Roadmaps for 2019: The Brandenburg Forum on Drugs & Development

Organized by the Governments of Germany and the Netherlands, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Transnational Institute (TNI) and International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).

Chair: Roland Seeger, Alternate Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany: Welcomed speakers, especially those who also attended a side event in December following-up from the first Brandenburg Forum in 2016. The Brandenburg Forum was attended by member states, UN agencies and civil society organisations. We have an all-female panel today.

Sofia Krauss, Advisor, Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD): It is crucial for us to meet in an informal setting, to work towards our goals of comprehensive and balanced drug policies. We regard the UNGASS Outcome Document to be a progressive step forward, for a development oriented drug policy approach and links to the Sustainable Development Goals agenda. This is completely in line with the GIZ development approach which promotes integrated strategies. German drug policy has four pillars: prevention, counselling and treatment, harm reduction, and repression. We need to address the negative health and social consequences of drug use. We need to put more effort on strengthening the harm reduction approach at the international level. We are convinced that the international community cannot achieve the SDGs without providing harm reduction services to people who use drugs. We launched the GPDPD in 2015, led by GIZ under the auspices of the Federal Drug Commissioner. The partnership is led by GIZ but jointly implemented by UNODC, the Mae Lung Foundation, and IDPC and TNI – two of the leading NGOs in international drug policy. GPDPD has two main areas of focus – an evidence-based development approach, and addressing the health consequences of drug use. We promote an international dialogue to promote policies based on development and public health principles. This approach is based on the international drug conventions, and the UNGASS Outcome Document – especially the commitment to promote cross-border collaborations.

Ann Fordham, Executive Director, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC): It is an honour and pleasure for both IDPC and TNI to be partners in the GPDPD, and this partnership has led to fruitful and productive dialogues between member states, UN agencies and civil society. The Forum in July 2016 was about reflecting on the UNGASS – it was a bit of a post-mortem, and was presented at the side event at the reconvened CND meeting in December. The second forum was held in February 2017, and was attended by the current CND Chair, Africa Union, European Union, among others. The purpose of this discussion was to start looking forward to 2019 and considering some scenarios and recommendations going forward. The meeting opened with reflections and perspectives from across different regions, with concerns about the increasing polarization between some member states in their approaches, as well as the increase in extra-judicial killings of people who use drugs. There was also discussion about the broadening of the concept of alternative development, the lack of funding for harm reduction, the increase in HIV infections among people who inject drugs, and the need to identify a clear pathway for 2019.

We then moved into an ambitious scenario planning, based on three scenarios to explore key milestones, strengths and weaknesses:

Keeping the status quo and the resilience of the drug control system as it is. There was some disagreement of whether this was a positive thing or not. National-level changes would not necessarily be reflected in the UN debate, and little progress is made in 2019 – resulting in the SDGs not being achieved by 2030. But, on the positive, this scenario was less intensive on diplomatic resources, and could help prevent further regression.

  1. Moving towards a more health and rights oriented approach. This would require strong leadership from the UN Secretary General, and national reforms would impact on the international debate – such as around cannabis reform initiatives. The strength of this scenario was the increased support for harm reduction and civil society engagement. The weakness is that the positions of some countries may change post-elections in the coming months and years.
  2. Polarisation and states going their separate ways. This includes, for example, national reforms in some countries but more punitive responses in others. There were fears that this would lead to undermining the international commitments, and possibly to cannabis exceptionalism in some settings.

Following this, the participants worked on a long list of recommendations for the coming years (the full list is annexed in the report), and then took part in a voting exercise to help prioritise the most important ones for the group – which are listed in the report. These included integrating alternative development into the broader SDG agenda, to reinvest drug control resources into health responses, the delivery of human rights guidelines for drug policy (a project which is now supported by GPDPD), some kind of cross-UN agency task force to consolidate the strong engagement of the UN system in the UNGASS, CND creating more space for UN agencies to engage in Vienna, and the greater engagement of the UN Secretary General. The Forum ended with planning and discussions of the CND meeting this month.

Monique Middelhoff, Senior Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands: For me, February was the first Forum I attended. Bringing all of these people together in this way really helps to engage in a dialogue and discuss complex and sensitive issues to build bridges. This is what happened at the Brandenburg Forum, and it was refreshing compared to UN meetings where every country reads their statements. We could all clarify what perspectives we come from and what we are having to deal with. But these meetings are not an end in itself – the proof of the pudding is in whether or not we can work better together on the joint vision and roadmap for 2019 and beyond. In the end, we want to reach the SDGs in 2030. The presence of Dr. Chan from WHO here, with a clear and public health oriented speech, is a good thing. There are many organisations in the UN working on these issues, even though UNODC has the prime responsibility. All of these agencies need to join forces and do whatever they can together, and member states can help these agencies to engage in this dialogue. Whether it is service providers, or advocates, or experts – civil society needs to come together with policy makers as they do in the Netherlands, and we need to use their experience and expertise. In order to reach the SDGs we need all different perspectives aligned. We have good examples and good programmes, and on Friday morning there will be a Dutch side event on these.

Lisa Sánchez, Programme Coordinator, México Unido Contra la Delincuencia (MUCD): I want to start by acknowledging that GPDPD is a great example of a sustainable partnership between government and civil society, especially networks of grass roots organisations around the world. The Brandenburg Forums have been great examples of how a meeting can be both meaningful – including for emotional support and catharsis after the UNGASS – but also great spaces for two worlds to meet, civil society and government officials working on the ground, and those involved in diplomatic international work. I thank the organisers for including the human rights components of development, and for not taking a narrow approach. The Forums have also been great examples of how to strategise and coordinate a path towards 2019, and to have an open discussion (without the pauses and formality of needing to go back to capitals for country positions) and to create an environment whereby people feel comfortable collaborating. I think that these Forums have also helped us to expand some difficult terms which are too vague to really put into action – we talk about rights-based approaches, but how do we really do that and what are the indicators we need to use in light of the SDGs? What does alternative development mean for urban settings, and what is the best practice in these regions? GPDPD will help us to move forward with the progress made in 2016, and to reflect on the things that we did achieve, and the things we still need to achieve in the coming years. Also to include the voices of those who have not been included to date, reaching out to the vulnerable communities and groups with the expertise gathered in the Forums. Maybe the only weakness that I see is that we still fall into the temptation of trying to fit everything into one partnership with willing governments and partners – we need to try and focus on what this partnership can achieve, and what other partnerships can achieve as well. The Forums have really made my government think about what it is they are doing – and the need to talk about peace building, etc. So I congratulate you for that!

Chair: Thank you for these perspectives, and I am pleased to say that the Forum will continue, with a third Forum planned for 2018. We now have time for questions.

 Daniel Brombacher (GPDPD): There does seem to be a need outside of CND to have some kind of “informal” to debrief and work with government delegations on different agendas. I would therefore prefer to keep the discussions open, in order to not exclude countries or NGOs. We have seen the increasing polarization which means that all issues cannot be resolved in one CND week.

Chair: Recently, the German Parliament passed a law on medical cannabis use unanimously, which is a surprise and a good thing to see.

Ann Fordham: The CND app has been developed under this Partnership too, which tells you in real time what is happening in the Plenary and the Committee of the Whole, and a fully searchable function for resolutions. www.cndapp.org

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