Side event: Promoting evidence-based drug policies and interventions enshrined in human rights in Europe

Organized by the Association Proyecto Hombre with the support of Portugal, and Spain, and the Council of Europe, the European Union and the European Union Civil Society Forum on Drugs.

Oriol Esculies, International Commissioner of Association Proyecto Hombre: Welcome, everybody. Thanks for joining this virtual side event at the 64th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. My name is Oriol Esculies. I work in association Proyecto Hombre, which is organising this event, on behalf of the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs, and it has the special support of the European Union, the governments of Portugal and Spain and the Council of Europe and Pompidou group. First of all, I’d like to inform you that this side event is being recorded, and also that please feel free to pose any questions or remarks, using the q&a section, instead of the chat, and we will try to answer them at the end of the presentation, depending on the time left. Without delay, I’m so delighted to introduce Marie Nougier, from the International Drug Policy Consortium. She is the coordinator of the Working Group for International Relations of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs, and she’s been working so hard, organising this initiative with us. So we ask her to give the preliminary remarks on behalf of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs; Marie, the floor is yours.

Marie Nougier, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), on behalf of the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs: Thanks so much, and good morning everyone, good afternoon, good evening, depending on where you’re based. So I would like to start by thanking all of you and everybody from Association Proyecto Hombre for hosting this side event on behalf of the EU civil society forum on drugs, and to all of our co sponsors for their ongoing support. As Oriol has said, I’m Marie Nougier, Head of research and communications at the International Drug Policy Consortium, but I’m also a member of the Core Group of the CSFD. And, as you said, I’m chairing the Working Group on International drug policy issues. And so it’s within the sphere of this working group that we are organising this event today. In this event, we wanted to showcase some of the work done by the CSFD members in the areas of evidence based and human rights informed drug policy advocacy and service provision, but we also wanted to provide an opportunity for European policymakers to present some examples of drug policies, strategies, and programmes that are grounded in the fundamental principles of human rights and health promotion. So I’m really really happy that we have with us representatives from the EU, from the Pompidou group and the Spanish government, all of which are really strong promoters of civil society engagements in drug policy debates. The CSFD itself has a strong history of advocating for human rights based approach to drug policing. It was established in 2007, and it’s now recognised as an expert group of the European Commission. It’s composed of 45 member organisations from across Europe. CFSD members may have different views on some aspects of drug policy, but we can all agree that drug policies and programmes should be grounded in health, human rights, and in particular that the voices of those most affected should be meaningfully reflected in policy design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. And so in this regard the CSFD has been engaged in regular dialogue with the EU to bring our experience and expertise to the decision making table, and I will only like to mention just two examples here of our work. So first of all the CSFD has been closely engaged in the evaluation of the EU drug action plan for 2017 to 2020, and after that we sought to influence the new EU drug strategy for the periods 2021 to 2025. In that process we provided detailed inputs and recommendations and various iterations of the documents, and we are really grateful to the EU and in particular the German presidency for reflecting our views in the final document, and we look forward to further engaging with the EU and the Portuguese presidency in particular on the accompanying Action plan on drugs, but it’s probably in the area of international drug policy that we’ve created the closest ties with the EU. During and since the 2016 UNGASS on drugs, the CSFD has been regularly consulted by the EU, and we were grateful to see our recommendations incorporated in various EU statements of the 2016 UNGASS to 2019 Ministerial Segment, and the yearly CND. Our concerns, in particular about civil society space in international debates, or the visibility given to the UNGASS outcome document, the UN system common position on drugs, and International guidelines and human rights and drug policy, have been taken on board by the EU. And although we don’t agree on everything, we’re very grateful for the ongoing opportunities provided to the CSFD to engage in EU decision making processes on drugs. However, and despite all the progress that we have made over the past few years, none of us can afford to be complacent. The COVID 19 pandemic has shown everyone the urgent need to put human rights, and communities at the centre of drug policy: firstly, to reduce prison overcrowding and the ongoing over-incarceration of people whose drugs; secondly, to consider prevention, risk and harm reduction, treatment, care, and recovery programmes as essential services in particular at times of COVID-19; and, thirdly, to promote and protect but also to resist moves that may hamper civil society space at all levels of policymaking. So it’s important to stress here that these issues did not arise because of COVID-19 they predate the pandemic, and I’m afraid that they will continue well beyond the health crisis. Peter Sarosi is going to provide more information on these issues, in his presentation, so I’m not gonna go into more detail here, but I just wanted to finish with a plea for all policymakers in Europe and beyond as well, to bring visibility to these issues, to put reforms forward when they are urgently needed, and to continue to invoke civil society at every step of decision making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation on drug issues. Thank you so much.

Oriol Esculies, International Commissioner of Association Proyecto Hombre: Thanks a lot, Marie. Brilliant, as always, trying to frame briefly by detailing precisely the subject; in this case, of this initiative. Thank you so much. Our second speaker is Peter Sarosi, the Executive Director of the Rights Reporter foundation, from Hungary.

Péter Sárosi, Executive Director, Rights Reporter Foundation, representative of the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs: Good morning and thank you, Oriol. As Marie pointed out in her introduction, I will address three pressing human rights issues from the perspective of European Civil Society that were exacerbated by the ongoing COVID crisis, but as Marie pointed out, neither of these problems are the result of the COVID epidemic. This situation was far from ideal even before the crisis. What is more, this crisis provided our civil society some new opportunities by creating a room for innovation. So the first problem, although mass incarceration is not as severe in Europe as it is in America, prisons are overcrowded in many EU member states, with Belgium, France, Italy and my own country, Hungary, on the top of the list. A significant number of prisoners are imprisoned for minor drug related offences in Europe. In most countries, these prisoners have no or very limited access to treatment and harm reduction services. Prisoners are one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to COVID, but are often forgotten when it comes to vaccination or other health responses. Since the introduction of lockdown measures, prisoners are deprived of basic human rights such as access to a lawyer, family members, and even hygienic products and quality food in many member states. There are 16 year old inmates who could not speak to their parents for several months. The violation of the right to a free, fair trial is also regular; one in five prisoners in Europe are in pretrial detention, and the rate is increasing during the COVID rises. Despite the call of many international organisations to examine rates, to release prisoners to reduce the risk of COVID infections, only a few European countries responded positively. The positive impact of early release programmes, if they re-entry to community support, is documented in many countries, including Iran. Even countries that have implemented decongestion measures have failed in many cases to prevent or reduce the continued and disproportionate arrests and imprisonment of people for minor drug offences. This undermines attempts to reduce preventable overcrowding. This crisis underlines the desperate need for criminal justice reform as well as introducing and scaling up those alternatives to coercive sanctions that are promoted by the European Council. Why is it that member states are reluctant to provide alternatives of incarceration when we know that they are more cost effective than imprisonment? Why is it more important to enforce drug laws than to ensure the rights of prisoners to life and health? The second problem, social and health services for people who use drugs remain chronically and disproportionately underfunded, especially in comparison with supply reduction measures. The EU Drug Strategy required member states to scale up harm reduction services, but what we witnessed in some member states was scaling down and not scaling up. In countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, needle and syringe programmes had to close down due to lack of funding and lack of political commitment, leaving 10s of 1000s of injecting drug users without any access to health care system in the deadly grip of poverty and social exclusion. Why is it that some member states enthusiastically enforce drug laws against drug users, but their enthusiasm disappears when it comes to ensuring their basic human rights to accessing life saving treatment? Why is it always treatment and harm reduction programmes that are the first victims of budget cuts during the crisis, again, although the COVID epidemic further limited the access to health services? We can also see inspiring examples of innovations too. Harm reduction programmes are always in the forefront of supporting the most marginalised groups of society, from the various effects of the epidemic and lockdown measures. For example, restrictive rules on opiate substitution programmes were relaxed in several countries, allowing clients to access their medications without the obligation to show up every day. In several European cities homeless people use drugs were provided with special emergency shelters, with links to treatment, and sometimes safe supply of medications. Third problem: the space for civil society has been shrinking in many European countries and around the world. In a period when it is a growing challenge to raise sustainable funding for civil society organisations, some member states are increasingly hostile to civil society organisations. For example, in my own country, Hungary, independent organisations that receive international funding have to register and are scapegoated as foreign agents; civil liberties are increasingly restricted due to COVID related measures; and this, together with economic hardships, has a disproportional impact on vulnerable populations, especially organisations representing and advocating for these groups need more protection support and funding from the EU. My organisation has been documenting the responses to COVID crisis in European cities. Our findings clearly indicate that civil society has shown incredible resilience and has proven to be a very valuable partner of policymakers during the crisis in cities and countries where civil society was meaningfully involved in responding to the crisis, more innovative and more effective solutions were introduced. Why is it that many member states are more afraid of those civil society organisations that raise awareness on social problems, than of the social problems themselves? Why is it that too often, human rights remain nice ideas put on paper, but they are not taken seriously when it comes to the least popular groups of society? This crisis exposed and escalated the pre existing inequalities and human rights violations in our society. Instead of returning to the false and fragile normalcy of the pre COVID period, we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and make sustainable changes for the future. The innovations introduced during the COVID crisis, such as the early release of prisoners the relaxation of OST rules or providing homeless people with shelter, food and medicines are reported to improve their health and well being of vulnerable people. So why don’t we keep mainstreaming these innovations after the crisis? And we need drug policies that do not deprive people of their human rights, but empower communities to stay healthy and safe, especially if they are poor and marginalised. Thank you very much.

Edith Hofer, European Commission, European Union: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, or I don’t know. Good night, to all of the participants, wherever you are in the world. It’s always a pleasure for me and an honour to be here today at this event organised by Asociación Proyecto Homnbre on behalf of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs, together with the other distinguished speaker and of course with this invisible audience which makes life a bit more complicated. Drug policy is a particularly dynamic and international concern that has seen significant reforms over the last 40 years or more. Europe and the rest of the world have developed, implemented and adopted measures and policies to reduce the demand and supply of drugs, as well as related harms. Our collective experiences, especially including the civil society experience over the past decade has shown that the drug phenomenon is very fast changing. You’re now facing different evolutions and new patterns of consumption, increased production and new transit channels; not to mention new substances. And as we just heard, we continue to face a set of old issues that persist. But we also have many new problems coming up. The new EU Drugs Strategy 2021 – 2025 is ever based on a detailed assessment of what actually the previous strategy document and its action plans have delivered. Evaluation is evidence, evaluation is an essential element for any political action, because it gives us a barometer of the effectiveness and relevance of policies done, and a compass for future drug policies. The EU Drugs Strategy provides the overarching political framework and the priorities for the European Union for drug policy for the next five years. It takes, as previous strategies, an evidence based, integrated, balanced and multidisciplinary approach to the drugs phenomenon, not only at the European level but also at national and international level. It incorporates a gender equality and a health perspective as well. The Strategy aims to protect and improve the well being of society and protect and promote public health to offer a high level of security and wellbeing for the public and to increase health literacy. It is built on three main strands, which are supported by three cross cutting themes. The main strands or pillars are: one, drug supply reduction, enhancing security; two, drug demand reduction, prevention, treatment and care service; and three, addressing drug related harms. It’s important for me to underline that the strategy for the first time develops and highlights a harm reduction framework as a self standing pillar at the same level of importance as demand and supply reduction. This pillar addresses drug related harms by focusing on measures and policies that protect prevent or reduce the possible health and social risks and harm for users, for society, and in the prison setting; and we just heard from Peter how important the last one is as well as part of this harm reduction framework. We also place more focus on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent low level participants in illicit drug markets. The EU continues, very firmly to advocate for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty for drug related offences. This is also a very important principle included in the new strategy. Key international documents such as the three UN drug conventions, the 2016 UNGASS outcome document, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the International guidelines on human rights and drug policy, just to name a few, are important bases for our strategy.  The UNGASS outcome document is and remains the most comprehensive policy document on international drug policy. And I would like to congratulate congratulate to the five year anniversary of its adoption. We will have another side event today, which will pay tribute to this outcome document, and its impacts in the afternoon. Based on the strategy which has been adopted in December as also Marie said,  the Council of the EU is currently negotiating, under the leadership of the Portuguese presidency, an action plan, which should be adopted by mid year. We recognise that the impact that drugs have on quality of life and health on so many people and how complex and invasive the drug markets really are. This is why the EU Drugs Strategy are an adaptive response to this situation, and will be implemented with a focus on public health, on the protection of youth and of the vulnerable populations, the fight against stigma and discrimination, human rights. But we’re also fighting against organised crime and money laundering within the EU and internationally. Also the Action plan itself has not been implemented and has not been adopted yet and, as I said before, is probably to be adopted only by mid 2021. We believe that we have to urgently move to implementation of the Strategy, and for that we will rely on civil society as a crucial partner, because they are the ones working most closely with the people who use drugs. The Civil Society Forum on Drugs provided important input in the evaluation of the previous strategy and the development of the current strategy. And for that, I would really like to thank you all for your inputs and for your constant involvement. And this is also something we want to continue the active involvement of civil society in the future in the context of drug policy. Finally, let me mention something, even if it’s maybe not 100% in the Human Rights area, we still have to look at the bigger picture in terms of drug trafficking. Also, especially were looking at where the money is used for the money is used for. So therefore, we also have to step up actions against organised crime so that they cannot  infiltrate for example, legal economies, and continue to work. Therefore, the commission has adopted yesterday an EU strategy to tackle organised crime which responds to these increasing challenges, it was adopted yesterday, as I said, and, I invite you to also look at this as it’s part of our new drugs strategy as well.

Dr. Joan R. Villalbí, Delegate of the Government for the National Plan on Drugs, Ministry of Health, Spain: Thank you, all. And thank you all for being here with us. It’s really a pleasure to be together with all of you in this in this event, and really happy to be part of this panel with Proyecto Hombre. We have been colleagues and friends for decades, we have been working together to improve the situation on the drug scene and drug policies in Spain. I’m going to share some slides with you so it’s going to be more interesting than watching my face, I think. And what I will try to do is, let’s see if I am able to do it. I hope it is being visible. What I’ll try to do is to share with you some thoughts on how in Spain over decades, we have been evolving and fostering what we, in some way call the Spanish model, which really is based on the idea that the international principles that the United Nations foster guide our policy and this of course have to do with international drug control conventions, but they also have to do with human rights, and these two principles, which are at the core of the international governance of our societies are within our current strategy and previous strategies. We are now with the current strategy, National Strategy for drugs and addictions, which is built on a public health perspective, Thinking about person, victim, setting, its community, which tries to give a universal response with free coverage of services by the National Health Service, providing a response according to the needs and giving priority to the most vulnerable, and trying to get some coherence and collaboration among all public administrations. The strategy and the plans that define it, are always built from our office, the national plan and drugs delegation, but also together with our regional governments, together with experts, together with NGOs, together with researchers; together we design what are the objectives for the period, and we all provide inputs to progress towards reaching those objectives. We also try to mind diversity, and we also think that there was a public responsibility, but it’s also a social responsibility. And we’ve had 35 years now of consecutive national plans on drugs. And the good thing is that, in general, they have been grounded on consensus, a consensus that has made them relatively continuous over government changes and ideology in government, which doesn’t happen in other spheres of public policy in our country. But let’s say also that one of the big things we’ve learned this from difficulties, and our story begins with a disaster catastrophe. That was the heroin epidemic in Spain which began in the late 70s, but evolved tremendously over the 1980s. It was a new problem. We had no professionals trained, we had no specialised centres. There was a very confused ideology and public image about drugs mixing cannabis, heroin, everything seemed to be the same, and it was not the same. Most heroin users were rebuffed by the healthcare system; were kicked out,  could find no help, and heroin began to spread  everywhere, very quickly, in the most deprived neighbourhoods, and it was white heroin which was injected, which dominated the market at the time, that’s not true anymore. There is a mix now. And these conditions, made the ground for our tremendous HIV and AIDS epidemic in the 90s, which was a second disaster, hitting very hard the same population. So that was the context of our first national plan on drugs, and the national plan on drugs made a big step forward. And I think the main challenges, then and now, are the same and are the same in fact for all public health issues: you must understand and measure problems, identify interventions that are useful, effectively respond to problems. We must test them, we must evaluate them all the time. And we must ensure the most effective programmes and interventions, reach everyone. It’s very nice to have a nice and effective programme but it remains very local and doesn’t reach everyone, we miss opportunities that could be useful for any. Our first priority of course was to ensure that we had a network for care and treatment that was based on science. From the beginning I said we had no trained professionals, we had no specific services and care was based on charismatic responses, based on goodwill, but not very effective. So, developing a network of therapeutic communities, detoxification units in hospitals. The first one was opened in 1981. It’s going to be now 40 years since we opened our first unit in Barcelona. And the backbone of the system are the ambulatory treatment centres were addictions, with professionals,  doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers. That’s the backbone of the system. Also the centres, some mobile units in metropolitan areas. Then we began to think more about those who did not reach treatment because they were not ready for it. So we began to develop drop in centres where they could shower, or they could get coffee. And from there we developed into harm reduction interventions, of course, opiate substitution therapy can be seen as the first basic. Beyond that, we develop low thresholds treatment centres that would admit people who were not definitely in treatment but who could get some initial help. And we have developed some supervised consumption facilities in some of the major cities: in Bilbao, in Barcelona and its surroundings, in Madrid (that’s unfortunately no longer operational). And we’re confronting now our big problems we haven’t solved yet: the residential needs of many drug users who are homeless, and the pandemic has been important. And I want to emphasise this methadone maintenance therapy was crucial. This graph shows survival analysis of people in addiction treatment. And for most alcohol treatment, cocaine treatment, cannabis treatment, after one year of treatment, about 40% remain in treatment because addictions, by definition, are chronic and relapsing. For heroin users only 5% were on treatment after a year, so we needed to find a way. And the response was methadone maintenance therapy, because with methadone maintenance therapy, we could maintain heroin users on treatment, about the same rate than the other. Addiction patients about 40% remain in treatment. I think that’s very important, because that provided the ground, to be able to work with them, and improve their productivity. Let me mention the harm reduction facilities. These are pictures from the Baluart Centre in in Barcelona. These are spaces where your users can walk in, bring their own substance or they’ll find clean material, they’ll find supervision. If they overdose, they’ll have quick help, and they begin interaction with health professionals, and is beginning of interaction. We have many examples that show that it shortens the way to treatment for those people who were not ready for treatment. But once they begin contacting the system, it’s much more likely that we’ll be able to reach to the site, they will enter treatment and they will change and mortality declined. Our estimates of mortality, show it very clearly. It’s now stable. We need to make further efforts, but it’s not what it was years ago. And then, let me insist just a little bit in what Peter Sarosi said, COVID has brought the issue of homelessness very much to the front, because many drug users are homeless and very often substance use is a cause for exclusion from the mainstream social services, such as shelters for the homeless, they’re kicked out of these facilities, and during the time of extreme confinement because of COVID, this issue was pressing and in our large cities there’s been two options: In some more flexible rules, so they could get into general shelters, perhaps with external support from addiction services, intensive external support from addictions, medication, other professional help. But in some other cities we’ve had specific facilities for substance users, and sometimes involving integrated harm reduction skills. For instance, providing beer or wine, for those who otherwise would leave the facility to get it. For instance, providing the space for safe and supervised consumption of drugs. This is an issue we need to address better, we need more facilities like this. COVID has confronted us with this need, and it’s key for improving outcomes because if you are homeless, the likelihood that you will continue on treatment and progress is much lower. And I think that’s all, we have very tight schedule.

Oriol Esculies, International Commissioner of Association Proyecto Hombre: And the reason for sharing this adjusting of the model in Spain is also recognising the challenges that we all must deal with, not only Spain.

Denis Huber, Executive Secretary, Pompidou Group, Council of Europe: I will rather use the opportunity to bring to the audience a wider scope, of course, including the recent report of the Parliamentary Assembly, which has been adopted in October 2020, but also more recent developments in the Pompidou Group. As you mentioned, we are celebrating this year, the 50th anniversary of the Pompidou Group. It has been created in back in 1979, through an initiative of the late French President, George Pompidou, and it was the first time that European countries have brought their efforts together to tackle the issue of what was at the time, an emerging problem is the use of drugs within European population, and also to fight the trafficking of drugs. So the creation of the Pompidou group in 1971 was against this background, which has changed a lot over the last 50 years because the most important objective of the Pompidou Group was at the time to fight against drug trafficking, and to tackle and address the issue of drug abuse among European population; at the time there were seven countries, which created the Pompidou Group. The six countries which were members of the European community; plus, the United Kingdom. Because George Pompidou, as you all know, had already decided at the time that he would not veto anymore, the candidature of the United Kingdom to the European community so he wanted to include to the United Kingdom from the start in this new European framework. The focus of the Pompidou group has changed. When it has been integrated in the framework of the Council of Europe, that was in 1980. During nine years the Pompidou had lived its own life as an autonomous body but after 1980, it was decided to integrate it into the framework of the legal and political framework of the Council of Europe, and this of course has changed the approach, because as you know the Council of Europe is about democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This is the DNA of the Council of Europe and so the, the approach of the Pompidou group has changed after its integration into the Council of Europe and especially over the last decade. There has been a lot of strong focus given to human rights in drug policies. And this includes cooperation with civil society, because also, it is in the DNA of the Council of Europe to cooperate with civil society, and when you want to address an issue such as Human Rights, you need to work with civil society; civil society at large but also of course, and in particular the organizations, which are the voices of drug users and their relatives in Europe. In the last years, policy papers have been adopted on interaction with civil society; that was in 2015, and then in 2017; a policy paper on human rights, and drug policies that governments should implement in the drug policies. Then, it came to an initiative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which should have been the main subject of these intervention, because Hannah Bardell, who is the rapporteure, has produced a very interesting and important report which has been adopted by the Parliamentary assembly on 12 October, 2020, and this report led to the adoption of two important texts. The first one is a recommendation by the Parliamentary assembly to the Committee of Ministers, where the Parliamentary assembly is asking to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to take collective action in the field of drug policy and human rights. This is currently being discussed within the Committee of Ministers, so there is no reply yet to this recommendation. We have to wait. And there is also a resolution, which is directly addressing to the member states of the Council of Europe, so that means that each individual member state can make the follow up, which it deems useful or necessary with these resolution, and I would say that the most far reaching and ambitious proposals of the report are in the resolution because we know in the Council of Europe that it’s not always very easy to have a collective action taken by the Committee for ministers that are 47 Member States and they have, they have quite different approaches, and it’s not easy to come to a collective action, but when you address individually to all member states, then you may expect that at least some of them will take action on the basis of these proposals. Then we also have an important issue which is currently being discussed by the Committee of Ministers, it is the Revised Statute of the Pompidou Group. It has been my main work over the last two years, to lead the discussions together with the Portuguese presidency on the new statute of the Pompidou group. We have reached an agreement within the Pompidou Group Member States on a draft revised statute. And I can maybe say a few words about this draft revised statute, which is at the stage, only a proposal by the member states of the Pompidou Group to the Committee of Ministers so it’s also still under discussion, and I would not reveal a secret by telling you that the discussions are little bit complicated. But for the moment, the text as it stands, contains quite important steps forward. First of all, it reaffirms the multi multidisciplinary nature of the drug problem, so we need to tackle the drug issue with different fronts on different fronts. Of course, we have the activities on law enforcement, but also we need to foster prevention training. We need also to work together with education ministries, health ministries, so it’s a very transversal issue and it’s important to reaffirm this multidisciplinary nature. The important thing is the strong focus on human rights, which is in the revised statute. Of course, as I mentioned the Pompidou group has already been working on rights and drug policy, especially over the last decades but if the statute is adopted by the country’s ministers, this would become a statutory mission of the Pompidou group to promote human rights in the conception adoption, implementation, and evaluation of drug policy, so this would be a very important qualitative step forward. If it is adopted, and we hope it will. And the third important issue in the statute is the fact that the mandate of the Pompidou group would be extended beyond the issue of illicit drugs, so we will be able to tackle also other forms of addictions, like, especially the new forms of addictions:  internet, gambling. Another very important step forward is to reaffirm very strongly in this new statute, the identity of the Pompidou group as a Council of Europe entity, which brings at the same time the added value of the Pompidou group. And we are already doing that; but we will strengthen a lot, the synergies that we have with a number of other kinds of entities such as the Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the Committee on the prevention of torture, the Committee on Human Rights, intergovernmental body, and other important entities of the Europe, and of course also the Parliamentary Assembly, who has just adopted the report that I mentioned, and Mrs Bardell has been entrusted by the Parliamentary Assembly to follow up the report. Just one last word among synergies that we want to establish is also to strengthen our synergies with civil society, and I see at least one person here who knows that I’m serious about that. It’s also not an, a very easy issue to discuss. Currently there are some resistances, but I’m very committed, as the Portuguese presidency, to move forward on this front.


Q&A
Oriol Esculies: The first one from Regina Mattison, and says: Prevention is an integral part of the new EU Agenda and Action plan on Drugs; I am lacking this perspective in the webinar. Could you elaborate or how the Civil Society Forum on Drugs is working with prevention in different areas.
Péter Sárosi: Yeah, maybe I can answer that. So, the CSFD has several experts who have extensive knowledge and expertise in the field of prevention, and in our official positions and recommendations we always emphasise the need for evidence based prevention interventions in member states. The working group, that the CFSD has, and which maybe has the most, you know, strong focus on prevention is the one on the quality standards of demand reduction. So we have four four working groups, and one working group is working on how to implement the minimum standards for drug demand reductions in member states so they produce several surveys and reports on this issue. You can find more information on on our website, the civil society forum on drugs website, but it’s a very good point and we think prevention is very important.

Oriol Esculies: Thanks, Peter, thanks. Then Juan Fernandez says ‘There’s currently multiple countries in the EU and its neighbourhood considering very different legal regimes, for the cultivation and use of cannabis. These include government initiatives in Luxembourg, Malta, North Macedonia and Spain, by one of the coalition partners, and pilots and pilot supply projects in the Netherlands and Switzerland. The question is, Is the EU fostering any spaces for discussing and reflection between member states, and neighbours to discuss the human rights potential of these initiatives.
Edith Hofer: I’m happy to have a first go but I’m not going to be able to answer the question, obviously. I wanted to reply to the question already saying that we have a lot of fora to discuss cannabis policies in the widest sense, because of course as you know there is not just the, let’s call it, illegal part of cannabis but there are loads of these products which are coming on the market and sold in across Europe in shops and so on, so there are loads of discussions, and we will certainly also address the issue of human rights, and I think what the colleague has raised in this context about, for example, incarceration in some countries still for these minor issues and so on, so there is plenty of discussion ongoing, and we will definitely continue this and if I remember some of the meetings of the civil society forum on drugs, yhis was also there already discussed extensively, but I’m happy if the colleagues add to the more human rights dimension.
Marie Nougier: Yeah, I think within the CSFD there is some division in terms of the way forward on cannabis regulation in general. So I’m going to respond in my personal capacity as IDPC. As some models of legal regulation are being applied, I think the main debate is not about whether or not to legally regulate, it’s about how. There are countries now legally regulating cannabis, and maybe other plants as well. So we’re looking into the social justice issues related to legal regulation and also the human rights component; so, that’s racial justice, gender equality, ec. That’s what we’re trying to push for now, to make sure that the legally regulated models that are applied responds to these issues. So there are debates, ongoing within civil society on these specific issues and I hope that we can continue to debate with the Commission as well and bring the some of the findings and some of the examples of good and bad practices as well, to inform that debate.
Denis Huber: Maybe I can add a few words. The Pompidou Group does not have a stand on the issue of regulating cannabis; we just are following what is happening and of course and many things are happening. What we have been doing is that we have invited a representative of the Canadian government, to have an exchange of us with the Pompidou Group member states that was supposed to take place in November last year but due to the health situation it was not possible to do it but it’s forthcoming probably for October this year.  Then I would like to say something else also on the issue of human rights, and drug policies. We have created an expert group, which is building self assessment indicators for member states, so they can analyse through this tool, how much the drug policies are in line with the human rights obligations under the Council of Europe conventions, and not only these, but also UN human rights conventions because in the Pompidou Group we have three countries which are not members of the Council of Europe, so not binded by the Council of Europe conventions, Mexico, Israel and Morocco. And then I would like to draw your attention to something which is not directly linked but there is a link. It is the issue of drug consumption rooms, and we are organising on the first of July, the second European seminar on drug consumption rooms, which will bring together the countries, and the cities which are hosting a drug consumption room, in order to show it as good practice, and maybe encourage other countries to use the same models, which are existing already today in 10 European countries. So this will happen on first July, in Strasbourg and the plan is to establish a network of European drug consumption rooms. In order to share good practices, and also as I say, encourage other cities which are considering hosting such a room to set up such a drug consumption.
Oriol Esculies: I think we don’t have more time, there are more questions so maybe a promise that I will send them to the speakers and maybe later on they can answer if they consider so. To conclude, at the start of the site event someone told me that there were 150 people on, so I really want to thank all the participants who got engaged in this side event but also, especially the speakers and the organisers, for being here with us, transferring your knowledge, your expertise on these issues, which are very, very complex. It’s for us a pleasure to to organise this kind of initiatives, and we just wish, you’ll be safe. Please be safe.

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