Informal NGO Dialogue with the UNODC Executive Director

Opening remarks from UNODC ED: It is good to see so many people here, and it means that what we are doing is important. The CND is an important forum. I appreciate Esbjorn’s leadership of VNGOC, and for facilitating this meeting. I also appreciate the Civil Society Task Force that worked for 2016 and must now continue to contribute to the world drug problem for 2019. I cannot stay as long as I would like, as there are lots of other meetings this week and lots of other commitments. Also here with me are Jean-Luc Lemahieu from the Policy division and Gilberto Gerra from the demand reduction team.

Question from Harm Reduction International

This week, HRI has launched its new report on the death penalty. What progress has been made by UNODC on the implementation of its 2012 human rights guidance document, in particular the development of the proposed human rights planning tool? How will UNODC operationalise and monitor the implementation of this guidance, particularly in the implementation of UNODC drug control programmes in States which retain the death penalty for drug offences?

UNODC ED: The Tool was developed last year, and made available to all UNODC staff, missions and field offices. It is made available for all programs. It is not the only guidance and training tool, to help staff identify and mitigate human rights risks. Our position is in line with the UN position – no death penalty. It is against international law but has not been confirmed by any UN treaties. Of course, this work takes time. Earlier this week I met with the Iranian delegation, who briefed me on their efforts to change the law and move away from the death penalty. This is not the end of the story, but is a step forward. We are committed to continue working in this direction, and will continue in the future. The Human Rights Group within the UNODC continues its work, and consults staff on the field on any complex situations. I also want to add that UNODC programmes and efforts have a strong emphasis on protecting and promoting human rights. Our position is not passive, we are promoting human rights in our practical applications in the field. Including the right of prisoners to be treated in line with human rights standards, etc. These are just a few examples, and this is one of the priorities for UNODC.

Question from the Turkish Green Crescent

What is UNODC doing to focus on drug free work places, for improving the quality of the professional life, and also the adaptation of people in recovery to the work environment and life skills?

UNODC ED: Work place interventions have been found to be effective, and have been included in the launch of the international standards on drug use prevention tomorrow. On the second part, this is of course an important part of reintegration, so we continue to work towards this – including through implantation of the standards. I encourage you to stay in touch with us for more information on our work in this area.

Question from OCDI, Colombia

We would like to discuss the role of UNODC in ensuring the security of the leaders and communities involved in the cultivation of coca leaf, cannabis and poppy, under the auspices of alternative development programs.

UNODC ED: I assume this question is about people who formerly grew coca and are now participating in alternative development programmes. UNODC is not a law enforcement agency. But we hear the stories of the risks being faced on the ground. One of the experts has been kidnapped by FARC for the last two months. This underlines the need for security and safety. Our focus is on community approaches that make our work more safe and more supported. The issues continue, and I held a visit to one of our alternative development programmes – but they had to change the location three times due to security risks. We are ready to support the Colombian government in the implantation of the peace agreement.

Question from Dianova

The report “Action taken by Member States to implement the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem” points out a significant increase of NGO participation in States’ coordination bodies in the fourth reporting cycle, that went from 60% up to over 80%. Is there any assessment made on the reasons of this significantly increase? What would you recommend NGOs to do in order to be included or have a more significant involvement at the central coordination bodies?

UNODC ED: I am very pleased that civil society are contributing during these meetings, and the CND facilitator has taken the initiative to call on speakers in any order, and not member states only. We stand ready to contribute to this trend.

Question from Dianova

The report “Action taken by Member States to implement the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem” notes that the availability of training for professionals on drug demand reduction interventions appears to have decreased in the fourth cycle after increasing in the previous two cycles. Given that training of intervention staff ensures the quality of treatment, we would like to know if there exists any concrete initiatives from UNODC to promote the availability of training for these professionals?

UNODC ED: We are fully aware of the need for training, and we support the training development for practitioners. In 2017, we trained many practitioners and policy makers across many countries. If we had more funding, we would do even more in this area. We are looking forward to find new ways, new avenues to support initiatives on training – including on dependence treatment and care. This is fully consistent with what we are doing.

Question from FAAAT

What is UNODC doing to increase the use of tools for greater transparency and accountability, such as UN Web TV or broadcasting or weekly press briefings – as in New York and Geneva?

UNODC ED: In Vienna, we are not able to be a part of UN Web TV for technical and financial reasons. Sessions of CND are often webcast live, and we are doing this ourselves for some events, workshops and meetings. We look forward to working more with UN Web TV in the future.

Question from FAAAT

The 1961 and 1971 Conventions talk a lot about medicines, health and science, yet UNODC’s main focus is on crime. Does UNODC acknowledge that this mixture makes it difficult to ensure people-centred and health-based approaches, and what are they doing to overcome this?

UNODC ED: It not correct to say that the main focus of UNODC is on crime. We are fully committed to the balanced approach including health, demand reduction, supply reduction. The main aim of the conventions is protecting the health and wellbeing of humankind. Our office is working with WHO in more than 40 countries since 2009 on evidence-based health approaches, and we are working with WHO, INCB and the International Cancer Control to promote access to controlled medicines. We are one of the co-sponsors of UNAIDS focused on people who use drugs and prisoners. Tomorrow, we launch the new version of the International Standards on Prevention, and we are working with WHO on the International Standards on Treatment. We are increasing our level of involvement in support of countries with the Sustainable Development Goals, including new projects in Afghanistan. These aim to protect people from the negative impact of drugs. We are committed to a balanced approach – this includes support for law enforcement, but it is not fair to say that this is the focus.

Question from ICEERS Foundation

How should drug laws respect the rights of indigenous peoples, and how to address the inherent tensions between indigenous rights and drug control?

UNODC ED: In the example of Bolivia, we are committed to working with the government as they are working to counter illicit drug production while also permitting the licit cultivation of coca leaves. We are supporting them on the monitoring systems required.

Question from Accion Semilla Bolivia

Please can UNODC comment on the drug law reforms in Bolivia, specifically regarding the progress in relation to human rights that are stalled now because of the Criminal System Law that is currently abrogated.

UNODC ED: We are willing to provide assistance to Bolivia, and we have an office there – but it is of course the responsibility of authorities in Bolivia. Such a process is never simple, and we are standing by ready to support in areas of strengthening the rile of law and promoting human rights in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Question from Association Proyecto Hombre

We observe that the countries continue to implement significantly different drug policies: from highly criminalising legislation to new regulations such as the legal sale of cannabis. To what extent are Member States adopting demand reduction policies based on evidence, and establishing measurement systems that could demonstrate the effectiveness of their policies?

UNODC ED: I want to focus on the practical dimension of this process. We see that, in many countries, drug policies are not led by departments of health. In many cases, services provided are not based ion scene, and are not evaluated to determine if they are effective or not. We are prepared to support countries by all means, but it depends on national legislation and decisions to promote a science-based approach.

Question from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

For yesterday’s side event on ‘Modernizing drug policy’, the original title included the names of the countries featured in the case studies: Belgium, Canada and Portugal. We were advised by UNODC that country names could not be included without permission from the three governments. We object to this unnecessary restriction. Can you please explain why this is the case,  and where such a rule is written? If no such rule actually exists, will you please clarify that no such restriction will be made in future?

UNODC ED: Within the UN system, organisations, rules and bodies are developing their own rules. The guidelines are developed by the extended bureau. The UNODC is a Secretariat, and we must abide by the decisions of the member states in this way. There are many side events here, and you have full freedom to propose a topic. But this is limited also by the rights of others. There is a long-standing tradition that side events cannot use the names of countries without the agreement, or absence of objections, from the member states in question. This is the general approach of the UNODC Secretariat.

Chair of VNGOC: That was the last question submitted to the Executive Director by the VNGOC members, and he must now leave for another meeting. But we will continue with short questions and answers from the podium.

UNODC ED: Thank you Esbjorn, I wish you every success.

Question from Kevin Sabet

What is UNODC to raise awareness of the harms of high-potency, westernised cannabis?

Question from Diogenis

There is a trend towards medical use of cannabis, and there is a parallel with opium – is there still a possibility for UNODC to look further on this?

Gilberto Gerra: The UNODC is not the master state, we are doing what they ask us to do. WHO have revised and updated the scientific literature on the medical use of cannabis. I do not understand why we have policies that are very tough on tobacco because of the harms it causes, but we do not have the same attitude towards marijuana. I do not understand this. Clearly, we should be less demonising of these things, and considering the consequences of increased marijuana availability. In many countries, the enforcement of marijuana laws is not very effective or is not in place – so it is already widely available. On medical marijuana, this plant can be considered a gift from god. It contains more than 85 substances that can have enormous implications for the treatment of many diseases, from treatment of pain to glycoma, helping with chemotherapy, and so on. As a humble servant of the international community, we say please apply the same rules to this medicine as to all others – clinical tests, different levels of pilots and research and stages of trials. This should be applied to the single substances of the plant. With respect to using the entire plant, there are some substances in the plant which are doing the opposite to each other – increasing appetite, and decreasing appetite, etc. Imagine as a doctor, giving a medicine and then giving the opposite medicine too. These medicines are being approved by referendum or by court, and not through the usual processes that should be applied.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu: There are no magic bullet answers. In Afghanistan, when licit opium production was permitted, it was seen as the solution. But there were four elements that were intrinsically connected to undermine it: the first one was investigation in the national bank, the custom revenues went down, the mining law halted, and the illicit economy went dramatically up. The speculation was that, if the legal economy was not working, the illicit economy was. When I left Afghanistan, the crop was increasing and has continued to increase. The total lack of control and government. So unless this is in place, and regulated, and you will fail to have that taken care of. On one hand, we have a dramatic need for more opium medication – but without governance it cannot be provided by Afghanistan.

Question from Youth RISE

Between 1998 and 2008 we did not see a drug-free world, and now approaching 2019 not much progress has been made. We are keen to see an evaluation, and I would like to hear your comments on that.

Question from the Slum Child Foundation

I want to hear more about the Listen First programme, and the CSO approach in my country where the government is using this theme but it is not really helping. You are launching the Listen First documents this month – will we be in a position to reach the intended beneficiaries if you are only working with governments? More capacity building for civil society also needs to be done. 

Jean-Luc Lemahieu: Within all of our programmes, we have evaluation of everything that we do. But broader, what can we do to evaluate. We are a member states organisation, and this is up to the member states. Many of you have been involved in 2014 and UNGASS etc, and we are trying to find the module which is acceptable to the member states and allows us to do what we want to do. On civil society involvement, I understand that in the drug problems alone we are working with 500 NGOs on an annual basis. It depends on the willingness of government to be open to our support and collaboration. Without that, it is hard to force a way in. We see a welcome growth of the role of civil society in these meetings, but it is not always easy to find the windows.

Question from IDPC to Gilberto Gerra

You mention the aspirational goals for HIV and TB etc, but these are not being actively used to support the persecution of people living with those diseases. The drug-free world goals are not aspirational, they are dangerous and fatal. They are being used to justify extra-judicial killings, the death penalty and mass incarceration. They need to be forgotten.

Gilberto Gerra: I welcome you to come to the special event on alternatives to punishment today. My branch has been very active to promote this message that punishment is not part of rehabilitation processes. My suggestion is that we can establish a reciprocal agreement. No-one can prevent anyone from dreams – if people want to think about a world where drugs are not so available. We have a human right to dream. I am very conscious that people have misinterpreted this dream and the conventions, and continued to abuse people. If you want to convince people in a passionate way, you need not to tell them to reduce a fraction. This is too pessimistic an approach for communication.

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