and involvement issues to other less resourced countries. Thanks for this wonderful opportunity.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC. Thank you for this interesting question Yesterday we were at a meeting with UNU and Switzerland, at which I alluded to the issue of data and information in Afghanistan. The 1.8 million addicts there are a huge challenge. They are victims of warfare and vulnerabilities of addiction. It is hard to tell them that this is an individual choice they can see through and that they could go to treatment – this is simply not available. You cannot forget either that Afghanistan does not stand by itself. Many countries have multiple health challenges – so how can they make this issue a priority over others? We are working with WHO to strengthen that framework. I fully sympathise with your statement.

Uganda NGO. The UNGASS is approaching and the number of people coming from Africa and other low-income countries is coming down. How can some of these NGOs be supported to attend UNGASS and similar events?

Aldo Lale-Demoz, UNODC. We introduced a draft for field testing. There are a number of countries and communities willing to receive treatment but are unable to do so. I made a plea to make and we will do this every day. National and international resources have to play a role.

Dave Borden, StoptheDrugWar.org. Director Fedotov characterised UNODC’s support to Iran as only focusing on harm reduction – we commend that. However, UNODC has published work in Iran and  a wide variety of enforcement programmes were also supported which may well have led to the arrest, incarceration and execution of drug offenders. My question is – are some or all of these programmes ongoing whether or not they make up a significant proportion of funding. And if so, at what point UNODC may consider freezing this type of assistance if dialogue does not work?

Aldo Lale-Demoz, UNODC. My response is telegraphic as I have to go. I want to make a plea to not characterise our involvement in Iran as such. We are injecting international best practice on law enforcement with cooperation between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan – this is what we want to instil on international law enforcement cooperation.  When we do programmes in these countries we do a risk assessment in terms of human rights. A few donors who fund these programmes have a very strong interest in human rights. Most of the projects you mentioned are no longer ongoing. UNODC has made strong statements on the death penalty. We don’t have a check book, we use money from member states and have a lot of concerns on human rights.

Esbjorn, VNGOC. We had a lot of regional consultations among NGOs and the consensus was clear on the abolition of the death penalty.

Judy Chang, WIHRN. What are the plans for UNODC to scale down compulsory drug detention centres which are incubators for diseases and are known for abusive practices, as recommended by the UN joint statement in 2012.

Gilberto Gerra, UNODC. Before this statement we released “From coercion to cohesion” which made it clear that compulsory detention was against health and human rights. You can see this document on our website. In the same document, we also start mentioning no conviction for drug users. We continue to underline that we should do nothing less for this disease than for other diseases – this is a position we take with WHO. We also have an interesting dialogue with countries still using this approach. The mentality on this issue is changing. One of the countries interested said they had 760 services in the community and showed how they were moving away from this approach.

Doug (?). Health needs a broader place in drug policy. For us, it is a welcome development. I work on non-communicable diseases in the context of Nepal. But health can be defined in different ways. The importance of such interventions should not be underestimated. The public health approach offers a broader focus. How can UNGASS and UNODC benefit from the competence of WHO on health approaches towards tobacco and illicit drugs?

Gilberto Gerra, UNODC. We started cooperation with WHO in 2009. We are a very strong, mixed team, oriented on the public health approach. I want to mention another event on the 3rd day of UNGASS at lunch with the USA on the public health and recovery approach to drugs. We are proposing starting from antibiotics for a poor man in a freezing country – you start from saving lives of people from HIV, cold, hunger. And then you focus on treatment, and then aftercare. It is a full spectrum. The focus is on health, but also well-being and social reintegration.

Mirella, UNODC. I want to discuss the VNGOC/UNODC event on the Marketplace platform. It will be an Ebay/Facebook platform for NGOs working on drug policy to get in touch with one another.

Esjborn, VNGOC. For those who missed the meeting with the INCB, you will need to come to the dialogue tomorrow, 2pm.

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