Side Event: Civil society on member state delegations to the CND: Models for engagement, benefits, and lessons learned

Organised by the Governments of Canada, Mexico and New Zealand, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Centre of Drug Policy Evaluation, the New Zealand Drug Foundation, and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Zara Snapp, Instituto RIA

I’ve been on the Mexican delegation foe the last 6-7 years, and wanted to share experiences. Some delegations, you need to sign a letter outlining your involvement, and others you can attend bilaterals etc.

Lessons from UNGASS – when you put civil society on your delegation, it makes it easier to attend the sessions logistically, accessing sessions, bringing children in. There’s a direct channel for resolution language – we do brainstorm language changes in resolutions, and it make it easier for us to share this. It also provides coordination meetings in the lead up to CND. A lot of civil society are in direct contact with PWUD, can be a conduit of proposals on the ground; we can also provide technical support. In Mexico – we have now gone on to prepare dialogues between civil society and our member states, focused on the 7 key themes from the UNGASS documents. Even if we don’t agree on things, we at least have the channel to communicate this. And, when we go home, we can provide feedback to our peers. NGO participation on delegations should be the norm. Delegations can change, but often civil society organizations stay the same.

Ambassador Nicole Robertson, New Zealand

In NZ we have strong civil society generally and this has gone on longer than attendance here, extends to other UN meetings. We advocate for NGO involvement in these meetings. On drug policy, our domestic NGOs work very closely with governments – health interventions, harm reduction and treatment. Symbiotic relationships – we see them as partnerships. What happens in NZ is what we bring here. CS has been on our delegation since 2008, and for UNGASS on 2016.

Given complexity of UN machinery, and adding to Zara’s comments – having more bodies by including our civil society as delegates mean we can cover more of the meeting. The side of our delegation is modest, with one CS rep, but that makes up 20% of our delegation. Our civil society rep, Ross, has national reach. We also have representation from our needle exchanges. What Neil and Ross bring is also institutional memory – it’s very helpful to us. Subject matter and expertise is also key – it’s a level of technical understanding that we just don’t have. We operate a very open delegation – whoever has the technical knowledge can take part in our bilaterals. We include CS in as many aspects of CND as possible. Our bilaterals are usually with MS who see the inclusion of NGOs as positive. We have to explain to other MS as to why we have CS and a member of parliament on our delegation. We’re still working on getting the voices of users coming through in our statements.

We have clear protocols around negotiations – this has to respect the views of the government at the time, and we have agreements around this. The ability to have CS there for technical assistance adds a lot of value. There are some meetings where we don’t take CS – e.g. INCB meetings. We have clear boundaries about CS involvement to limit understanding. We make sure everyone is across resolutions in order to have informed discussions. There’s no hierarchy, and it’s hugely valuable to to have CS on the delegation.

Charles T Some, REVS PLUS, Burkina Faso

Our organization is the first in Burkina Faso to work with LGBT, sex workers and drug users. We recognized as a public utility in 2018 by our government. Drug use landscape in BF – was not until 2010 that drug users were included in the lists of vulnerable groups targeted in our national strategic plan. Little work has been done to determine the impact of substance use.

Our experience of being on delegation – 2014-2015 we structured national advocacy on drug policy reforms. We has 2016 participation in UNGASS and CND. We met with diplomatic mission of Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire , Tunisia and France. We also increased involvement with other NGOs. Participation in CND and UNGASS allowed us to acquire key advocacy experience.

We were integrated in the official delegation last year – unfortunately this year we do not have an official delegation due to terrorism related issues. Asked to draft official statement.

Lessons learned from last year – consideration of the point of view of the people concerned, facilitate participation of CS, relative consideration of the civil society point of view, facilitates network and good practice.

Nothing for us without us!

Michelle Boudreau, Canada, Health Canada

Friendly completion to NZ – we have 7 members of civil society, which gives us about ~30%. Where you beat us is how long you’ve have civil society on your delegation. Nazlee and other members of CS have more experience of CND than some delegation members.

We’re very fortunate for how this came to be – government and minister of health who was very keen to engage with key affected people – in particular, people with lived and living experience. As far as evolution goes – we needed clear direction – we’re a large government, and has been easier to have this direction from the top. We’ve also learned from other forums such as tobacco, who has had civil soc rep for longer. We turned process over the CS themselves – they determine who the liaison rep and delegation reps will be. We started the communication quite early. We’ve approached this in similar ways – signing agreements. People sign them and remain committed to framework. Confidence building process – discussions on badges on where and where not to go in. we ask other countries in bilaterals whether they mind if civil society join. We meet every morning to share info with CSOs on informal discussions. Lessons learnt for me – bureaucrats change roles approx. every 2-3 years. Some CS have been working for 10+ and experience is

Passion is inspiring. To have CSOs engaged we have more technical assistance – example: bilateral in which we were talking about supervised consumption sites, and we had someone who works in one on the delegation – so the value of this exchange is enormous. Also, its relationship building – it’s evolving. It’s about trust and understanding each other’s roles and constraints. This is part of the solution to the compensation of people with lived experience – it is important that they be compensated for their involvement and expertise. This is a critical point – they should be compensated. Also at the end of the session – we ask CSOs to give us feedback on what we did right and wrong.

Natasha Touesnard, Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs

Hello my name is Natasha Touesnard, I live Halifax, Nova Scotia, a small city on the Atlantic coast of Canada. I am the treasurer and Atlantic representative of the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs, better known by our acronym CAPUD.

CAPUD is raising the voice of people who use(d) drugs throughout the policy making process at every level of government. Our organization strives to reduce oppressive societal conditions that people who currently or formerly use drugs face, and emphasize the need for their direct involvement in public policy decision making. We focus on our members strengths, resilience, talent and knowledge. CAPUD fully embrace “Nothing about us without us”  as our guiding principle.

Throughout my profession I’ve relied heavily on my lived experience and consider it my greatest asset working in harm reduction. For, I have both witnessed and experienced the “war on drugs” and therefore have great insight into the ill effects of misguided drug policy and how criminalization disproportionately affects women and other marginalized groups of people within Canada.

I am honoured to be on the Canadian delegation and I take great pride in this opportunity bestowed upon me. I also recognise Canada’s progressive stance ensuring not only Civil Society is

present but also ensures people with lived and living experience of current or former drug use are on the delegation.

I believe as a member of CAPUD on the Canadian Delegation, I offer much needed insight to our Canadian Government on topics they may be unintentionally blind too. Our network of people don’t claim have all the answers but rather have lived a life where we often become victim to policy that harms individuals more than the substance they use, where criminalization actually prevents individuals from reintegrating back into society, where our right to equitable health care and human rights are infringed upon and are discriminated against in healthcare, housing and employment.. People who use drugs are often stigmatized, isolated, face discrimination and become impoverished. My hope is through these engagements I give voice to these issues.

Canada has provided engagement and inclusion, listening to our voice, and in return we are beginning a long process of remaking drug policy to be grounded in the human rights of people who use drugs. CAPUD has been at the forefront of both CND 2018 and CND 2019, this opportunity is encouraging for myself and peers because more often than not we are all but voiceless in these proceedings. Maintaining lived experience with our inclusion is of paramount importance, because in our absence well intended individuals have historically formed policies that are detrimental to our overall health, human rights, and mortality. 

A few of the perceived challenges I’ve noticed are one, it’s really hard to enter into the delegation just months before CND starts and fully comprehend all that’s happening and taking place. Staying up late to read all of many the documents, past resolutions, new resolutions, bilaterals, HLM… It can be intimidating and overwhelming at times. There are several things I believe, can be done in the short term to improve the current Model of engagement and better serve future delegations overall.

  1. Continuity is key: If at every CND, 2 new people with lived or living experience from a CSO are brought on a delegation; it puts these individuals at a disadvantage, always playing catch up and learning processes, which limits pwuds ability to fully participate which ultimately means crucial information never makes it to the table. Having a least one experienced delegate paired with CND naive individual would smooth the process.
  2. Liaison with lived experience; the individual would be tasked to work with the Government and former delegations, gather information from our membership specifically related to drug policy and teach peers in first person how CND delegations and proceedings work, in hopes of lessening the burden on future delegates with lived experience.

Through all the reading I did in preparation for CND I stumbled across IDPCs Advocacy note “Lessons learned from NGO participation in government delegations at the UNGASS”. Interesting fact Sweden was the only country that paid for participation of its NGO representatives at UNGASS and High Level Ministerial”

I read that and thought, that’s how we should be done! To truly have meaningful engagement, CSO delegates need equal opportunity. Meaningful engagement doesn’t mean only listening to CSO delegates, it means equal opportunity to learn, share, understand and be compensated for their expertise. If individuals were compensated for their time it wouldn’t as stressful taking time off of their paid roles to attend CND and fully immerse themselves in this experience.

This would also allow like CAPUD which is 90% volunteer-based organization to have a designated individual, gain knowledge learn and teach peers CND proceedings.

I encourage other member states include people with lived and living experience on future delegations. Civil Society organizations are in most cases the first responders to the most crucial issues pwuds face and are therefore well informed, extremely knowledgeable and willing to assist our country to make sound decisions for our peers.

As we sit here today, Canada is currently in the worst overdose epidemic in our country’s history. This epidemic has devastated every part of our country.

In Canadian 11 people a day die of an opioid overdose death or rather, victims of sudden, unnecessary deaths. So today, tomorrow and everyday going forward the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs will lose an astounding amount of friends, colleagues, peers and loved ones throughout Canada. Our presence is in their memory, and we will remake drug policy so their tragic experience isn’t another’s future.

CAPUD is committed to creating a human-rights based drug policy that respects our basic dignity.

Zara – if you are a CSO rep or government that wants to add CSO representation to delegation – ask. By including CSOs in informals, you are helping us understand all the pressure that you are under in your confrontations. When  you get one CSO on your delegation, you’re actually getting a network with much experience.

Ambassador, Mexico: this is a very important side event – my comment: we are 130 million people, but 50 million live under poverty, but we are a democracy. NGO and CS rep in Mexico is young in Mexico – vivid and lively channels of participation now. Closing in on curve of knowledge and experience – we’ve come a long way. When I read press release on how NGOs but pressure on Mexican president to come to UNGASS, this is why I love working with NGOs – we still have a long way to go, including NGOs in informals and resolutions is something we will consider. It s the benefits of being here, great to hear experiences of Canada and New Zealand. When we negocitate, we often lose touch with realities on the ground. Its important for us to become more sensitive in our negotiations.

Scott Bernstein CDPC: Thank you for the panel and Canada’s role – I’m the CSO liaison rep this year. This is a learning and confidence building experience that we’ll add to in future years. My org supports a working group of NGOs interested in UN work, in order to work together. Please come up to Canadian civil society reps on our delegation to find out more about this experience

Chris Killick-Moran, Australian delegation: We’ve found this fascinating – open question with panel. We’re also on this evolving journey to include civil society – in terms of signing official agreements, do you feel that sometimes this mutes your voice?

Natasha: Yep, it’s a different role, but it’s such an advantage to us to be involved, and I think we’re in a good position to advocate for our voices to be heard. It’s encouraging and teaches us many things about processes and how international policy works.

Charles: This is a point of common sense – this is an issue of public health and human rights, and we agree with government and feel we are on the same page. This may change over time.

Zara: It’s about clearly defined roles, and we need to be clear on who we represent and when. It’s an invaluable experience.

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