Home » Informal Civil Society Dialogue with UNODC Executive Director

Informal Civil Society Dialogue with UNODC Executive Director

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: I am very delighted to take part in this annual dialogue. It’s always a highlight to meet with civil society and meet with you. We do treasure this partnership with civil society. For 40 years, this committee has ensured that the diversity of voices has contributed to the global debate on drugs. We continue to count on ensuring drug policies are balanced. Civil society is an essential partner to UNODC, it is in our strategy and we are committed to it. We have over 130 civil society organizations present at the CND, more than 50% increase from last year. CSO’s are co-organising almost 50% of the side events. 150 side events, 80% in person. Thank you for your active engagement, hard work and commitment. You are indeed making a real difference.

1.     Uganda youth Development Link, Uganda, (Rogers Kasirye)

Every year, UNODC conducts studies and produces materials that are important for evidence-based responses to drugs. For many of us in lower income countries, this information is of invaluable importance. However, navigating through the ocean of this information on various parts of UNODC website is a big challenge. How can UNODC generate a compendium of good practice materials that address drugs and crime, and make them easily available to us?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: Indeed a very important element in our corporate strategy and discussion with our colleagues is that we’re not here to produce research, we want to focus on research reaching policy makers to make an impact on policy and decisions and reaching stakeholders. Making this research known, not just making it accessible but also to hold more events to discuss our research in the field. So we discuss how to have our country officers in the field participating in research. How can we approach universities, research centres, community groups etc. and get them to know about our research? Specifically, we will launch a new page on our website later this year which will make your life easier to search for publications in thematic areas. You can find the studies on drug use prevention, treatment, care etc. we are working on improving our website and also working on having all our country offices have websites. I hope that this investment will be visible at the end of the year.

2.     Mathare Community Anti-Drugs Coalition, Kenya, (Joseph Arthur) and Center for Youths Mental Health and Drug Abuse Prevention, Nigeria, (Abimbola Rahman Akinyemi)

Given that mental health is a global health issue and directly related to drug use, how can UNODC help community coalitions to tackle these fundamental issues, and to mitigate the harms of drugs such as methamphetamine (ICE) and its links with schizophrenia?

[not asked as not present]

3.     Slum Child Foundation, Kenya, (George Ochieng Odalo)

UNODC has launched strategic visions for different regions since you started your tenure. How is the implementation working out especially in Africa? Are there examples that we can learn from the regions where these strategic visions are being implemented, and how are the regional intergovernmental bodies working with UNODC on this?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: Actually I was late coming here because I had a meeting with our office in Africa and discussing with them exactly when is a good time to go to Kenya and Nigeria and meet civil society there. Yes indeed i believe that the strategic vision for Africa has helped us in resource mobilization in Africa. we used to spend 80 million dollars, in 2022 we spent 100 million dollars, so there is an expansion in the delivery. We have also developed a strategic division for Nigeria specifically. We are developing a regional framework for engagement in West africa, Southern Africa, Eastern Africa. We are signing a strategic framework for Arab states at the end of march, then North Africa has its own specific region. We are coordinating with the different economic commissions and African development bank and African union. Our strategic vision for Africa launched 2 years ago and has helped us work towards our objectives in line with the 2030 agenda. We have also included some cross cutting enablers inc. partnership with civil society, focus on gender, youth, prevention etc. these are helping to develop our project proposals and make it more integrated. We are also developing Africa objectives which are continental objectives e.g. health, security, gender, protection of natural resources. This should be launched in the next 2 months with very specific deliverables. We have also been facilitating discussions of civil society common positions on drugs that can help civil society position themselves e.g. in Africa the slum child foundation has taken the lead on this, we look forward to working with civil society in africa. Also in Asia and Latin America we are doing this work in relation to the common position. Problems in Africa are too many, too big and we all have to work together.

4.     Eurasian harm reduction association (EHRA), Lithuania, (Ganna Dovbakh)

The Global AIDS Strategy includes new targets for the decriminalization of drug use and possession for personal use. As the lead co-sponsor of UNAIDS, is UNODC working with civil society to develop a concrete plan towards this goal?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: We have established an ongoing consultation with SCO group on HIV and reaching the 10/10/10 targets. We are promoting meaningful engagement with civil society at large and CBO organization in all our work, not just hiv/aids. This group has become a venue for structured dialogue that is taking place. One outcome of this recent consultation has been supporting the international network of people who use drugs to strengthen the capacity of constituents to advocate for progress of 10/10/10 targets, particularly in regard to decriminalization. In relation to hiv targets, this relates to holding the government accountable. Let me be honest with you, the whole AIDS agenda has been affected by covid. Ministries of health and gov have limited resources. When you have covid pandemic, it really attracts attention, and all the money and physical space was all allocated to this crisis, and then after 2 years of covid there was money going to the vaccines. We have to recognise that we have a challenge in terms of aids regaining the attention that it deserves. We rely on civil society to keep being the voice. This is a challenging issue when it comes to enough resource mobilization.

5.     Association Proyecto Hombre, Spain, Oriol Esculies (International Commissioner), Peace and Hope for Youth Development (PHY), (Augustine Nyakatoma) and Liberian United youth for community safety and development, Liberia, (Patience N. Williams)  

To what extent is UNODC endorsing prevention measures for children and youth to the Member States, and what could civil society organizations such as ours be doing to support UNODC in protecting young people?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: In my opening remarks in the first day of the CND I have focused on prevention as an underfunded area of work. We need to really mobilize globally civil society, governments, donors to focus on prevention and to give priority to youth. They are the generation that interests. One way of helping children and young people in field of prevention to join us in the advocacy efforts for funding for evidence based policies. It’s been 10 years since the standards for drug prevention have been issued and there are need for resources. There is a need for the call and coordination in this area and we lack data. We need more data and research and analysis when it comes to what works, what is best. Angela is sitting here – the chief of our research. We are collaborating with Spain to undertake a rigorous analysis of school-based prevention programmes. It is an excellent example of what partnerships can do. An NGO working with a university on our projects and programs. We have been discussing this with Vienna, there was a meeting where we discussed how can we mobilize resources for children for raising awareness. it should start with parenting skills, what should they do and how should they be involved and engaged int his challenging thing.

6.     Charis Healthcare & Community Support Initiative, Nigeria, (Henry Ojenya)

What concerted effort has UNODC made in addressing issues of drug use and treatment following COVID-19 and what are the evidence-based practices for developing countries to adopt in emergent situations?

[question not asked as not present]

7.     Dianova International, Switzerland, (Lucía Goberna)      

We would like to know more information on the Interagency Technical Working Group (ITWG) on prevention and treatment of drug use and drug use disorders established by UNODC and WHO in 2022. Could you kindly provide an overview of the main goals and actions conducted so far and foreseen in the future? Is there room for civil society to collaborate in the Working Group?

Ghada Waly, Executive Director, UNODC: As you can tell from the name of the group, it is a group for inter-agency coordination and collaboration on prevention and treatment. We work with WHO and we wanted to create a space for this interagency coordination to have common initiatives where they did not exist. We have 15 inter-government organizations with global and regional ones, both global and some regional. They have agreed upon 4 overarching lines of action – advocacy, reducing stigma, disseminating good practices of collaboration, and normative guidance, development and dissemination through technical support. We hope the working group decides on specific initiatives and it will be open for a wide range of stakeholders including of course civil society organizations. Go to the website and look for an interagency working group. There is more info that you can find there. From its title you can tell that it is about bringing the agencies closer together to work in a more integrated way which is a trend that we are adopting within UNODC, between different divisions, across the UN.

8.     Students for Sensible Drug Policy, United States, (Iulia Cristiana Vatau)

In September last year, UNODC held a Youth Consultation during which the idea of a youth consultation on drugs was also brought up and welcomed. Does UNODC have any intention of organising this consultation, particularly with the involvement of youth-led civil society organisations, or any other forum for engagement with youth civil society?

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, DPA UNODC: It is something that i get often asked in side events is the role of the youth and how we deal with that. Youth, gender and human rights are 3 elements that we really take seriously. I see ? sat here – she is our coordinator on many of the youth issues and we do have something which is called the youth empowerment ? which is a very difficult mouthful name (acronym YEAH). We want to make sure that we see youth throughout all the programmes. When it comes to the CND you do know that we have the youth forum on drug use prevention ongoing, ? is organizing that with a lot of competence. It is a system where we invite member states to come up with representatives, but we try to strengthen the selection of those reps in a manner where they learn from the CND process but also contribute to the CND process. If I am not mistaken, I think the questioner themself has been part of that exercise, right? very good. That is something that we move forward on. The youth consultation held in September last year, your organization was represented if I am not wrong. We have started to take action all the same. We are going to launch Youth ? to combat drugs and crime so hopefully that will enable us to move forward on that specific topic.

9.     Veterans Action Council, United States, (Etienne Fontan)

During the CND thematic intersessional in 2022, a researcher from the Czech Republic presented on the increased harms to public health from drug prohibition, and what the speaker called “the sweet spot” of reduced harm at the point of what the speaker termed “effective regulation”. How is UNODC working to better understand the correlation between prohibition, crime, and harm?

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, DPA UNODC: I’m very happy to say we do monitor the drug situation and its consequences. We continue to monitor and this is close to the heart of the UNODC. it’s not just because of academic research, it is how to translate this in operational terms. What can we do, what guidance can we provide. I would suggest that if you look at the international drug control system, it is not a system of prohibition, it should not be. It’s a system of public health. Therefore we try to make it as feasible to our evidence and guidelines towards solutions and not problems.

10.  Movendi International, Sweden, (Esbjörn Hörnberg) and CADCA United States of America, (Sue Thau)

One of the most serious shortcomings in the response to the world drug problem over the past decade is the lack of focus on evidence-based drug use prevention programs. What can be done better to facilitate greater prioritisation and investments for prevention and health promotion programs, and how can Movendi International and other civil society organizations such as CADCA collaborate with UNODC and other UN partners on this?

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, DPA UNODC: We have a lot of chairs around here of the VNGOC. You are so right, there is a lot of discussion regarding drug policy but one thing must be clear – prevention, treatment and demand reduction is where we have common ground and more needs to be done. Another thing is accessing controlled methods. There shouldn’t be a debate, it needs to be firm. Funding is not also going forward in the same amounts that we would wish for. That is because the int drug control system has a divide between national sovereignty and public health issues. Having said that, it is of great essence. In Norway we have a piloting role with the Norwegian government to assess the national prevention system of Norway on the basis of our standards and we hope that this pilot will give us some real guidance that we can replicate in other countries based on these findings.

11.  International Drug Policy Consortium, United Kingdom, (Marie Nougier)    

In each of the last three years, the IDPC network has written a letter to you on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, asking you to lift up the key issues. Yet there has been no specific response or communication on 10th December. This may give impression that UNODC does not consider human rights-based drug policies as an urgent priority. Could you please share UNODC position on this issue?

John Brandolino, Director, DTA, UNODC: They save the best questions for me! It’s actually an easy question to answer. Our position is this – human rights is a major pillar of the UN. We take that seriously. Its integrated into our relatively new strategy. Human rights is one of the few cross cutting issues that we put into our strategy.. We are trying to see what we can do to better make that  part of all of our work not just the drug work but everything we do. We do that in a number of ways ,when new programs are developed there is a human rights checklist, any program or revision of a program that moves forward has to have a human rights component among others, so we take that seriously. There are a number of programs that we are involved in that we could characterize as addressing core issues that people in the drug area would consider human rights e.g. HIV programs. but it’s also integrated in all of our programs – we have programs that aren’t necessarily categorized as drug programs. they are considered criminal justice programs, counter terrorism programs, everything we do integrates human rights. Training of law enforcement has multiple human rights components that we work into our training . This is done in all aspects. We try to keep up with the issues around the world relating to law enforcement, drugs and crime. Internally we have a human rights advisor, we meet periodically and our field office reports on things that they are seeing within their countries. We discuss that at a senior level and talk about how we respond. A lot of our responses – we might not have international human rights messages going out, but you’ll see on our website there are a lot of messages on various days but a lot of work is done on an advocacy basis on a country working with governments to try to give them a safe space to talk to them very frankly about these issues. I can tell you we have made serious progress in that area, especially in the death penalty. Please do not take a lack of message as we do not care about the issue. We are shoring up our human rights division including implementing the human rights due diligence policy. We won’t work with any entities that have a history of human rights violations. The UN is in the process of expanding their policy to include not only security organizations but all organizations including law enforcement.

12.  EURAD, (Stig Erik Sørheim)     

Industry involvement is an important vector for many non-communicable diseases. In the past decade we have seen the emergence of a commercial cannabis industry that is promoting their products and seeking to influence policies in their own countries and abroad. What is UNODC doing to monitor the activities of the cannabis industry? (Responsible Office: DPA/RAB and DPA/DLSSB)

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, DPA UNODC: It is a straightforward question. If you look at the conventions when it comes to monitoring of the side effects and medical use. it is the INCB in charge but what we do is monitoring the developments of the overall policies rolled out on drugs throughout the world globally. We reflect that in our world drug report – in the 2022 version you will find some rather interesting info on what we see happening and how we get evidence and how we translate that into findings which are helpful for us as a system and helpful for member states at large.

13.  Civil Society Forum on Drugs in the EU, European Union, (Adria Cots Fernandez) and Decisive Minds, Zambia, (Kennedy Mutale)

In many countries, there continues to be reports of serious human rights violations, including the use of the death penalty, extrajudicial killings, lack of access to health services, etc. How is UNODC working with Member States to ensure that they are fulfilling their human rights obligations as they design and implement their drug policies?

John Brandolino, Director, DTA, UNODC: Well I have given you some background on development of our programs but we have specific programs and I think addressing these issues and trying to get them on a more systematic way and not just related to drug issues. We have an entire section on crime prevention and criminal justice – our new strategy has identified 4 thematic pillars of UNODC’s work. One of them is drugs but there is also crime prevention and criminal justice – they are very active and I mention some of their work. They have a specific program on alternatives to incarceration and punishment. They are very active in promoting implementation. We do training and go around and set up whatever systems we need to do for member states who want to implement the norms and standards of the UN including a whole part of our section that deals with prison reform. So we look at not only alternatives but things like implementing the Mandela rules which have been developed through our policy bodies in the UN. So we are also working with police, basically looking at humane ways to deal with policing strategies and developments just to give you examples. On the drug side there’s a lot going on with treatment and prevention ,we have a whole section that deals with that. We have very specific drug programs that deal with those priorities. We are very concerned about extra judicial killings – it is not a widely spread activity. but if it’s one country it is more than enough so all our work is geared toward ensuring that there are law enforcement entities that will not go down that path. We have put out some guidance on this – everybody should know that we support the secretary general that we think the death penalty should be abolished for all crimes. If member states must impose the death penalty, then they need to only for serious crimes and follow certain standards. That is our position – CCPCG – every 5 years we publish a report on the use of the death penalty and the next one is published in 2025. We use that as a way to communicate on the issue.

14.  Open Society Foundations, Germany, (Ricky Gunawan) and Drug Policy Centre in Sweden, Sweden, (Peter Moilanen)

The UN Common Position on Drugs commits to promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use. As the lead agency for the implementation of the Common Position, what has UNODC done to promote decriminalization? (Responsible Office: DPA/DLSSB and DTA/CPCJS)

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, DPA UNODC: Well we didn’t have to wait on the common position to move forward on the topic of alternatives to imprisonment. We have the Bangkok rules, Nelson Mandela rules, the Tokyo rules which clearly indicate that imprisonment should be the last resort, as well as proportionality which suggests that healthcare should be the same within walls of prison and outside. In 2019, we issued jointly with WHO a handbook on treatment as an alternative to conviction or punishment with lots of options to divert people away from the prison system, also before arrest, before trial and sentencing. There are practical best practices included in the handbook. We have informal technical consultations to identify practical principles instated in pilots in Kenya and Nigeria. We just started mapping how countries use punitive measures for drug use in contact with the criminal justice system. 4 measures: 1) high level need for alternatives, in some countries alternatives were available at all stages but not in every country. there is a positive movement but still a lot of work to be done. but at least there is a positive movement and no doubt thanks to the good advocacy of civil society organizations.

15.  Turkish Green Crescent Society, Türkiye, (Ergin Beceren) and Youth RISE, Ireland, (Ruby Lawlor)   

Could there be any steps to further include civil society actors in data collection processes such as the Annual Reporting Questionnaire (ARQ), or updates on efforts to empower more peer-led and youth-led organisations to collect data independently?

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, DPA UNODC: Let’s point out that the ARQ is really a part of the intergovernmental process. having said that we would like to advocate member states to use a wide variety of sources available. as angela is watching me very carefully, i feel the eyes burning, we never have enough data. So whatever data you might find on the ground, especially academic resources, we really love to get these. We are very cautious as an intergovernmental organization in how to frame that but any information, any data is always warmly welcomed.

16.  Transform Drug Policy Foundation, UK, (Steve Rolles)

Almost half a billion people are now living in jurisdictions where cannabis is legally available for non-medical use, yet there is an absence of specific normative guidance to support these countries. When will UNODC be able to support reforming Member States with such guidance?

John Brandolino, Director, DTA, UNODC: This may seem like a cop out answer to some of you but you have to understand our position. We are the United Nations. Our clients are member states. Our member states have a drug control system in place that has been propped up by treaties and subsequent political commitments. Those political commitments and the way they are developed over time is testament to the way member states are going in this area. This is a system that is built on medical and scientific use of drugs and so that is what our mandate is and that is what we work within. We consider ourselves not having a mandate to be providing guidance and assistance to those that are using or promoting use of drugs for non medical or scientific use. It is as simple as that. It’s not that we don’t monitor it or interested in it, or that we cannot get to those issues in other ways, we are continuously helping countries that are involved in these kinds of activities e.g. treatment prevention, so its not to say that we are not still helping countries and promoting better policies within countries that are pushing toward legalization but this is the reality of the UNODC.

17.  Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland,

While harm reduction is recognized as a vital component of the right to the highest attainable standard of health for people who use drugs, there are still places in the world where access to services remains scarce or illegal. How does UNODC see its role in promoting harm reduction interventions as a key pillar of drug policy among Member States?

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, DPA UNODC: When it comes to encouraging strong political commitments we try to do this in partnership with other organizations e.g. Global aids etc. We have conducted a number of high level meetings in Africa about providing technical support. Effective legislation policies relating to harm reduction. We do strive to reduce stigma and discrimination and promote human rights and evidence based policies relating to drug use and HIV. How do we do that concretely? Opioid agonist therapy has now been rolled out in Egypt, Uganda, Pakistan etc. in Tajikistan – pre detention centres. We have technical guidance documents on our website. As mentioned before we provide technical assistance in many countries. It’s more than advocacy and policy, it’s making it concrete. There is nothing better than having a country to make other countries follow suit.

18.  Fields of Green for All NPC, South Africa, FAAAT, France, Farid Ghehioueche   

There is increased concern over police brutality and human rights violations by law enforcement across the world: what work is UNODC undertaking to ensure the police act ethically and respect human rights and dignity?

John Brandolino, Director, DTA, UNODC: We do have a part of our organization that specifically focuses on working with police and we have specific programs where we look at revising legislation, revising internal systems and working with police to reform. all of that within the norms and standards of the UN. there is a UN code of conduct for law enforcement inc. use of firearms. They are quite standard parts of our work. An example is with Ecuador working on legislation, world Thai police and draft regulations within their police force relating to these issues. We provide strategic advice and organizational advice to some police departments even if not working with them on whole scale problems but always human rights issues including gender sensitive issues. We are looking at tools that we can develop. One of the areas that we focus on is very specific parts of policing like interviewing, how to interview suspects, victims, witnesses etc. They need to be treated differently and with certain care. Moving away from a confessions based type operation to more of a fact finding operation. That sometimes requires changing cultures within departments and community-oriented policing.

19.  CELIN Bolivia, Bolivia, (Franklin Alcaraz)

How is UNODC supporting to tackle the ongoing cultivation of poppies and coca leaf in the Americas?

[not asked as not present]

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