Side event: UN System Common Position on Drug-Related Matters

Supporting documents:


Stephan Klement, European Union: As we celebrate 40 years of cooperation, we promote solutions. The EU and Member States developed together a European approach to address the situation in a comprehensive way – the EU drug strategy and action plan. The goal is to contribute to the reduction of demand and supply and harm caused to health. To contribute to better dissemination of findings and understanding. Impact interventions to provide sound and comprehensive responses. EU and Member States consider the UNGASS outcome document as a milestone and the most comprehensive drug policy document. It insists on the need of enhanced cooperation of relevant entities as well as regional and national entities. It is crucial to strengthen inter-agency cooperation for streamlined mechanisms; we commend the work done by the UN.

The common position was adopted with the shared understanding that we can promote AD, health and enhance justice and law enforcement responses that protect people. We joined resources for drug-related programs, the international community needs to step up its responses. In the words of UN Secretary General, António Guterres, let us accelerate progress on addressing the World Drug Problem.

The EU and its Member States will continue to work relentlessly to accelerate the implementation of our joint commitments to achieve our goals by 2030.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC: There are some lessons learned over the past 40 years which we can take with us. We need to get tangible operational results. UNODC has excellent expertise in-house but is operating on a small budget, meaning that the multiple requests we get are far beyond what we have capacity for. We need to engage in more partnerships. In July 2011 we set up a task-force on trans-national organised crime and illicit drug trafficking. We lobbied very hard to get it together. We aimed to have more impact and can assist Member States in a far better manner as we were able to do so far. The first task-force was co-led by DPPA and UNODC and the aim was to have a system-wide response and a road-map that focuses on deliverables, particularly in the field. In August 2011, integrate strategies to tackle illicit trafficking and trans-national crime. I regret to say it never rolled out the way we designed it; it was not a success and we need to make sure to not fall into the same trap again. The new SG in January 2017 asked to develop a plan to assist Member States in the implementation of operational recommendations. We came up with a matrix HICP, HCA […] We were requested to produce an overview and analysis of key problems emerging from the global drug policy discourse. We did that and came up with the UN Common Position in November 2018 . The SG wanted to submit a paper to the Administerial Meeting 2019 “What we have learned in the last 10 years…”. Now the question is again how to reach out to the field operative level. Though we tried most recently after UNGASS 2016, we have asked for help to integrate strategies at the local level. That remains still a challenge today. We have established close relationships over time, but UNDP and the World Bank etc. support is needed for actual impact on the fields. The UN SG is a proponent of this collaboration and has asked Jan Beagle to come back from retirement. We have a new, very competent Assistant-Secretary General dealing with drug issues. With the budget we have, we can’t produce the impact some Member States would like us to. I would like to mention research ambitions, but let me tell you for the outset that our existing resources don’t make it possible. For example, the thematic chapter of SDGs in the World Drug Report will not be in the next issue as our resources won’t allow us.

Angela Me, UNODC: If you’d like some refreshers on the common position, the UN is really trying to speak with one voice, saying for the first time publicly- we are ready to promote UNGASS. It is not the role here to teach anyone about drug control, it is about what we stand for. It is also digested as there were many difficult discussions in the past. When you read past papers, you see it is not so bad as our job is also to find the common language and common tone to use – WHO and UNAIDS developed many standards together and similar ways of looking at things together. With human rights and departmental political affairs, it is an achievement itself to come to a common understanding. We need to work more to refine our common tone and, in that sense, we hope others join as the view is missing of those agencies that don’t primarily deal with drug issues; UNDP, for example. For Member States, It is useful to see what we can learn from these other areas that are not directly related to drug but could contribute. We have little time so I will cover law-enforcement side of things. As UN, we promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use and promote the prison of proportionality, address over crowding and over-incarceration for drug crimes. We need to clearly stand together for the decriminalisation of drug consumption for personal use – there are communities where it is working and it is our commitment to support Member states that support these alternatives. Clearly, we call for changes in laws, policies and practices that threaten the health and human rights of people. We have an issue with regard to stigma – it is the root of many issues we discuss here. To really help overcome this is the objective of the common position. Our purpose was to put together all the lessons we learned and go forward leveraging the body of evidence we have. We come with the operational experience of WHO on health and OHCHR. The leadership regarding human rights is important. I also would like to flag that we need to clarify the different stages of criminal justice responses. There is this common rhetoric about the lack of proportionality and that too many people are arrested for drugs, but for the countries where we got data from, this is indeed the picture we got: people who go through the criminal justice system, are mostly for possession rather than trafficking. The role of law enforcement: there is research showing that focusing on seizures has little impact on the drug market. Seizures helped to keep prices high; it helps for the illicit market to be difficult to be managed but where the impact lays is higher in the organisation. Drug courts that follow certain practices are more successful than other practices, please read our paper to learn more.

EU: Today’s side event is related to a series of events we are organising to prime our collaborations. We believe in multilateralism and are pleased to see experts from many countries and organisations in this room together.

Source: Dianova International

Zaved Mahmood, OHCHR: This common position is soon to be one year old. Today I would like to highlight the human rights aspect of the paper and brief you about what we are doing with the different entities within this system. The perspective of shared principles mentions human rights as one of its bases. In the common values, the human rights implications are explicitly mentioned as the UNGASS outcome document . In that outcome document, 15 recommendations are related to human rights. In the common system positions, it is recognised that to the treaties, other relevant documents are complimentary and mutually reinforcing, such as the declaration of human rights. The principles of no one left behind and speaking with one voice are notable. I would like to highlight a few direct relevant directions for action which are related to human rights and the justice system. This document promotes rebalancing drug policies with putting people, their dignity and their human rights at the centre. Shifting our values in our approach- one of the key values we have seen. Angela mentioned stigma, and it is very much noted in this document – without dignity, there will be stigma. What are we doing to respect the dignity and rights of people who use drugs? Criminalisation contributes to stigmatisation and to moving away from the services people need.
It is not only our office that is working on and is monitoring human rights. One treaty body, Human Rights Committee is dealing with civil rights and is looking at drug-related issues regularly. In 2019, there are countries that still operate compulsory drug rehabilitation centres where forced labour is a practice which is a concern. The issue of health within the context of dignity and human rights. The Human Rights Committee issued a document particularly detailing these issues.

In terms of criminal justice responses, alternatives to conviction and punishment is encouraged, we promote decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use. Over-incarceration and prison overcrowding is an issue. Sometimes judges are forced with minimum sentences – Tunisia is a successful example where we helped them change the law in a productive way. One issue remains a grave concern: death penalty. There is one case, where one piece of yaba in a pocket resulted in death penalty. I will not mention the name because this issue concerns about 10 countries – some we are working together with to change these practices.

As for recent developments, two weeks ago the Human Rights council adopted a resolution to prepare a study on arbitrary detention related to drug policies in accordance with the UNGASS recommendations. They asked the working group to work with member states, civil society.. to share views with them. In June 2017, we issued a common position.

Addressing impunity for serious human rights violations is something I would like to mention. In consultation with UNODC and other colleagues, we produced a report on Afghanistan related to air strikes which caused civilian casualties. It is available online and clearly shows this kind of violations of international law need to be addressed and impacts assessed.

Non discrimination policies are also mentioned and the UN Working Group of People of African Descent issued a statement with regards to how drug policies are affecting people of African descent in different parts of the World. We know prison populations are overwhelmingly coming from African descent, so how could this be addressed is looked at by the group with our support. We will continue working with them regarding this issue.

With regard to Civil Society, we promote it very much including people who use drugs. I would like to appeal to Member States that we need to ensure protection from trade intimidation and reprisal of people against civil society working on the ground.

Inter-agency collaboration: Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy is planned to be rolled out all over the World – your support will help us to take advantage of this tool.

EU: Many of the things you said reminds us of why the EU believes in the UNGASS outcome document.

Annette Verster, WHO: I would like to give a quick overview of the health-related topics and recommendations from the common position. Health is a human right so many things have been mentioned already. What is critical to us is that fundamental underpinnings of the conventions are health and well-being. I summarised the key topics: re-balancing policies, and interventions towards public health approaches, increased investment in harm reduction, universal health care decriminalisation, reduce stigma and discrimination, active CSO involvement, improved data, improved access to controlled medicines. Our role within the conventions: assessment of most prevalent and harmful psychoactive substances -> ECDD.
Our three topics/departments: prevention and treatment, harm reduction- particularly prevention of infectious diseases such as Hep C, access to controlled medicines for palliative care, regulations, naloxone, methadone. A bit more information about access to controlled medicines for palliative care: the main issue is to find the right balance between availability for palliative care, and to prevent the misuse and dependence. WHO provide norms and standards on how best to do that: with careful and controlled prescribing.
Hepatitis is more of an epidemical problem now as HIV, with over 300 million people living with hepatitis. If you look at new infections, one in four new hepatitis C infections and one in three deaths are related to drug consumption. To combat the blood-borne infections, we continue to issue warnings and guidelines. We signed an MoU with UNODC and UNAIDS. When we talk about harm reduction and HIV, people refer to UNODC technical tool from 2009. 10 years ago, harm reduction was defined as a package of 9 interventions based on evidence that you can reverse epidemics with proper public health response. This was widely endorsed. This package was defined 10 years ago. We continued to look at the evidence not only on the clinical level eg naloxone and other HIV treatment, but we also addressed structural barriers as part of the public health response – in line with the common position. Our WHO packages are based on scientific review and are mostly mentioned in the UN common position. We have to address structural barriers – 80% have no access to palliative care, 90% has no access to harm reduction. The issue requires continuous advocacy and concentrated efforts, and is why the common position is so important.

EU: Floor open for questions.

Russia: As many other Member States, we welcome enhanced coherence within the UN system. We didn’t have a chance to examine the paper thoroughly, could you clarify these aspects: We are happy to support the avoidance of any duplications in terms of budget support. How does this tie into CND as the main policy-making body? How does the outcome document reflect the obligations of Member States under the convention? Were Member States involved or consulted in the preparation of this document? It seems to me that the implementation of this paper would need division of labour among UN entities as the panellists were addressing separate parts, is this correct? At UNODC, the work of the prevention branch is really solid and is supported by all Member States. Will UNODC give this portfolio to WHO?

Response: There is no overlap with the work of CND. CND is the space of Member States. We are institutions that support the work of the CND. And this is our system-wide experience brought together so as to support the work of the CND. This document was produced solely by the UN; no civil society organisations, no Academia, no Member States. Each of our UN agencies has a specific mandate, and so we focused on our own perspectives. But we are not trying to “seal” our mandates; but rather to connect them. And there is no risk of transferring work from Vienna to Geneva. We presented different aspects separately just for the sake of this event, not to represent a distribution of labour.

Mexico: Is there a global study on child detention? Is there anything coming in relation to drugs?

Angela Me, UNODC: It is a challenge.

Afghanistan: Regarding Mr. Mahmood’s statements regarding the killing of civilians in the fight against labs by the United States. I am not trying to justify this but these labs are under the rule of the Taliban, so we have to act through the military. It is impossible to act through law enforcement. Authorities Civilian casualties have two sides; in many cases, when they are reported by the Taliban- those are not real as they are manipulating the situation– for instance 4 ISIS high level leaders were killed recently that were reported as civilians and caused public outrage.

Finland: We support the common positions, what are the next steps in operationalising and putting it into practices? How can we as Member States support you with resources and through other means?

UNODC: [nod to Afghanistan] We served together in Kabul, so we share the concern for civilians. In terms of how we can make these operational, we need your support on the local level, through your embassies; we have to look at concrete things at the field level. New York can help too in coordinating instruments – CCA & UNDAF. We have a lot of good information available with the World Drug Report and […].

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