Side event: The Global Drug Policy Index 2021: A global tool for evaluation and accountability

Recording in English:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCxumf5AiZU]

Recording in Spanish:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOFPOM2nnVs]

Recording in Russian:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWyByvWa1yU]

Marie Nougier, IDPC: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to you all, and welcome to this side event organised at the occasion of the 65 session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to launch the Global Drug Policy Index. My name is Marie Nougier and I am the head of Research and Communications at the International Drug Policy Consortium. This event is organised by IDPC, the Eurasian harm reduction Association, the Eurasian network of people who use drugs, the European network of people who use drugs, the Global Drug Policy observatory at Swansea University harm reduction International, the Middle East and North Africa harm reduction Association, the women and harm reduction international network and youth RISE. I would like to start off by expressing our solidarity for colleagues and friends in Ukraine are facing a devastating humanitarian crisis and unacceptable levels of violence, repression and hostility right now due to the unacceptable invasion of the country by the Russian Federation.

So just a quick introduction from me on our side event today. The Global Drug Policy Index is the first ever Index that documents, measures and compares national drug policies against their effectiveness in upholding human rights and evidence-based drug policies promoted by the United Nations. The first edition of the Index was launched in November 2021 and focuses on 30 countries from all regions of the world. It is composed of 75 indicators running across five broad thematic areas of drug policy: the absence of extreme responses, the proportionality of the criminal justice response, health and harm reduction, access to controlled medicines, and development. The Index looks at both policies on paper, and their implementation on the ground.

The Index has been developed by the Harm Reduction Consortium, composed of NGOs from around the world, in partnership with the Global Drug Policy Observatory at Swansea University. We put together the Index thanks to consultations with over a hundred representatives of civil society, academia, and UN officials.

As it is the first time that we are introducing the Index at the CND, we are very keen to hear your thoughts about this exciting new tool, which we hope will serve to reflect and to open debates with civil society on how to review drug policies, and learn from other countries’ experiences.

Our first speaker is Matt Wall, he is an Associate Professor of Politics, Philosophy and International Relations at Swansea University and also works at the Global Drug Policy Observatory. The Observatory has been absolutely instrumental in elaborating the complex methodology for the Index. Matt is unfortunately unable to join us live today but he will address us in a video recording and explain to us why the Index was developed, how, and what it actually documents.

Mat Wall, GDPO: Hi, there. My name is Dr. Mathew Wall and I’m the head of politics, philosophy and international relations at Swansea University, where I’m also a member of the Global Drug Policy observatory. And it’s in this latter role that I’m talking to you today, really, in my role as a methodological or technical adviser on the Global Drug Policy index project. So, in my presentation today, I wanted to just explain a little bit about the challenges we faced at the outset of the project and how we overcame them in generating a methodological approach to creating the global policy index and how that process allowed us to follow this very complex world of drug policy ultimately down to a single number that we can use for a comparative index.

So at the outset of the project, we did face a number of problems indeed, here in the United Kingdom, and people often say to you that’s a very brave idea, meaning that this is a rather foolhardy and difficult idea, and we certainly heard that a lot. I think the problems could be kind of grouped into two categories. In the first place, there were conceptual issues that we had to look at, and there were no single universally agreed upon definitions of where drug policy started and stopped. Furthermore, it became even more complex when we got into the idea of trying to evaluate drug policy comparatively. This problem is particularly pronounced because of the politicised nature of drug policy where different individuals, different political parties, different types of actors, have very different ideas about what the goals of drug policy should be. The second type of issue that we faced was kind of data availability. In many instances where we would have locked out or have just drawn a highly reliable data set that was already out there. Such a data set either didn’t exist or was partial or unreliable in terms of the processes that generated it, so this meant we had to kind of start from the beginning with concepts and then work through creating the data that we eventually needed to finalise an index. And that’s indeed what we did. At the very start of the process, we engaged in a series of expert consultations and these experts covered three broad domains. In the first place, I suppose we had people who are experts in the world of drug policy analysis. Secondly, we have people who are experts in the kind of technical methodology of index creation and evaluation. And thirdly, we had people who had on the ground experience of international drug policy. Following the consultation with those individuals, we arrived at a conceptual approach that they chose to use the UN system coordination Task Team report on the implementation of the UN system common position on drug related matters. In the first place, because that allowed us to work around that political problem and that there’s some political heft to that document. And then the second place because the report itself is nearly like a listing of policy recommendations where there’s a very strong evidential grounding for their efficacy, especially in terms of balancing if you like different types of human rights. And so, this allowed us to conceptually arrive at the extent to which states had implemented the rights and evidence based policies recommended in the task team report as the core concept that we were evaluating. In order to maintain that expert input, we created a scientific advisory group who worked with us throughout the methodology, consolidation data collection phases and right through to the data analysis and finalisation phase.

In terms of the type of data we had to collect or we look to collect, we basically had two types of data to collect. Data on the individual indicators that comprise the global policy index and in total, there were 75 such indicators all basically seeking to measure the extent to which states had implemented the policy recommendations of the task team report and there we thought to balance I suppose policy on the books, de jure, and sort of implementation of policy on the ground or de facto, and that required us to generate quite a series of different types of data. So in the first place, we looked at policy over the 75 indicators, in terms of the like, I suppose what was on the books so there we had a team here at Swansea University, who coded as state’s legislation and policy documents according to a content analysis system that we set up to kind of check their compliance or their implementation of policies recommended in the task team report. So for example, the INCB Triple D measure on opioid drug access or the World Bank fair trial data, but in terms of implementation really, we had to rely heavily on an expert survey of members of civil society across all 30 states in our initial rollout on this project. And we had a lot of connections with members of civil society on the ground, and we leveraged those connections to deploy this survey. So it was basically asking people who were working in the domain of drug policy how the policies in their states were being implemented. We also went through a process of generating data for the weights that we use to inform the aggregation of these indicators. And we used again, a combination of methods there. In the first place, we used a survey of 30 experts from across the world as well as scientific advisory group members to look at those individual 75 indicators. As we went up the aggregation towards thethe final weighting, and so the weighting of kind of clusters of policies and ultimately dimensions into the final score, we did what’s called a Delphy process, which is sort of an iterated waiting process with that scientific advisory group. And ultimately, that’s the process that led to our methodology where we start off with this big picture of global drug policy, we refine it conceptually through the drug policy recommendations from the task team reports through an analysis of that report, and existing data, we come up with our 75 indicators. And in order to aggregate them, we combined them into these 21 policy clusters, which happen across five policy dimensions. And at each step, there’s a weighting here, and then that process of scores and weighting from 75 indicators, basically maps into that single overall score that you can see and that you can see in the GDPI data. We do have a full working with the methodology on the GDPI website and I urge you to have a look at that and please do feel free to get in touch with me if you have any more questions. Thanks very much.

Marie Nougier, IDPC: I would now like to turn to our next speaker, Marialba Quesada, Co-director of Latin America for a Sensible Drug Policy, and International Working Group member of Youth RISE in Latin America. Could you tell us a little bit about the key conclusions of the index and what it tells us about government’s performance in drug policy?

Marialba Quesada, Youth RISE: Today I’m going to speak to you a bit about the main conclusions of the Global Drug Policy index. I’m also going to be speaking to you about the results in Costa Rica and the importance of the participation of Latin America in these kinds of research. So as Matt already explained, one of the important points is that we consulted with many different experts from civil society in every country. And this is something to keep in mind when we’re looking at the differences between different countries and how drug policy responses should be implemented. And so the idea behind consulting all these experts was to have an idea of the situation on the ground and each of these countries.

First of all, I think it’s important to highlight that no country really did very well. In terms of the results there isn’t any country that should feel super satisfied. Norway was actually in first place. However, there is still so much work to be done. Although, for example, in the case of Norway, they did get good scores in certain aspects of drug policy. They had lower scores when it came to providing services. So this is because they do not have a policy of decriminalisation of drugs and the lack of decriminalisation really slows and impedes the goals that the index seeks to achieve. So we have to look at how the data relates to things like incarceration as well.

So in the first dimension of the five dimensions, that Matt explained to you we can also speak about inequality, and how inequality really affects the implementation of drug policy across this countries. For example, in Norway, Portugal and Australia they had higher scores here across the other countries, you really see, for example, Brazil, Uganda, Indonesia, which had very low scores. So Mexico is a country in Latin America, that has a rather significant role in the conversation around here. And there’s also a very high rates of extrajudicial killings that we see. And this is something that there’s a very high rate in this region of the world. And this is something that traces back to our history of colonialism and the constant effects of the so called “War on Drugs”, the effects that it has had on our region. And this is why it is so important to advocate for decriminalisation of drugs as is actually suggested and strongly recommended by the working group and the index. Unfortunately, it’s something that we do not see enough in our region.

So these issues are very complex. And the way in which country results may show up in the index isn’t just a categorical description of how the country works, it also serves as a guide for the future and for how they can change and improve their policies in the future. So the 30 countries that did participate that we see the data in these indexes, we see how they punish drug related offences. Three of these countries that have the death penalty for drug related offences and we see a lot of times that there is excessive force by armed forces and also by police and law enforcement agencies. And there are many cases of excessive force and state violence. So, in terms of the roles of governments in implementing and improving drug policy, Brazil and Mexico once again, stand out from the rest of the other Latin American countries. When it comes to people who are using psychoactive substances for personal use, and they suffer under these policies, which really needs to be moved towards decriminalization. Many times, what we see is that the way that these people are treated is not so much because it’s been that their use is problematic, but rather that the use or consumption of drugs in general is very stigmatised. So it’s not really because they’re being harmed, but rather because of the stigma that we as a society have against people who consume drugs. And this is something that really affects them in many different aspects of life, including discrimination that people face from their own friends and family.

The next dimension in Kenya, there was a lower score. 13 out of 100 respectively. So when it comes to implementation of drug policy, all 30 countries, reported lower rates of detention than what we think of is actually the case because arbitrary detentions are very common in our region and it’s not something that is often reported. But we know that in daily life it is something that people often face. It’s really part of daily life here and when we’re looking at how things play out in practice, it’s really a case of people trying to protect themselves with the police to stand your ground, so to speak. And so they’re essentially saying their freedom of movement is being limited, they’re not able to just move freely.

Continuing, only eight out of 30 countries have really implement it the common position of the UN on drugs and unfortunately, this is not something that is really spoken about or that there is awareness of in many countries in Latin America, for example, Costa Rica, is currently having conversations or in discussions about psychoactive substances, as well as the issue of medicinal marijuana. And other countries in Central America also may be introduced into these new markets, for example, including new paradigms for the implementation of drug policy. And here there are cases where we have many people who have been victims of police violence and violent armed forces and they’re looking for new ways to raise awareness about the implications of the recommendations for drug policies so that there’s more awareness. And of course, these conversations are not easy. It’s very difficult to speak about these topics or sensitive topics and this is part of the reason why it’s so important to have the participation of the actual community and populations.

Finally, in 24 of the 30 countries there are minimum sentences for drug related offences. In Costa Rica, someone can serve up to eight years in prison for drug related offences. There’s a lot of discussion in at the moment about the use of cannabis and how it relates to the use of drugs at large and this is something there is always a link between the use of cannabis and other substances. Cannabis can be used as can be used for as a food source and this is something that is we’re also trying to raise awareness about.

So the conclusion of show how drug policy has a disproportionate effect on people who are already marginalised. For example, people of lower socioeconomic status and unfortunately here we have a very racist society and it really makes it more difficult for people who belong to minority groups or marginalised groups to be able to access services and to have the same conditions. These people really face a lot of stigma and it only compounds the stigma that is faced by people who use drugs within the countries. Someone who is middle class who uses drugs is not judged in the same way as someone who is from the working class. The way that it’s seen by society really depends on different aspects of the person and here we see the real inequality and many times people from higher socio economic class do not face the same clash or the same consequences for committing crimes, yet people who are committing the crime of possessing drugs or using them for personal use are criminalised. So countries like Brazil, Indonesia, Jamaica, and Russia are specifically referenced when it comes to harm reduction within this index. However, there is a large gap between what countries say they are going to do and what we actually see being implemented in practice on the ground.

I would like to conclude a little bit about the work that we did here in Costa Rica. Here we carried out two initiatives. The first was a social media campaign, in which we informed the general public about the contents of the global drug policy index, and the impacts that we see and apart from that, we also carried out an online campaign a webinar, where we had carried out a panel of different persons and with different organisations for example, youth agencies, and different NGOs, civil society. We also carried out a meeting on the eighth of December with more than 50 participants and where we discussed the different results and how they compared across our different countries, and with a view towards encouraging dialogue, and where we can go with work in Costa Rica and harm reduction and adequate access to services. Thank you.

Marie Nougier, IDPC: Thanks to Marialba. I’m now happy to give the floor to our second panelist, Annie Madden, the Executive Director of Harm Reduction Australia. Annie, you’ve already done a lot of advocacy targeted at the Australian government based on the Index data. How do you think governments can utilise this tool to evaluate and improve their drug policies?

Annie Madden, Harm Reduction Australia: Some of my observations tonight are going to be sort of based on some of our observations from when we launched, launching and after launching the index here in Australia in November last year. We did also did a webinar that I think is going to be posted in the in the chat that I can also forward that to people if people are interested, and we were really lucky here in Australia to have a webinar with some really experienced, not just Australian, but some experienced Global Drug Policy Advocates as well. And I think what made it special was that it had a real mix of people from sort of peer and community advocates through to drug policy, other civil society advocates, drug policy researchers as well as parliamentarians. So it really started the dialogue with parliamentarians and politicians right from the sort of start when the when the index was launched.

I think what what we found with the index, you know, Australia as has been said, you know, we already know no country did very well in this index, and Australia managed to sneak into the top five. Australia, I think, you know, is often held in very high regard in terms of its approach to harm reduction and is even referred to as a country that has implemented decriminalisation but those of us on the ground here were not surprised to see the areas where Australia very much needs to do better. And they are things around the proportionality of the criminal justice response in human rights. And interestingly, in access to harm reduction. And I think, again, Australia is often held out in some kind of harm reduction paradise. So I think you know, when people think everything’s amazing here, and so it was great to get the index sort of showing that there are issues, very big issues in Australia with access to harm reduction and proportionality responses. And again, like the previous speaker has said, some of those like proportionality issues, particularly around indigenous communities in Australia, and the fact that they are very much more likely to be more targeted by criminal justice responses and overrepresented in the prison system. As well as with harm reduction that Australia is still struggling to move past, we have very good needle and syringe programme access but no real drug testing to speak of. In Australia we have very few, only two drug consumption rooms, Naloxone provision is still really poorly done here. So you know, things are improving. But the index really highlighted these various things that those of us who work on the ground know really well, that often we don’t have the data to really sort of bring those things to the attention as others have said drug policy is really complex. And often what we get is sort of top line sort of issues. The index really allows us to change the conversation with parliamentarians and with policy people about where the issues are, what we can be doing, and it drills that down to far more more practical level where we’re talking very much about actual laws and regulations and protocols and guidelines and programmes and services and funding, not just these sort of broad principles that sit over the top. That’s where the strength of the index rating is in Australia with I mean, it’s really early days with the index I think, you know, that’s an obvious thing to say but you know, it has already been used in this very CND, you know, to pursue negotiations with the Australian Government in terms of what they might be recommending or representing here at the CND this time to start pushing out on the issues that the Australian government has been active on for years. Or to go further on some of those issues that they have been active on like abolishing the death penalty, pushing harder on things around controlled medicines, pushing harder on that doing things in its own region around the Pacific Island countries that you know, still have really poor access to control medicines so that the index has really shone a light on some of those things where Australia needs to be working as a good neighbour and a good regional partner, as well as what it can do at CND. But as I say, largely, the issues are the fact that you know, it is still really early days. We are very keen to be able to get the next version and the the iteration after that of the index because I think what it provides a way to change the conversation, but as we build the indexes up over each year, to where it will really give us a way to say to our governments and to other governments in global contexts what has happened, what’s changed, what, hasn’t changed? Why hasn’t it changed? It will be able to drill into the kind of details that is often absent in these drug policy discussions, and I think that is really one of the most valuable things about it. And I think this information is really critical for advocates in this area and for people doing research in this area as well.

I think that finally, I would say that one of the other really valuable aspects about the index from our perspective is the comparative aspect to it and it allows all of us to have a tool. I mean, it’s kind of somewhat sort of cheekily, I guess, being called a sort of naming and shaming kind of tool, but it’s far more than that. But that is really important because sometimes it’s those kinds of strong advocacy discussions that need to be had. The government’s need to be shown, you know, comparatively, how they’re tracking against other countries to be able to really have the leverage to get policy change at the domestic and national level. So, I think that comparative aspect to the index will become really important as time goes on. And to be able to provide both very in-depth analysis to our drug policy advocacy at home nationally, and to be able to advocate in a more comparative sense, at a more global level.

Marie Nougier, IDPC: Thank Annie. Let me now introduce our next speaker, Zhannat Kosmukhamedova, Head of the UNODC Regional Programme Office for Eastern Europe. As Matt explained earlier, the Index is based on the findings of the UN implementation Task Team to the Common Position on drugs. What do you think is the added value of the Index, and how can it be used by the UN, and in particular UNODC, to support governments in implementing the UN Common Position at national level?

Zhannat Kosmukhamedova, UNODC: Thank you for inviting me for this conversation. I remember that I was taking part last year in this event. It’s important to go back to the Common Position and what has happened since 2016 with the UNGASS on how to address drugs in terms of their relevance human rights, and system-wide coherence with respect to global drug policy. It will help us really improve opportunities to amend our activities directly. It is important to understand national and regional perspectives and context by collecting evidence-based up-to-date disaggregated data to help our planning and implementation. This is the best way to help us adopt a high-quality and evidence based approach for addressing needs. Saying all of this, I think that we all agree it’s important to ensure continued and sustainable efforts in establishing and improving tools and materials to operationalise policy reforms and establish international standards. Coming back to the 1990s, the UN common position dates back to the 1990s when we started drafting the World Drug Report and comprehensive knowledge on drugs, we seemed to be missing data on some countries, and we are now tackling drugs from a different perspective and in different platforms. We need more focus on issues facing Central Asian and Eastern European countries. From this perspective, the Index overlaps only with two countries in the region: Kyrgyzstan and Russia. In UNODC we need to make more efforts to address the disparities in existing national policies, in terms of drug patterns and needs. We have highlighted 24 priority countries and Kyrgyzstan is part of those, although we don’t engage in the Russian Federation. As you know, the current situation in the region with the war conflict in Warsaw and the political impact in the country means we have to accelerate our efforts now on what should be done to address all these issues, because drug policy will probably not be one of the most important issues in the country and in the region. And so we should be working more closely together on this issue and see how we should address it.

Marie Nougier, IDPC: Thanks Zhannat. I would like to give the floor to Zaved Mahmood of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for a short statement.

Zaved Mahmood, OHCHR: From human rights perspective, it is really important to see that so many human rights issues are at risk in this global index. It seems to me that Mat Wall has taken consideration and in a length that all these international human rights treaty obligation or different human rights indicators, which our offices develop, so we are glad to see that the human rights component is very much at risk in this index questionnaire, or when you’re preparing the index. So there is one important aspect  I would like to acknowledge I think that this supplement definitely can complement all other existing document reports from UN system come out on the draft policy related issues including the World Drug Report. Sometimes we there is a big gap on human rights issues, but what is the implication of human rights with regard to drug policy. So the index is filling this gap, but obviously it is coming to civil society initiative. We appreciate that very much. But how it can be used also, I think we all of us not only a civil society organisation, but also we can use to advance the discussion on drug policy and the human rights setting. Let me give you one example. Just every year, the different treaty bodies review different countries situation on the human rights related issues, one particular committee treaty body regularly on drug policy issue, but under Article 37 of the CRC Child Rights Convention, every year child rights committee, but the adequate information to bring to them on the basis of this index, that what you you’re collecting through the index, and also even those country you haven’t collected heavy civil society to use the index model to collect information and provide to these human rights treaty bodies. Or human rights mechanism, including a special procedure. I am really glad that you mentioned about the arbitrary detention issues and just tomorrow we are having arbitrary detention and drug policy event. I’d like to congratulate the civil society organisation that has created this excellent study. There is a lot of traction, even the debate which we had at the CND last December. So I think that this report has really valuable information. But again, I would like to see this kind of index, which you have produced and other information could help us within the UN human rights system to understand the situation better and to have that knowledge, but please do use this index and engage with this index with the treaty bodies with a special procedure mechanism. And also during the UPR Universal Periodic Report. I was looking at different countries index different situation, when those those issues speak up, and to do our advocacy with the members that to get a recommendation under UPR. So these are the strategic thing. I’ve been thinking about the global index how we could use within the human rights framework or within the entities.

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