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Informal Civil Society Dialogue with the CND Chair

Informal Civil Society Dialogue with the CND Chair

21 March 2024 at 09AM – 10AM CET (C-CR-7 & via MS Teams)

Penny Hill (Moderator, VNGOC): Welcome everyone

Philbert Abaka Johnson, CND Chair: We cannot achieve optimal results unless everyone is involved in addressing the world drug problem. You play a valuable role, and at a level that governments are not able to. Some want to focus on supply side issues, some on demand side, but all agree that we need comprehensive and balanced responses. I hope that we can have a holistic approach in dealing with it.

Jo Dedeyne-Amann, Secretariat of the Governing Bodies: we have 146 NGOs represented and over 600 participants. This is quite an increase, and despite increasing the online access to session. Welcome to all, and we are at your disposal, and with the VNGOC to support your work.

1.   Youth RISE (Resources, Information, Support and Education), Ruby Lawlor (Global) & Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia

We are concerned the Midterm Review process did not adequately consult with youth groups as key stakeholders, and the inputs of all young people have not been sufficiently reflected in the outcomes. Can you provide more information about how youth groups were engaged for the Midterm Review and how you can ensure that youth in all our diversity, particularly young people with lived and living experience of drug use, are meaningfully consulted and our inputs are better reflected in future CND discussions and documents?

Given the UNODC’s Youth Forum occurs outside the actual CND proceedings, and seems to be becoming increasingly controversial and unrepresentative of global youth, what opportunities does the CND Chair see for meaningful participation of diverse youth perspectives in the Commission’s proceedings?

Philbert: we need an all society approach in dealing with a complex problem facing all of us, every part of the world. It is critical to involve young people and if you check clearly the demographic situation globally, you realise the population of young people is increasing exponentially. As you have observed over the years, you realise that we value the engagement, the insights and innovative solutions that young people bring into the work that we do in countering the world drug problem. We work with young people through the VNGOC. The thematic discussions that we hold have involved young people, and it is the cumulative work over time that has been inputted into our negotiations. Human beings are a body of experiences, of knowledge, and so what we have heard and what member states have heard have all been inputted into the review we just had. Several initatives aimed at ensuring the inputs of young people have been conducted in the mid-term review. IN the lead up to the 2024 mid term review, the Commission’s series of meetings included speakers that were young people, including a psychologist from the university of Peru. They shared their perspectives on these issues. They did not just enter our ears and went out, they remained. The Commission has also solicited inputs from a wide range of views, which influenced the Outcome Document. CND provides a platform for dialogue. The annual Youth Forum enables young advocates to share their views. Last year the young representative of the Youth Forum made a joint statement that was well-received by the then CND Chair. There has been a conscious effort to input your views and perspectives into the work of the CND. Maybe we need to find pathways to enhance your involvement in our work. Some member states have even established youth groups in colleges and school to elicit their views because by and large, young people might be worse affected and the information and experience that they gather si what we hear about during the thematic sessions.

2.   International Drug Policy Consortium, Gloria Lai (Global)

We are concerned that the voices, research and recommendations from civil society have not been adequately reflected in the outcomes of the Midterm Review. How can you, as the CND Chair, ensure that the work, research and demands from civil society and communities are better reflected in CND discussions and outputs going forward?

Philbert: there are different perspectives on how to do our work? Some MS are concerned that their views are not well reflected in the Outcome Document too. Let me be blunt, in a multilateral setting, where you are negotiating, you have to come to a balance. People start from their entrenched positions, and these are varied perspectives. Then as you move on, some compromise. Then you get to a point where not everyone is happy with what you have, and not everyone is sad with what you have. From those of us involved in the negotiations, we are grateful that we even had an Outcome Document because the positions were entrenched. If you pick GITOC or IDPC’s position alone, we would not have had an Outcome Document. What we have is a balance of what all Member States want. I have also heard through thematic sessions and in the process leading up to the high level sessions, MS expressing opinions that I have heard from civil society and these were your inputs to our work. Your role and work is indispensable to the work we do. We have extended the invitation to CND to participate in all our meetings. That’s where we pick on your brains, and have also received written contributions to the Outcome Document. There was a panel discussion that showed a diverse range of views from civil society, discussions involve Steve Rolles of Transform and others, and through structured engagements with you, and even with IDPC, the Africa Group worked with you and UNAIDS to bring together African countries to work together on the world drug problem even before we started negotiations, in January. You might recall that some member states did not see eye to eye with IDPC’s perspectives, and it was some of them that encouraged the African Group to submit the report of the conference as a conference paper which is on the CND website. Please this is an illustration of how we have been working with you. There are a record number of side events, 174 out of which over 90 were organized by NGOs. In all our work, we take serious note of your views but as I said there are a range of views and as you can see in the OD, some of your issues have been reflected but you can’t have everything instantly. It takes time to get results, to make an impact.

3.   Association Proyecto Hombre, Sonja Phutachad Neef (Spain)

Encouraged by CND resolution 65/4 of 2023 “Promoting comprehensive and evidence-based early prevention” and considering the ten proposals of the 2024 Global Initiative on Drug Use Prevention “the Oviedo Declaration”, to what extent are you able to use the CND chair’s mandate to promote Member States to significantly incorporate and invest more in effective and evidence-based prevention into drug policy?

Philbert: We all agree on prevention. If we can prevent drug use and abuse, we wouldn’t be sitting here. The CND serves as a pivotal platform for the exchange of good practices, and on the critical area of evidence-based policy on prevention, I have come out with a plan for action but it is a voluntary process where some countries have pledged their efforts. You cannot force countries to do so and the Chair’s mandate is only to facilitate, and my job is to speak to member states on this. We can achieve optimal results in this area, in my view. The Executive Director of the UNODC has also initated a programme known as CHAMPS. I will try as much as possible to see if we can have effective collaboration.

4.   Fields of Green for ALL, NPC, Myrtle Clarke (South Africa)

As a fellow African attending CND over many years, it pains me to see the lack of civil society engagement from our continent. What could CND do in terms of funding and other incentives to change this, particularly given your innovative Pledge4action initiative?

Philbert: we value diversity and the work done to encournter the world drug problem affects every region of the world and the continent that you and I come from much more because the demography is one of young people. The CND has always invited CSOs from different countries including African countries. Perhaps the problem is that we don’t have many African CSOs who desire to participate and we have to find innovative ways to ensure this happens. In other fora, the drug menace has been discussed. In the last quarter of last year, in Zambia, many African member states and CSOs converged. The UNDOC officials also joined. Even in Africa, the CSOs dealing with drugs have not come together as a body to work together. The other challenge is budget and funding. The UN is going through a crisis now so you cannot invite more than 1 CSO to join the CND. Perhaps through the Pledge4action there might be collaborations with CSOs that will be supported. I will try to have interactions with people from the African Union to see if they can support your participation in the work in Vienna.

5.   European Coalition for just and effective drug policies (ENCOD) (read by Myrtle)

Six years away from 2030, keeping in mind SDG Goal 17, how could the CND’s Extended Bureau demonstrate more transparency towards civil society, in particular about the composition, meetings, works, and decisions of the Extended Bureau?

Philbert: the Extended Bureau is made up of representatives of regional groups and it stands in the gap between regular formal meetings of member states and the period where there is no regional thematic session. The composition is publicly available on the CND website and comprises the Chair, 3 vice-chairs and a rapporteur. The 5 regional groups are well aware, and the G77, EU and China. They meet only when needed and they need to make decisions for the good working of the Commission. Recently, one of the decisions made is on who should speak at the high level segment. Resolution 66/1 specifies who should speak but regrettably there were some who wanted to speak who were not in that resolution so then the regional groups had to meet to decide if people not on the list could speak. This is what the Extended Bureau does. At any given time, if CSOs have particular interest and want to meet in a forum such as this we can organize that, where all the representatives of the regional groupings can have some engagement with you. As Chair, I am aware of the need for inclusivity and transparency. We have been continuously engaging CSO individually or collectively such as this one. To ensure your perspectives are heard and we consider in our collective efforts, you are very much a critical part of what we do so if you think that the Extended Bureau has some important role in the work that they do, please do let me know.

6.   International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, (read by Penny)

How can the CND encourage more member states or NGOs to take the Pledge to improve availability of essential medicines?

Philbert: even before this meeting, the representatives of the IAHPC have indicated to me they only had 2 pledges in their area of work and they would be happy if many more member states would pledge. Ambassador Duke who was the chair of the 65th session of the CND had taken this issue very seriously and they had launched an awareness campaign ‘No patient left behind.’ He has continued this campaign even out of office, to improve availability of medicines in Brussels. 3 Chairs of CND have participated in several events to ensure that patients won’t be left behind in the work that we do. The Belgian presidency of the EU has also focused on this issue, and organising a conference on this. There is a resolution being tabled on access and availability, and there are ongoing discussions on a conference in Sub-Saharan Africa. I welcome more work on this, which disproportionately impacts upon people in Africa, and I hope that many more countries will cooperate with CSOs to make sure that patients will have essential medicines for their treatment.

7.   Veterans Action Council, Etienne Fontan (USA)

Where does the ongoing work of the Commission intersect with the Sustainable Development Goals as we begin the downhill half of the progress towards 2029 and our collective targets? How would you recommend civil society, with an eye towards involvement of grassroots with little to no funding, best interact with the process toward meeting those goals?

Philbert: the SDGs are critical to all of us but there are a couple of SDGs that we have to work collectively on to achieve results: 3 on health and 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions. The Pledge4Action initiative aims to build partnerships to work on this. We want action-oriented initiatives not just commitments. We all acknowledge the difficulty to find funding for our work. It is my view that we can think of innovative fundraising approaches with the business community.

8.   Yayasan GEMPITA (Gerakan Mandiri Pita Merah) or GEMPITA (Red Ribbon Movement Independent) Foundation, Samuel Naibaho (Indonesia) (read by Penny)

Regarding the Pledge4Action initiative, how are you planning to follow up on the implementation?

Philbert: it is a voluntary initative so the pledges and support people want to give are all voluntary. After this session we are going to collate and find out how many pledges member states have made in a particular area. Since it is a voluntary process, the only thing that we can do is to hold them accountable to the pledge they have made and to carry out monitoring in those areas. They should then announce results of their pledges. It will be quite embarrassing for them not to be able to give an account on what they have pledged. CSOs also have a role on the ground to monitor any progress, and share reports on it. We have a monitoring and accountable mechanism where people come to account for what they have done and there will be a review process.

9.   Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), Ian Tennant (Global)

Chair, you are leading a voluntary ‘Pledge4Action’ campaign to garner Member States’ dedication to actions around the main issues in the 2019 Ministerial Declaration, including the challenge on data collection. Why is data collection so difficult and what should countries be pledging to do, in your opinion?

Philbert: data is so difficult. Some countries do not want you to have that data because that will not speak well about them. Some countries, even very conservative countries, regularly provide data including to other member states. Stigma is a problem so those who use drugs and won’t openly let you know they use drugs, many use in hiding. It is not helpful for people to come out so you can have data on drug use. Even though in the 2019 ministerial declaration, data was identified as a challenge, it was not until later in our discussions that data was emphasized. In some countries, collective data is a serious problem. Without data we don’t have evidence-based approaches to counter the world drug problem. It is important to have data.

10. Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN), Wamala Twaibu (Uganda) and Southeast Asia Harm Reduction Association (AHRA), Murdo Bijl (Thailand) (read by Penny)

As the chairperson of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, how does the commission address the issue of member states passing punitive laws against people who use illicit drugs, which may contradict international public health recommendations? What measures or dialogues does the commission undertake to promote evidence-based approaches to drug policy that prioritize harm reduction and human rights within member states?

Philbert: it’s all about providing the evidence to show that if the laws are punitive, you would not get the results that you need but it is not only about laws that punish crimes that are related to drug use. You have to use a number of approaches to deal with this menace. The work that you do as CSOs have helped countries to change their laws. Some of you have done tremendous work in our country, for example IDPC, you have influenced policy decisions in many countries to alter their laws. As we continue to talk and dialogue, and share evidence on how punitive laws impact people, you will help people to change their laws. It is not about criticizing and vilifying countries, it will not solve the problem. I have seen some of you criticize some countries harshly. It is by talking to them that will make them change their approach. We have emphasized the need for an evidence based approach throughout the session.

11. Amnesty International, Henrique Apolinario (Global) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Elli Schwarz (USA)

What initiatives does the Chair envision to improve collaboration between CND and other UN agencies like the WHO, and OHCHR to enhance policy coherence on drug-related and human rights issues? Would the Chair be willing to work with civil society and other interested States to ensure that human rights become a standing item on the CND agenda?

Philbert: we should look at the solution as one that requires a comprehensive approach. Elevating human rights as a relevant aspect to addressing the world drug problem, in my view, will not help us achieve the desired results. For two consecutive years, we have had the human rights commissioner address the CND and we have made sure he is there to address us along with the INCB, UNAIDS, Interpol etc. But the approach that would not work is one that is combative, overridden by criticisms and attacks. An approach that works is one that is grounded in evidence, to show that if you incorporate human rights in your approach you will succeed. It is through dialogue that countries will see it as the right approach. If you give a certain premium to human rights and you do not look at it in a balanced way people will not listen to you, and if you criticize them without showing how the human rights approach work you will not be able to achieve the desired results. You will not have a sudden success, it takes time, for dialogue and for people to come to the realization that they need to change their approach.

Penny (Moderator): unfortunately we have ran out of time and the Ambassador needs to get to the plenary.

Philbert: I seek feedback from 1 or 2 of you on how we are handling this, but don’t be repulsive.

Myrtle: you have an approachability that we appreciate, we cannot think of something off the bat but we will pass on feedback to the secretariat.

Asia Asraf: I would like to have more discussion on gender-sensitive treatment approaches because I come from a country where there is no provision of gender-specific treatment facilities for countries that don’t have it such as mine.

Philbert: we can have one on one discussions and with member states about the work that you do. Politically we are at a difficult point so we cannot agree on all issues. It is indisputable that it is a privilege that we even have a Outcome Document. Please appreciate with the little that we have on our table before we ask for more.

Penny: thank you that concludes the session.

Questions not answered:

12. Institutor RIA, AC, Zara Snapp (USA)

What would you have strengthened or changed in the outcome document? If you had your way rather than working towards consensus.

13. Turkish Green Crescent Society, Mehmet Utku Öztürk (Türkiye)

What latest strategies is the CND implementing to ensure a balanced approach between law enforcement and public health in drug control policies?

14. World Federation of Therapeutic Communities, Augusto Nogueira (global)

As recognized by the Ministerial Declaration, drug treatment services worldwide continue to fall short of meeting needs. What initiatives do you envision to promote and support the development of treatment services?

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