Matej Košir, Deputy Chairperson, Vienna NGO Committee (VNGOC) (Moderator): Welcome to the Informal Dialogue, where all questions will be asked online. We received 11 questions.
Ambassador Ghislain D-hoop, Belgium (CND Chair): I attach a lot of importance with civil society and actually, I think we should have it more often. I’m available throughout the year, so not just during this session, but also throughout the year, and I think we should have maybe a morning or an afternoon with you. I’m very pleased that some of you are here in in Vienna. This is an important meeting because multilateralism is facing some challenges. And speaking just for one minute now as a Belgian diplomat, Belgium is very much committed to rules-based multilateralism. So you will see that probably reflected in the way I’m conducting these meetings. It is my firm belief that this Commission on Narcotic Drugs which has a venerable age just a bit older than I am, 65 years, this commission has been doing very important work for the international community. You may disagree with me on that, of course, that is totally acceptable. But as I hope that you will allow me also to give my opinion, which is that rules-based multilateralism is key, member states need to work together in a peaceful way, in a respectful way, and in a constructive way. And I think your questions are also on how can we go forward, and I’m very pleased that you’re asking those questions because that’s also basically why we are here for to go forward with everyone and to try and take decisions. I can tell you, this week that taking decisions is not that obvious nowadays, but we will steam ahead and continue with our work. I’m happy to also discuss the work but I think now I really need to be here to listen to you until to answer your question. So sorry for the very short remarks, but we can expand later if there’s time. Thank you so much.
Association Proyecto Hombre, Spain: Numerous national and international reports reflect the enormous impact that the COVID pandemic has had on vulnerable groups such as people with substance use disorders, especially on mental health’s and socio-occupational integration’s areas. The strengthening of alliances between civil society and governments has become a good practice to better face this emerging situation in many world’s regions. From the Commission, what policies should be promoted in our countries to give continuity and enhance these partnerships?
CND Chair: The Commission on Narcotic Drugs has been addressing the problems of people with substance disorders and substance use. So you could actually say that from its very beginning, we have already been focusing on vulnerable groups, but you are quite right. And it’s a good question. Because, for instance, mental health and social occupational integration are issues which also to the COVID pandemic have shown to be extremely important in the daily life of people. I can actually tell you that later this year, the Belgian government, in the framework of this Chair, we have at CND will be launching initiatives on mental health. So I would invite you, we will reach out to you on that and I would invite you to maybe respond to that when we do activities later on in the year. There is emerging evidence in some countries that indeed, people with drug use disorders including those incarcerated may be at increased risk of more severe illness and mortality. And of course, we are well aware that the COVID 19 pandemic has performed challenges to prevention, early intervention and care and recovery and also rehabilitation and reintegration. Last year, there was a resolution, which focused on good practices, exchange and opportunities specifically to overcome the pandemic sequels and for instance, what we think could be good practices and opportunities is developing, implementing innovative drug treatment and recovery delivery systems, eHealth platforms on the procedures. We are very much in favour of promoting efficient, accessible and durable opportunities for treatment and recovery. Now, of course, we as an multilateral organisation cannot get involved in the relationships you have with your own member states. But we do try to deliver a framework and to address this issue so I think ABD you know, the simple answer to your question is that like you, we are aware of these issues, and we are aware of the importance of keeping an open dialogue with civil society on these issues, and also with practitioners so that we can then bring this this issue to the forum to our meetings and try and help frame some international regulations which maybe can then be put to member states. So I think we are in this question you are raising, I think we are actually objective allies. and, as I said before, I am open to listening to civil society on this. Thank you very much.
International Drug Policy Consortium, United Kingdom: We are deeply concerned over the fact that a UN human rights expert was blocked from speaking at the CND Reconvened Session in December 2021. How will you ensure that UN entities and officials working on human rights are able to speak and participate in the CND intersessional on human rights this autumn, as per the UN’s fundamental values of inclusive and meaningful dialogue?
CND Chair: The UN’s fundamental values include inclusive dialogue. It is the Chair’s express wish for there to be inclusive and meaningful dialogue, and we have aimed to ensure equal opportunity for member states and NGOs to speak during the CND. There was no consensus amongst member states on allowing the human rights expert to speak. There are people complaining that the Vienna spirit is dead. But it is because the Vienna spirit is very much alive that this human rights expert will be speaking today. There are diverging views on this matter and it is the role of the Chair to allow divergent views but to preserve the Vienna spirit. The only vote we have done is on procedure, which is similar to the voting we do every year – the vote we did on Tuesday was on procedure and on Wednesday it was on scheduling. Beyond that, it is my firm ambition to keep the Vienna spirit alive and to ensure inclusive and meaningful dialogue. As part of the solution for the problem that existed, we proposed that this dialogue take place under agenda item 7 on inter-agency cooperation.
Turkish Green Crescent Society, Turkey: We know that substance use disorders among the elderly are on the rise, especially due to the pandemic and the vulnerabilities it caused but also because of the difficulties in identifying and addressing elderlies’ substance use. This trend and the challenges it poses are briefly mentioned in the UNGASS outcome document but is identified and elaborated in the 2020 INCB report where the Board makes recommendations to member States. Is the Commission willing to take any improvement steps to establish a guideline to the Member States on this issue?
CND Chair: You are right, we have not addressed this specific situation. The COVID pandemic has raised awareness amongst all of us of the importance of leaving no one behind. We say that no patient should be left behind in terms of access to substances, but it applies also to policies where member states must do all we can to protect all people. It is a UN and SDG priority. There was a reference in the 2019 Ministerial Declaration stating that where treatment falls short of what is needed, member states will ensure that no one is left behind. We will try to work on the addressing the substance of this issue more this year.
Open Society Foundations, USA: Last year’s CND statement on the COVID-19 pandemic did not acknowledge the role of the international drug control system in filling prisons which are especially dangerous for inmates and staff. How is the CND planning to address this issue?
CND Chair: I will read out to you a number of policy references that have been taken in recent years. They don’t always specifically target incarceration, but they do address it. The statement that you referred to does refer to people incarcerated. Last year, resolution 3 urged member states to promote and facilitate non-discriminatory access to social and health care, including to people in prison and pre-trial detention, which should be equal to people in society. So there are references that we can use. In the resolution last year, there is also reference to women, youth and vulnerable people in prison. I know these texts are long and detailed, but you will be able to see references to people in prison mentioned. There is also UN Resolution 75/198 on the UNGASS 2016 that refers to vulnerabilities of women in prison in line with the Bangkok Rules, to promote effective oversight and self-assessment of confinement facilities, to implement the Mandela Rules and address violence in prisons. I would be grateful if anyone addresses these questions will refer to these authorities as a lot of work has been put into them.
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, United States: Community-based substance use prevention is a sound investment, with every dollar invested having the potential to result in savings of between $2 and $20. Please explain how the CND will collaborate with member states to ensure that community-based substance use prevention becomes a higher priority for emphasis in response to the world’s drug problems.
CND Chair: We are fully aware and appreciate the community level involvement in implementing the messages and principles developed here in a multilateral framework. The closer that link is, the better. The research done by the UNODC is only possible with community input. We have a lot of established language and principles on prevention, e.g. CND resolutions over past 15 years that refer to it. A resolution is a policy document referred to by member states and while there is a lot of technical language, they reflect the policy stance of member states. I ask for some understanding that this is the common will of member states. I am open to engage in further dialogue on this. We will have thematic discussions later this year, and we can incorporate a focus on prevention in some of the activities planned. Jo can expand on this.
Jo Dedeyne, CND Secretariat: Thank you to the VNGOC for organizing this meeting and enabling the Secretariat to participate. We are happy with the close cooperation we are having. There are many challenges, e.g. as defined in the 2019 Declaration, and prevention can be identified in any of these challenges. Member states are interested in how the commitments made can be implemented on the ground. All member states see a big role for NGOs for this.
Matej: when will the thematic discussion take place?
Jo: it should be in the Autumn but it is challenging to secure space in this building so not sure yet, should be around September.
Matej: another important resolution on prevention is also being discussed this week and hopefully it will be adopted and implemented.
Instituto RIA, AC, Mexico: Regarding civil society participation, how can we consolidate the gains that have been made during COVID (virtual participation) while also retaining and expanding civic space that has been lost because of COVID restrictions, particularly related to being in the Committee of the Whole negotiations?
CND Chair: Although technology allows us to engage with people around the globe, it is not the same especially in terms of engagement. Civil society participation is always a priority. We can do much more, I am ready to engage beyond today directly or online, as Chair. We can have a few more interactions before the year is out. We have told member states that their participation is limited to 2 per member state, that is also to allow room for NGOs. 76 NGO representatives joined this session last year, this year there are 56 side events were organized by NGOs out of a total of 130. We are open to more engagement.
Matej: In future more events could be hybrid and support more engagement.
REAJUD, Mozambique: What mechanisms exist in to regularly support the participation of Country Delegations to the CND Sessions, including stronger recommendations for civil society participation in Country Delegations?
CND Chair: It is a recurring fact that governments can include CSOs in their delegation. This is established practice for some governments, and some even pay for the flight cost. The support by a country is not something that the Secretariat can impose, but you can point out to your country that it is open for them to include CSOs in their delegation.
For Alternative Approaches to Addiction, Think & do tank, France: I just need to make a follow-up comment on access of CSOs. We used to be able to display our publications on tables outside the plenary room, we ask the Secretariat to support sharing of our publications online to member states. We tried to do this yesterday. My question is: “Researchers find that INCB is the most secretive of all international organizations: even the UN Security Council is more transparent. CND was addressed a joint NGO statement (E/CN.7/2021/NGO/7) detailing the issues. As the prime policymaking body for drug-related matters, what steps could CND take to facilitate and assist INCB in its efforts to increase transparency and accountability?
Doris, CND Secretariat: There are a lot of options to submit written statements, though there are deadlines as we need to process them. CSOs could also share documents through side events.
Jamie, VNGOC Chair: I see your point that one of the things we have lost is the NGO tables. If CND continues to be in a hybrid manner, the VNGOC can set up a hybrid version of an NGO table to display publications. We will touch base on this.
CND Chair: Thank you, this hybrid thing will go on for a while. On the INCB, the CND does not hold the Secretariat of the INCB – it is a stand-alone body. It is a quasi-judicial body, not a court but it has judicial powers. That explains a bit the way it works. It is a decision-making body, made up of 14 experts, with treaty-given judicial powers. That goes some way to explaining your question. I have been working closely with them, I have seen the President at least 4 times. We do interact with them, but do have to respect their specific mandate.
Matej: We have an informal dialogue with the INCB later today and can ask them this question too.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy, United States: We would like to commend the UNODC for providing the Youth Forum with a platform to discuss how youth can be more involved in addressing global drug issues last year. Understanding that a lot of this discussion focused on local efforts, we would like to enquire if there are any plans to expand the influence, power and/or opportunities provided to the Youth Forum when engaging with the decision making & policy creation functions of the CND, particularly during the Main Session & Thematic Intersessionals?
CND Chair: I took part in the Youth Forum, and gave an opening statement but then had to leave. I would like to engage with you again as that was such a limited time I was able to stay. It is a good established practice since 2012 to hold the Youth Forum, where member states select their representatives. I agree with you that more can be done, and take your point that on thematic discussions, we can include you more. We should organize a special interaction with you and will reach out on this, to invite other NGOs too. I am extremely pleased to work with young professionals in the Secretariat, as I would not be able to do this work otherwise. There are also many opportunities for young people to work in multilateral affairs.
Fields of Green for ALL NPC, South Africa: How does the CND intend to reconcile the WHO’s stated fact that Cannabis does not belong in Schedule one, based on the other drugs in Schedule 1. The WHO didn’t recommend removing Cannabis from Schedule 1 because implementation would require redrafting of the Single Convention. In addition in line also with the first speech given by the INCB president a few years ago, for an evaluation of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. How does the CND intend to move forward in implementing the necessary changes to the Convention and how can civil society effectively support?
CND Chair: Cannabis is not on the agenda this year because 2 years ago we had an extensive discussion on it. It was not an easy discussion at all and continues not to be an easy discussion. Your question on re-drafting the conventions – that is a process that will take years and years, and a lot of convincing, ie. lobbying. With all respect to traditional medicines, it is certainly important, but this is difficult for the Chair to give a real answer to that because it is not on the agenda. My feeling is that civil society should continue to lobby their governments, and realise that not everyone sees it the same way. We need to come to a solution agreed to by everyone. The more this is known, e.g. traditions in your country, the better it is. We are held by treaties, and recommendations by the WHO and INCB on scheduling. Those are recommendations, and then we decide. There is no consensus on cannabis. For the moment, I do not see multilateral consensus on this, and certainly not on opening the conventions which are important for governing dangerous substances. If we lost treaty-based mechanisms over those substances, we open up huge dangers. It is growing awareness by governments and politicians that will change this.
Virginians Against Drug Violence, United States: On December 20, 2020, The CND deleted cannabis and cannabis resins from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. This was pursuant to the World Health Organization recognizing: “Some patients with chronic pain have also been shown to obtain relief from cannabis preparations when other available medications have not been effective”. What steps have been taken to ensure that member state’s who are party to the convention understand the implications of this change and what steps are planned in the future to assist member states in implementing patient access?
CND Chair: We are a member state-driven organization and communicate to the UN Secretary-General our decisions. Member states are formally advised of scheduling decisions taken. To vote, member states have to lift up their country sign. We have a good website on this too. My predecessor Ambassador Khan issued a press release to communication this decision. There is a WHO scheduling body that works on this. Implementation involves efforts from everyone, e.g. on ensuring availability. We take on board your suggestions.
International Association of Hospice and Palliative Care: IAHPC understands the CND is beginning to accept the importance of access to and availability of controlled substances. Belgium is working to support this through efforts on neural pathways. This opens up need for more wealthy states to states in need, to help prevent the spread of the opioid crisis, the Lancet Commission on the opioid crisis recommended the provision of generic morphine by wealthy to less wealthy member states. This requires efforts of the INCB to ensure it happens. Is Belgium able to support this?
CND Chair: I’m extremely proud that Belgium is carrying forward efforts on ensuring access to and availability of controlled substances. I will take this question forward to my national authorities. On the broader question, one thing we really want to do is to raise awareness, which is based on scientific evidence. One of the key points for my country is looking at technical assistance. These substances are delicate to handle. A month ago I visited a UNODC lab with Justice Tettey, who showed me the high levels of security even over minute quantities of fentanyl samples. Technical assistance and capacity building is something Belgium will be working on, and will try to expand the donor base. The joint call we made on Monday includes the hashtag ‘no patient left behind’ – this is in line with the WHO. We are developing an e-learning tool on this too. I would also like to reach out to Geneva to see how this is proceeding. There is a Team Europe initiative going forward too, and we look forward to your engagement on this.