Informal NGO Dialogue of the UNODC Executive Director, Yuri Fedotov

Esbjorn Hornberg: This is an informal dialogue but we already have all the questions as we had to prepare beforehand. We have grouped the questions into different sections, and will start with a few to Mr Fedotov and then the remainder to UNODC senior management as Mr Fedotov needs to leave early.

Fedotov: I want to say welcome to all of you. I am impressed with the high level of engagement by member states and also CSOs. I need to leave early, but Aldo Lale-Demoz and Jean-Luc Lemahieu will stay on to answer remaining questions. I also want to mention our MOU with the VNGOC; we need you, we need civil society. Sometimes it is a hostile environment with basic sanitary conditions but despite hardships, civil society are working hard to support and provide services. Let me assure you I will continue to do all my best to support meaning participation of civil society.

Esbjorn: I know that civil society feel that we are being treated as the important partner that we are. We now turn to the questions, and invite the organisations to ask the questions.

Jan Stola, YODA: what is the criteria of youth participation in youth civil society here and can they participate if they don’t meet criteria?

Penny Hill, Harm Reduction Australia, Youth RISE: in future, can we have youth representatives in the NYNGOC and VNGOC and can you suggest further opportunities for youth to engage?

Fedotov: I have to say at the outset that when youth came to welcome delegates to CND, it was highly appreciated by member states. They told me it was a very good move. First of all I want to stress the youth initiative is to support youth engaged in prevention and promoting health, and we provide a small grants programme for youth. The way we select youth to participate in the forum is open and transparent. We asked all member states to nominate youth that can communicate in English and are engaged in prevention and promoting health. I don’t see any problem in youth engaging in NYNGOC and VNGOC and I see many youth organisations are ECOSOC registered and participate in CND. If you need any further support, please let us know.

European Drug Policy Institute (read by Katherine Pettus): Could UNODC consider implementing the following recommendations:

  • Request UNODC leadership (Executive Director) to take appropriate directives obliging UNODC regional and country offices to make sure that civil society sector is closely consulted and their views are taken into account when UNODC develops regional/country strategic programme frameworks and specific projects at the stage of development and approval.
  • Initiate advisory boards/committees for each UNODC regional/country office that would comprise of the representatives of the non-governmental organizations and provide a forum to support UNODC activities in the region/country.
  • Include specific chapters on cooperation with the civil sector in the UNODC field office quarterly, semi-annual and annual reporting formats.

Fedotov: it might be different from region to region, but CSOs are consulted during the designing phase of UNODC regional and country plans. All UNODC evaluations include internal and external stakeholders, national organisations as well as civil society. We have an independent evaluation unit that evaluates global and country programmes. These reports published by the evaluation unit covers projects and programmes, and that is an opportunity to get objective information and to make a judgment on the continuation of those projects, and we will continue to do so in future.

Lucia Governa, Dianova International: How can the civil society better contribute to the work of UNODC and to the goals set in the Agenda 2030? How does the Post-UNGASS 2016 feed into the wider discussion of the United Nations sustainable development goals? The discussion seems to focus on the harms associated with current regimes (crime, corruption, health etc.) and although these are important items to consider, is there a scope to explore wider societal issues?

Fedotov: Civil society are an indispensable partner to achieve SDGs. We cannot succeed in achieving our mandate without the support and partnership of civil society. It is clear that the effective implementation of the SDGs depends on local efforts from many entities including civil society. Of course, SDGs not only SDG 16 but many others provide guidance for UNODC, the SDGs relating to health, rule of law, trafficking. Without your support, dedication and zeal of many NGOs in developing countries in particular, it would be very hard for us to provide assistance. We need you. Without you we cannot really achieve good results in implementing sustainable development agenda. We work with our partners to support role of civil society to achieve this ambitious agenda of SDGs.

Michael Kravitz, Veterans for medical cannabis access: One of the earliest observations we made in the field while working on medical marijuana access at the state level inside the USA was an opioid sparing effect that is patients reporting taking less pain pills while using cannabis as medicine. Statistical associations have now emerged inside USA between medicinal cannabis access and lower overdose rates and less reliance on use of opioids according to Medicare. Has the UNODC ever taken a position on the relationship(s) between cannabis access and opioid use/abuse?

Fedotov: UNODC supports member states in implementation of conventions. Under 1961 convention, medical cannabis is not contrary to it. With poly-drug use, we are trying to study this and report on it for example in the world drug report. We are following the scientific studies very closely. UNODC’s own experts tell me that we don’t have enough information to take a position right now and we continue to follow this issue.

Esbjorn: The next question is on decriminalisation and proportionality.

Fedotov: this is my favourite question.

Marie Nougier, International Drug Policy Consortium: The UNODC has recently made some statements and declarations in support of decriminalisation and proportionality of sentencing. Would you be willing to draft a written statement that unequivocally supports both decriminalisation of drug use and proportionality of sentencing for drug offences and provide detailed guidelines as to how these two policy options translate in practice? Secondly, what will UNODC do to promote evidence-based understanding about drugs and the impacts of their use, in order to assist member states in developing drug policies based on rational, scientific evidence rather than hysteria and moral crusading?

Fedotov: UNODC has always supported proportionality in sentencing in line with drug control conventions, not only with drug offences, eg. we have the minimum standards on non-custodial measures, in 2010 UNODC published From coercion to cohesion to emphasise that people who use drugs need treatment not punishment, the UNGASS outcome document and the recent INCB report also reiterates proportionality. Also, the INCB tomorrow will have a side event on proportionality and I will make a statement on the UNODC position there. Also, we are making practical efforts in offering support to member states to put into practice proportionality. This idea of proportionality is gaining momentum for two reasons: protecting human rights and rule of law, and also decrease of criminality. Many countries are seriously concerned that prisons everywhere are overcrowded and most prisoners are held for minor drug-related offences for the first time. When they are contained in close quarters with hard-core and violent criminals there is a serious risk of recruitment and radicalisation. UNODC is working to address these risks in prison. I hope these trends will be more visible in future. We have a chance to move forward on this in implementing the UNGASS outcome document.

Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform, Australia: Does the prescription of heroin save and improve quality of lives?

Gilberto Gerra: Prescription of heroin is definitely in line with the conventions. In a situation where patients are not responding to psychosocial interventions etc, sometimes the medical service providers then give up on their clients. Prescription heroin is one way of keeping the client in a service. If you check the people at risk of HIV and Hep C, those who inject drugs, those who remain in treatment have a lower risk of HIV and Hep C. John Strang of King’s College is doing prescription of heroin and his clients are people who have a long history of drug use, some go back to methadone and possibly starting a recovery response and this was possible because he didn’t lose the client.

ENCOD: Are there any plans to boost HR among refugees? This is much a more delicate matter as ‘ordinary’ PUD’s- refugees are hiding their problems with substances of any kind being afraid to be deported out from Europe. Are there any plans how to reach this affected groups?

Aldo Lale-Demoz: As global coordinator for HIV, we are inundated with requests for harm reduction to meet SDG targets. We are not in a position to extend these essential services for refugees. We are in desperate need for funding, and you are in a special position to advocate for us with donors to help provide these services for people in need, especially those in prison. Gilberto, have you come across requests in regards to refugees?

Gerra: IOM is working on services for refugees. Protection of families is essential for refugees in their difficult environment.

FORUT: I want to introduce the concept of ‘affected populations,’ which was mentioned in the UNGASS outcome document, but limited to producers and users of drugs. The voices of innocent people suffering from other peoples’ drug use, particularly alcohol were not heard at all. How can voices of affected children, spouses and parents also be heard in the post-UNGASS process? 

San Patrignano Foundation: how can UNODC urge member states to implemention drug conventions which already pay a lot of attention to drug users, and to not punish them, in accordance with human rights charter as well, to support them so that they can be rehabilitated and return to society. Fedotov answered already but do any of you want to add?

Aldo: in terms of what we are doing on human rights, we are doing a lot. 88% of our budget is devoted to providing technical assistance to regional and country offices. We don’t miss a single opportunity to make use of the UNOGASS recommendations to remind everyone that the best way to deal with drug use is not in the criminal justice system, is is in the health system. When it comes to HIV, developing national HIV responses, it is common to work with people who inject drugs. With WHO, we are collecting evidence on how best to deal with this in the health and not criminal justice sector. Same with proportionality. We are doing a great deal to implement these consensus recommendations.

Gilberto: on Monday, we were in this room, it was overcrowded, about treatment and my message was simple: no prison for drug users and there should be complete alternative to punishment, they should not be going through criminal justice system. Also, people who commit minor crimes, eg. small drug dealers, should also have opportunities to access alternatives. There is a tremendous open door for us to pursue this.

Help Not Handcuffs (read by Katherine Pettus): How will UNODC work and empower and allocate resources to people and organizations which have suffered institutional violence due to drug enforcement?

Gilberto: we have total loyalty to the human rights charter of the UN. It is the entire mobilization of UNODC together with WHO to provide social protections, to reach people on the streets. This is one of the things we are trying to change, along with eliminating stigma and discrimination. When a police officer arrests a user, inappropriate behavior could be driven by stigma and this needs to change. I have done a lot of training for law enforcement, and we discuss with them whether they are different when they arrest a user and when they arrest someone with schizophrenia. They admitted they are different. But drug dependence is a chronic multi-factorial disorder and it needs to be treated as such.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu: we see less funding for criminal justice compared with 10 years ago. The linkages between criminal justice and drugs are closing in.

Aldo Lale-Demoz: UNODC works on this issue in the field of alternative development, where we can bring peasant farmers who have endured violence from multiple factors into alternative development programmes, and in the context of HIV, we have been organizing training workshops to enable people who inject drugs to meet with police and law enforcement authorities. Two years ago in Amsterdam, I saw people who inject drugs say that it was the first time they have a decent conversation with police. UNODC programmes do involve the views of affected populations.

Dianova International: how are the activities for 26 June selected and can they involve civil society, as this can help with dissemination?

Jean-Luc Lemahieu: it has been an internal process so far. We have had discussions with multiple units, including the advocacy unity which gauges what is appropriate in the context of current drug policy discussions. We also involve the NY office as we invite the UN Secretary-General to make a statement. We work out the themes in a practical and operational manner. Your activities are welcome and we can do our best to reflect them on our website and our social theme mechanisms, so let us know what you are doing and we will do our best to incorporate it.

Gilberto: on the suggested theme for the UNODC, I suggest ‘listen first, before speaking’, listen to children and those who are affected. This shows that you are genuinely caring.

Esbjorn: Thank you, we are running out of time. I am sorry we are running out of questions. But if you feel that you couldn’t ask a question, we did send out a request for questions in February. We will evaluate this process for the next CND and see if we can do it in another way. I am thankful to UNODC for coming here and the the possibility to have our questions answered by the executive director and senior management.

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