Side Event / Launch of the Shadow Report for the Midterm Review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on Drugs

Ann Fordham, IDPC: Good afternoon and welcome to this significant event, titled “Are we on track?” where the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) will be presenting our shadow report for the midterm review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on Drugs. We are honored to have the author of the report and several esteemed speakers who will provide reflections on its contents. Firstly, I would like to express our gratitude to Switzerland for co-organizing this event with us. We also extend our appreciation to the state co-sponsors: Canada, Colombia, Czechia, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, as well as worldwide and the European Union. Towards the conclusion of our event, we invite you to stay for coffee, tea, and refreshments, which will be available just outside this room. This will also provide an opportunity for further discussions following the panel. Your presence until the end is highly valued. I would like to emphasize that we aim to allocate time for each panelist’s insights and reserve a few minutes at the conclusion for any questions that may arise. Let’s proceed and make the most of this engaging session.

Raphael Nageli, Ambassador of Switzerland: I would like to express my gratitude to the International Drug Policy Consortium for this  comprehensive assessment of the last five years of implementing the commitments outlined in the 2019 ministerial declaration. We appreciate this valuable contribution to our ongoing events and celebrations. Switzerland stands as a staunch supporter of civil society engagement and multi-stakeholder approaches, recognizing their role in fostering informed debates and forward-thinking. The report presented is of critical importance, especially given its basis on a survey spanning communities worldwide. It sheds light on the daily challenges faced in addressing drug control issues, offering health and social services to those in need, and delivering prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services. This comprehensive collection of data and information serves as a stark reminder of the intricate repercussions of illegal drug markets. The work of the Civil Society Task Force is integral in understanding the complexities involved in national drug policies. We are eager to hear today’s findings, exploring the current state at the national level and understanding the progress made. Identifying gaps is essential as we strive to achieve international goals outlined in the ministerial declaration. While we may not necessarily endorse all recommendations, this report holds immense significance in shaping our perspective and thinking. We value independent voices and diligence in bringing forth insights. This event provides an opportunity to discuss broader ambitions and integration, fostering dialogue on the road ahead. Switzerland firmly believes in implementing evidence-based drug policies grounded in human rights and focused on reducing health-related outcomes. Our national strategy is structured around four pillars: prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and repression. It emphasizes a partnership approach, where health and law enforcement authorities collaborate with civil society organizations to provide services to those using drugs, affected communities, and the general population. Our federal organization emphasizes the importance of considering various societal perspectives, focusing on the needs of the entire population, and developing services tailored to diverse communities. Civil society voices serve as a crucial reminder of their influential role in shaping national commitments and engaging in international discourse. Thank you, independent voices, for your dedication. Ladies and gentlemen, let us collectively strive for a balanced and engaged commitment to international drug policies.

Ann: Thank you for your unwavering support for the past years of civil society participation.

Marie Nougier, head of research IDPC: Before I begin, I would like to thank my colleague, Adriá and the numerous civil society colleagues for their valuable contributions as well as the Swiss federal office for public health for their continuous support. Thank you.
So, why did we decide to draft this Shadow Report? Our primary objective is to support and inform the 2024 Midterm Review, providing a comprehensive evaluation of progress against the goals and 12 challenges identified in the 2019 Ministerial Declaration. Based on this evaluation, we offer recommendations not only for the mid-term review but also for broader system reform. Our second objective involves bringing data, research, analysis, and voices from civil society to the Midterm review. As a global network of over 190 NGOs worldwide, we aim to utilize the expertise across our membership to enrich the discussion. Hence, our methodology includes reviewing official UN and government data, civil society, and academic research. In addition, we conducted a civil society survey among our membership to assess perceived changes since 2019.

We also gathered testimonies from individuals directly impacted by drug policies in countries like Ukraine, Lebanon, India, Malta, Brazil, St Vincent and the Grenadines, among others.

Our first conclusion is drawn from the World Drug Reports of 2019 and 2023, revealing an overall increase in illegal cultivation, production, trafficking, and drug use. This is despite billions spent annually to curb the market. The number of people aged 15-64 using drugs has risen from 271 million to 296 million. Synthetic drugs, precursors, and NPS have proliferated, partly due to the unintended consequences of law enforcement efforts. For the trends in drug markets, we use data from the 2019 WDR, compared to data from the 2023 WDR. This is because there is inevitably a time lapse between available data and the drafting of the WDR. For example, the WDR 2023 uses data from 2021-2022. If we were to use data points from 2019, we’d essentially be comparing changes over two years only. Sometimes, the data reported in the 2023 WDR dates back to 2019 (such as the number of drug use-related deaths). So, we decided to compare data from WDR 2023 with WDR 2019 to provide a more in-depth analysis of changes over time, using data presented to Member States in the year of the adoption of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration. We clarify all of this in endnotes, referencing the relevant WDR and the year the data point was taken.

Our second conclusion is that illegal drug economies continue to fuel acute violence and conflict, especially in producing and transit countries in the Global South. Our civil society survey indicates that perceived levels of violence associated with both the illegal drug market and drug law enforcement have risen globally, including in consuming countries. This graph is derived from results from our Civil Society Survey.

Our third conclusion emphasizes that people who use drugs continue to be disproportionately affected by health issues. Unfortunately, the latest global data on drug use-related deaths is from 2019, indicating a need for more recent data. In that year alone, the numbers reached 494,000 deaths. Since then, there has been an alarming rise in overdose deaths in North America.

People who use drugs also face heightened risks of contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, while access to quality, gender and age-sensitive harm reduction and treatment services remains severely limited, especially for those facing intersecting layers of vulnerability. Simultaneously, there continues to be a shocking disparity in access to controlled medicines worldwide, with over 82% of the global population having access to less than 17% of the world’s morphine-based medicines.

On a more positive note, since 2019, at least 18 countries have adopted laws or policies facilitating access to cannabis-based medicines. In 2020, cannabis was removed from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention, recognizing its therapeutic value. However, drug policies continue to be associated with widespread human rights violations, ranging from the death penalty to extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, cases of torture, including in the name of ‘treatment’, discriminations on the basis of race, gender, class and age, as well as a wide number of economic, social and cultural rights. These abuses have become increasingly recognized and highlighted by UN human rights bodies, culminating in the 2023 OHCHR report on this topic.

Many of these violations are related to the ongoing over-reliance on punishment and prisons. The number of people deprived of liberty globally has grown from 10.74 million in 2018 to 11.5 million in 2023, with over 1 in 5 people in prison incarcerated for drug offenses. The proportion is significantly higher in the case of women deprived of their liberty. Additionally, hundreds of thousands more are subjected to compulsory drug detention or internment in private rehab centers.

On a positive note, new jurisdictions have adopted some form of decriminalization, bringing the total number to 66 jurisdictions in 40 countries, with many more adopting or considering alternatives to criminalization or punishment. Beyond decriminalization, 8 countries now have legal regulation in their territories for substances included in the 1961 Single Convention. This means that the number of people living in a jurisdiction with some form of legal regulation has increased from 123 million in 2019 to 294 million in 2023, with more pilots and bills being rolled out or discussed in other parts of the world. The issue is that the tensions between legal regulation and the UN drug control treaties have not been adequately discussed and addressed at the UN level.

List of countries that have adopted a legal regulation model since 2019: Luxembourg, Malta, Thailand, and 13 US states + 3 US territories. List of countries having legal regulation in their territory as of 2023: Bolivia, Canada, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Malta, Thailand, Uruguay and 23 US States, 3 US territories, and Washington DC.

Moving on to development issues, at the CND, there has been some progress in broadening the concept of alternative development. However, there has been limited progress on the ground for affected communities, with women, in particular, continuing to be left behind and marginalized. Our analysis and civil society survey show that the legal regulation of plants like coca, opium, and cannabis for medical, industrial, and recreational purposes is a development opportunity in traditional cultivation areas, but only if traditional farmers are meaningfully included in these policies.

Note that the broadening of the concept of AD was mainly due to efforts by Germany, Peru, and Thailand at the CND! 

In conclusion, my final remarks are on civil society space. There has been significant progress in ensuring civil society engagement at the CND, despite ongoing pushback from a small but vocal group of member states. However, at the national level, the situation is concerning, with many NGOs reporting shrinking civil society space due to authoritarianism, punitive drug policies, foreign agent laws, funding restrictions, and more. 

In our analysis of civil society participation at the UN, based on our experience attending CND, an interesting fact emerged: at the 66th session of the CND, civil society representatives were included in the delegations of Australia, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, and Switzerland, among others. For more information on civil society participation at this year’s CND and negotiations around the midterm review, refer to the International Drug Policy Consortium (September 2023) report, “Stuck in the Inertia of the Past: Report of the 66th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs,” .
As part of our analysis, we also identified ‘blind spots,’ which are issues not covered by the Ministerial Declaration but should be prioritized going forward. Examples include: 

The need to recognize the potential of legal regulation as a tool to break the links between drug markets and organized crime.

The role of surveillance technologies and their impacts on human rights.

The need to address racial justice, as well as to address the tensions between the drug control treaties and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

Links between drug policy and the environment.

To conclude, I will provide key recommendations for the mid-term review, considering that our report includes many more covering various UN entities and longer-term reforms:

Firstly, the debates and outcome document should reflect the normative developments that have taken place at the CND, General Assembly, and Human Rights Council, including the new language on harm reduction, racial discriminations, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, etc.

Secondly, based on our conclusions, it seems clear that we urgently need to move away from the drug-free goal and language, and align drug policy much more closely with human rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Our findings and blind spots also show that the ‘challenges’ identified in 2019 should be revised to cover the new developments that have emerged since 2019. And we provide a list of possible challenges for the period 2024-2029 for your consideration, linking them with relevant SDGs.

Fourthly, we urge you to acknowledge the existence of legally regulated markets and initiate much-needed discussions on whether and how to modernize the UN drug control regime.

Fifth, and based on the OHCHR report on drug policy, the outcome document should call for transformative change in drug policy.

Finally, we urge you to promote and protect civil society participation, including by consulting NGOs as you are elaborating your official positions for the mid-term review, and by including them in your delegation. Thank you very much for your attention!

Ann: Thank you so much, Marie. And I think you can all see how much thought and work has gone into this report and is a meaningful contribution towards the deliberations for the midterm. So moving on to the next speaker, I’m delighted to introduce her. She’s the director of Elements, in Colombia. Paola will reflect on three key conclusions from the shadow report and the experience from Colombia regarding the impact of those rotation and the rights of indigenous peoples as well as options.

Paola: I salute my colleagues and thank IDPC for this conversation and building a report as we approach the mid-term review. The shadow report in itself can become a source of dialogue to position the international challenges, taking into account the launch of new policies in Colombia that is based on the fundamental recognition that strategies of the last decades have not worked but in fact perpetuated as crisis. It is also worth mentioning that final report of the drug commission (…)

Ruby Lawlor, YouthRISE: Thank you Ann for the introduction and to IDPC for inviting me to be
part of this event. To introduce Youth RISE further, we are an international network of young people who use drugs and/or young people who are affected by punitive drug policies worldwide.
I want to commend IDPC for the production of this Shadow Report, as a key document that highlights how far behind we are in achieving global commitments. It is also really appreciated to see the key challenges that young people who use drugs face throughout the report, highlighting the severe data gaps, barriers to and inaccessibility of harm reduction and its impacts on us, and need for policy reform to end the disproportionate impact of criminalisation on young people.
This week, we have heard many concerns around young people and drugs in statements from the member state delegations and UN bodies, and we note the emphasis on prevention efforts, too often not routed in evidence and resulting in further stigma, decriminalisation, harm and marginalisation of young people who use drugs. Prevention will always miss some young people, and despite global efforts to prevent us from using drugs, many of us do. Therefore there needs to be significantly more focus on how to protect us from possible drug related harms, and how to ensure we have access to life saving harm reduction and treatment services. There is so much emphasis, and funding, on preventing us from using in the first place or stopping us once we start, that efforts to help us mitigate the risks once we begin are left behind at all levels of decision making, while funding for harm reduction overall remains scarce.
We know that drug use is ever growing amongst young people, and recent findings show that there is a 50% higher average risk of HIV and HCV acquisition for young people who inject stimulant drugs, which highlights that punitive drug policies are not serving their intended purpose and in fact causing significant harms to our population, and today I want to respond to these concerns by
highlighting key outcomes and recommendations from the very recent Youth Consultation that was coordinated by UNODC, UNICEF,WHO, INPUD and Youth RISE just under 2 weeks ago. The Youth Consultation brought together experts from academia, civil society and UN bodies to provide the most recent research on drug use amongst young people, and impact of policies on the achievement of our health and human rights, and provided insights about the realities, challenges and barriers faced YPWUD. The key points and recommendations raised were that there is a
severe lack of granular age-, sex-, and locality disaggregated data on YPWUD and the need to remedy this through a variety of approaches at the country level; and that there is little to no meaningful engagement of young people and YPWUD in drug policy and harm reduction programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation – I want to note here our continued concern with the UNODC Youth Forum which is hailed as ‘the voice of young people’
within the CND. We are quite concerned about the opaque selection process for these youth delegates, while the content discussed in this Forum is mainly focused on prevention instead of the full spectrum of care, including harm reduction. We also are concerned that civil society and youth led organisations like Youth RISE are not permitted to present about the realities of drug policies on young people at this Forum. Therefore, the presentation by the Youth Forum delegates that happens each year on the last day of CND, should not be taken as the true reflections of ‘youth’ as a whole – the Youth Forum requires reform to be meaningful engagement, something that I am
happy to discuss further outside of this panel discussion. The final day of the consultation ended with a session on bringing harm reduction to drug education, which is highly relevant to the past two days discussions, as many member states and UN bodies have highlighted their efforts at drug education. It is evident that the current focus of most school based drug education curricula solely
focused on abstinence and prevention fails to reach many young people and should be complemented by harm reduction education, which provides accurate information about drugs, their effects and their risks, and strategies to effectively mitigate these risks and promote health and safety. Evidence presented during this discussion showed that in schools that have implemented such a curricula, namely the Stanford University’s Safety First: Real Drug Education for Teens’ programme are now seeing a decrease in substance use amongst students who participated, and increased knowledge amongst students about how to mitigate risks from drugs. It also must be noted that such harm reduction focused drug education should not be limited to classroom settings, and must be extended to meet young people where they are at. But that also
means that we need to remove age-barriers to accessing health, harm reduction and treatment services, and to ensure that these services are youth-friendly and accessible. Finally, and as IDPC’s shadow report highlights, in addition to better age-sensitive health interventions, young people and YPWUD need decriminalisation and further drug policy reform to eliminate stigma, discrimination and barriers hindering our access to harm reduction and treatment services. We need to collect age-disaggregated data on YPWUD and we need meaningful engagement of young people throughout the entire processes of decision making, policy and programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. We are here ready to help achieve this; we can not be left behind any longer. Thank you.

Ann: Thank you Paula and Ruby. I think these statements have really demonstrated the need to dedicate attention to these gaps we are identifying.

OHCHR: We have identified various aspects, marking the Human Rights Council’s acknowledgment of harm reduction for people who use drugs as a notable development. Numerous sub-issues have been raised, encompassing alternative approaches to incarceration, educational and social integration programs for PWUD, and the need for gender and age-sensitive drug policies. Marginalized populations, including people of African descent and indigenous people, pose specific challenges within drug policy that need addressing. It’s gratifying to observe the active involvement of IDPC and many other CSOs at both the CND and the Human Rights Council. Another noteworthy issue submitted to the Human Rights Council encompasses various concerns. It’s important to acknowledge that the report is grounded in Member States’ contributions. We have called upon Member States and other stakeholders, including CSOs, to provide input. Our analysis includes contributions from UN human rights mechanisms, treaty bodies, and their deliberations, totaling 340 recommendations, which we duly noted. We also recognize the significance of CND resolutions and publications from the INCB and the WHO in shaping public drug policy discussions and appreciate the importance attached to human rights.

Working towards the promotion of human rights and public health within the drug policy framework, our report, to be presented this week during a side event organized by several MS, outlines key points. Despite positive developments, such as the removal of the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia and ongoing resentencing processes, challenges persist globally, including unequal access to human rights and treatment, overincarceration, and prison crowding related to drug offenses. We have noted positive steps, such as Pakistan’s removal of the death penalty. The challenges posed by humanitarian crises, the War on Drugs, and the militarization of drug control efforts are also highlighted in our report, emphasizing the hurdles they create for the full enjoyment of human rights.

UNODC: Thank you for extending the invitation to this event, which significantly contributes to the crucial milestone of the mid-term review. As per the World Drug Report 2023, the World Drug Problem (WDP) continues to exert a negative impact on various aspects of our society. Individuals, communities, and governments have all experienced these effects, which persist and evolve. Member States (MS) have acknowledged this reality, particularly in the context of international organized crimes. For sound decision-making, it is essential to rely on more recent, reliable, and comparable data. Different Member States hold distinct narratives and approaches to solutions, and it is imperative to recognize and respect these differences. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with its 137 ground offices worldwide, must consistently synthesize local realities with the broader UN pillars. Remaining fully committed to the international framework and adhering faithfully to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) mandate provides us with the opportunity, based on complementarity. It is crucial to adopt narratives that are rooted in a comprehensive and balanced approach, allowing flexibility to address a diverse range

Ann: I am delighted that we have some time for opening the floor for questions before we return to the panel for closing remarks.

EU: Ruby – should we engage in the youth forum or not? It is a reality that takes place, so what is your advice?

Ruby: On the country level, it is important that the selection procedure is clear. I cannot say whether to disengage or not, but if you are engaging, make sure to include young people who have felt the impact of the policies and that they have the opportunity to share their experiences so that it is reflected int he final statement. I also think it is important to educate young people on the power of their voice. On the UNODc level, there is a lot to do about the forum, but that is all I will say for now. 

Singapore: Thank you for this comprehensive report. You are probably familiar with the view of my delegation, so I will just say that it is very important o listen to others view. So I can promise that we will go through this, and it is a very useful document to have an understanding of why certain approaches are being advocated. The one thing I would say though that stakeholders have a very important role to play because you have a very different perspective, the people working here are mostly diplomats, so what I heard today was eye-opening. We just had the high commissioner at our meeting in Geneva – I say this to point out multilateralism is difficult. We spend a lot of time advocating our views but a lot less on finding common ground… So, yeah, we are happy to engage with colleagues with different opinions and I am looking forward to reading more of your work. Thank you for the report and thank you for all the speakers here. 

Marie: Thank you. The reason for publishing this now and not in March because we want this to be a basis for discussion and we are very happy to continue discussing it and bring in more states from Asia to the exchange with civil society. 

Ann: I see no more questions on the floor so I am handing over to the permanent representative of Colombia.

Colombia:  The international drug control regime has proven ineffective. Colombia’s new strategy appears to be a direct response to this failure and aligns closely with the findings of the report. I would like to emphasize a few key points: our new policy prioritizes people and places civil society at the core of both design and implementation. Through extensive consultations with urban dwellers, farmers, and people who use drugs, we aim to be inclusive and avoid leaving anyone behind. Our goal is to counteract the shrinking space for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), as highlighted in the report.

Our updated drug policy is grounded in human rights principles. We were surprised by certain statements heard in Vienna. For us, when an authority conducts research and presents a report, it signifies the beginning of a conversation rather than a fixed position. No single UN authority should hinder the flow of this conversation. We advocate for the report’s discussion here, emphasizing human rights as a crucial element in our policy considerations.

Moving on, addressing the elements of decolonization is vital. We should not shy away from the term “decolonization,” framing the scheduling of the coca leaf within that context. In Colombia, we experienced the environmental impact of failed drug policies and are committed to prioritizing progress in this regard.

I want to leave you with this message: Colombia recognizes that we are often talking at each other rather than with each other. I am heartened by the interventions in this meeting from Member States. Even if we don’t always agree, fostering dialogue is essential. We must communicate with a spirit of open conversation. While we won’t relinquish our narrative, built over decades of placing our interventions under inspection, we believe that sincere sharing of our experiences can lead to healing. Our commitment to everyone in Vienna is clear – we respect international law and remain consistently open to dialogue.

Ann: Thank you, that is a wonderful note to end on. 

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