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Informal Civil Society Dialogue with UNODC Executive Director

Informal Civil Society Dialogue with UNODC Executive Director

20 March 2024, 11am – 12 pm, Room: CR-3

Matej Kosir (Chair, VNGOC): Welcome.

Question 1: Encouraged by CND resolution 65/4 of 2023 “Promoting comprehensive, evidence-based early prevention” and 2024 Global Initiative on Drug Use Prevention “the Declaration of Oviedo” signed by some 400 civil society organizations, what is UNODC doing to encourage Member States to significantly invest more in effective and evidence-based drug use prevention? Association Proyecto Hombre, Sonja Phutachad Neef (Spain) and CADCA, Chris Doarn (USA)

Ghada Waly (Executive Director, UNODC): I am very grateful for this annual tradition, for giving me this opportunity to meet with NGOs. Given the short time for the many questions, I will be brief but happy to send responses in writing later on. Thank you for the diversity of the questions. On this one, UNODC is keen on improving our work and encouraging member states to improve their prevention approaches. I’m very happy we launched the CHAMPS initiative which we launched at this CND. It covers children from birth until the age of 18. We have also developed tools for service providers particularly in low-income countries. But governments are usually less interested in prevention than law enforcement because it is a long-term endeavour and their political priorities make them focus on short term goals. I encourage you to look at CHAMPS.

Question 2: Many countries rely on thresholds of controlled substances to determine the penalty for drug law offences. In the absence of clear guidelines, the threshold amounts vary widely from country to country, leading to the situations where in some countries mere residue in a used syringe is sufficient to initiate a criminal case, which negatively affects the provision of life saving harm reduction and drug treatment services. Are there plans for UNODC, in collaboration with other UN agencies such as WHO, to develop guidelines for countries on how these thresholds should be calculated?Eurazijos žalos mažinimo asociacija (Eurasian Harm Reduction Association), Maria Plotko (Lithuania)

Ghada: We have been working with WHO on this topic. In 2019, UNODC and WHO issued a publication on people with drug use disorders in contact with the criminal justice system. We have been looking at how to divert people from the criminal justice system and towards health and social services. I have always said that people who use drugs are patients and should be able to access services. How to differentiate between personal use and trafficking? What is the quantity that is the right amount? It is controversial because countries are different, and potency of substances are different. We need to continue working with WHO and dialogue with countries on this.

Question 3: As recognized by the Ministerial Declaration, drug treatment services worldwide continue to fall short of meeting needs. What initiatives has UNODC taken to promote and support the development of treatment services, and which countries have benefited from these initiatives? Dianova International, Lucia Governa (Global), Young Aspirers Helpmate Int’l Foundation (YAHI Foundation), Clemency Zere Ishaya (Nigeria), World Federation of Therapeutic Communities (Global)

Ghada: It is a question close to my heart, I am proud of establishing 23 treatment centres throughout my country. We have been working with member states to create those centres, but there is a big gap between the north and the south. It is always a political discussion when it comes to priorities. Should we spend money on treatment or other issues more prevalent in society or touching more people? Or it is a political issue where some say that people who use drugs should be responsible for their behavior. We have been doing capacity building with policymakers – we should also approach parliamentarians. We also launched standards on treatment for drug use disorders, recognised by the CND and UN General Assembly. Now we have launched Scale up for treatment of stimulant use disorders. What it most challenging is that in my country, we are establishing OST centres, how to gain knowledge on how to draw people to come to the centres. There is concern by people about coming to a government-run centre but if it is privately run, there is concern by government about illicit diversion. There needs to be trust-building but I believe that with these new initiatives we can do better.

Question 4: It has become evident that drug policies around the globe have a major impact on the enjoyment of human rights – as shown also in last year’s report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. How does UNODC plan to tighten its collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, its Special Procedures and/or the Treaty Bodies and to increase the role of Geneva-based UN bodies in the discussions here in Vienna to reflect the human rights dimension of drug policy? Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Magdalena Dąbkowska (Poland)

Ghada: I believe you all heard from the Commissioner of the OHCHR. This is a testament to how close we are working together. We are committed to human rights in every dimension, in every programme, not just our work on drugs. We have a long-standing cooperation with the OHCHR, and a successful joint programme in the Philippines which has shown results. We also work in the UN Task Team on drugs to implement the Common Position. We are leading this Team but the OHCHR is very active. We participate in the relevant thematic events that they organise, and on their reports. We provide our inputs in their work, and bring Geneva and Vienna closer together through supporting the work of NGOs as well.

Question 5: How does the UN encourage effective participation and inclusion of disadvantaged youth especially from Low Income Countries in UN fora and how can we amplify their voices for better representation at the UN on drug related issues? Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL), Anna Nabulya (Uganda)

Ghada: One of the important events that I attended this year is the meeting with the Youth Forum. It was refreshing and they have also presented their statement and this year they highlighted evidence-based prevention. All young people whether from low income or high income countries are invited to participate. There was also a youth forum in Atlanta. We are looking at going to the field with these efforts, and appointed a youth liaison officer in Africa. It is an important experiment and pilot. I hope that we can have youth focal points around the world.  The SG has also started a Youth Office, and met the representative who comes from Uruguay, and discussed how we can bring youth more into our programmes. This is very important because in Africa for example, 2/3 of people are youth.

Matej: the next question is the same – maybe we can skip?

Nick Kent: I would like the opportunity to ask it.

Question 6: Student for Sensible Drug Policy Austria advocated for our government to send independent youth delegates to the UNODC Youth Forum in 2021-2023, but we have since found this avenue ineffective for elevating Australian youth perspectives, as the forum operates outside of the CND and lacks inclusivity. The Australian Government, among others, decided not to nominate a candidate for the 2024 UNODC Youth Forum. How will UNODC ensure meaningful global youth participation going forward, given the declining appeal and accessibility of the Forum, especially for Australian youth?Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia, Nick Kent (Australia)

Ghada: Let me repeat what I said. There is no one size fits all, what works for Australian youth might not work for youth in Africa. You have to have the commitment and will, and we have to keep facilitating the participation of youth.

Question 7: In UNODC’s 2021-2025 strategy, you have set many objectives, notably to strengthen the multi-stakeholder engagement necessary to increase transparency, accountability and inclusiveness in order to prevent violence, corruption and reduce stigma and discrimination. How do you technically and financially support civil society including funding to deliver health services and funding to participate in intergovernmental meetings? Organisation pour la Lutte contre les Stupéfiants, Boissons Prohibées, Tabagisme et Alcoolisme(OLCOS), Raphael NGENDAKUMANA (Burundi), Eziechine No to drugs Yes to life Foundation, Ejechi Egwuenum Nelson (Nigeria), Karim Khan Afridi Welfare Foundation, Cristina von Sperling Afridi (Pakistan), Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network, Wilson Box (Zimbabwe) Blue Cross Society of Tanzania, Revocatus Nginila (Tanzania), Local Education and Economic, Development Organization-LEEDO, Forhad Hossain (Bangladesh) and Journey, Ahmed Abdul Sattar (Maldives)

Ghada: How and what is the methodology of support for civil society? UNODC is not a donor. In terms of providing money to civil society, it is limited. We need much more funding however I look at civil society as partners. They are not recipients of donations. They are partners to guide us in policy and in implementation. In Afghanistan for example, we only work with NGOs. This year there is over 600 NGOs participating. We collaborate with them in producing guidelines, in intergovernmental processes such as this one, and facilitated regional civil society consultations in preparation for the mid-term review. Not everyone can come to Vienna, so the use of peer groups and civil society groups such as the UNODC HIV-CSO mechanism is very important. To maximise the impact, we have to work in the field, and make every opportunity that we can to invite civil society, and to engage them in policy dialogues, and rely on them for help in outreach to peers and communities.

Question 8: There is a global consensus that drug policy should prioritize the health perspective. However, we are witnessing a push towards the legalization of cannabis in some countries, increasingly for commercial purposes. What is UNODC’s position in this regard and does UNODC engage with governments on this issue? San Patrignano Foundation, Monica Barzanti (Italy)

Ghada: There is a global consensus that drug policy should be evidence-based, comprehensive and balanced. We are always guided by the conventions and international law which provides for the availability of substances for medical purposes. We uphold the framework and the purpose of the international conventions for the health and well-being of all.

Question 9: Even with the limited information we have about the CHAMPS initiative, we are already concerned about the ineffectiveness of this programme and its ability to provide a comprehensive response to children and adolescent drug use. Early prevention is only one part of the response to such a complex issue and should be coupled with complementary health and criminal justice policies and ensuring compliance with human rights. Noting that UNODC does not have the mandate or the expertise to cover all dimensions, we would like to know how UNODC is planning on collaborating with and learning from the expertise of relevant UN bodies such as UNICEF, UNDP and OHCHR most notably? Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Liv Delair (Canada) and Youth RISE (Resources, Information, Support and Education), Ruby Lawlor (Global)

Ghada: We need to distribute more the brochures we have on CHAMPS. How can you be concerned about something that you don’t have information on yet? Because you said that you don’t have all the information yet. It is planned that we will work on it with UNICEF, WHO and civil society organisations, including the ones that work with children. In every country we will need to work with civil society organisations that work with children. CHAMPS requires a comprehensive approach. There are 4 modules, and both mothers and fathers are included as target audiences, to building capacity amongst children on how to say no to drugs, no to violence, no to bullying, to legal regulation, and to become stronger. We will also work with OHCHR – UNDP should be an important partner, UNFPA also. We are starting in 10 countries, hoping that we will reach 50 million children.

Question 10: The UN System Common Position on drug-related matters states that Member States should “promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use”. Some read this as a recommendation to decriminalize drug possession for personal use while others see it as a recommendation to promote alternatives to punishment. What is UNODC’s position on thisDrug Policy Centre in Sweden (NPC), Peter Moilanen (Sweden)

Ghada: It is clear from the many recommendations, and from the UNGASS Outcome Document, that member states agree on the need to implement a range of alternatives. We stand behind these commitments and support MS in implementing them. Countries that do not impose criminal sanctions for possession and use are still bound by the framework to limit possession. We can support countries in implementing additional measures such as treatment and rehabilitation. It is definitely a controversial topic.

Question 11: As lead agency on the UN system coordination Task Team on the Implementation of the UN System Common Position on drug-related matters, can you please share what activities UNODC, and other UN entities have planned for 2024 to ensure the dissemination and implementation of the common position?Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation, Nazlee Maghsoudi (Canada)

Ghada: The Common Position is an internal tool that we use. It is available in all 6 UN languages and sent to all the field networks. Our colleagues in the field have then taken this to the UN country team. The idea is to introduce the content and discuss it with the country team and see what can be implemented in the programmes. The role of the UN Task Team is to promote the Common Position and to work with countries in doing so.

Question 12: How can UNODC support governments or NGOs to improve availability of essential medicines? International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, Katherine Pettus (Global)

Ghada: It is very sad that in this day and age, we still don’t have sufficient availability. There are divisions in the world between the haves and the have-nots. Building capacity of doctors is important. Training of practitioners too, and assessment of the needs. For the barriers, we don’t have enough funding to address them. And even if we do, policies and commitments from governments is important. We are taking new steps, including establishing a working group, support groups of young doctors, establishing national coordination mechanisms. The advocacy and role of CSOs is crucial. You need to be talking to government agencies on this. There is also advocacy to the pharmaceutical companies. There are billions of dollars invested in this. Let’s all work together on advocacy on this topic.

Question 13: How does UNODC plan to address the increasing challenges posed by synthetic drugs? No Borders Humanity Organization (NBH), (Iraq)

Ghada: Synthetic drugs was a big part of discussions at this CND. Secretary Blinken came to speak to this. We started with changing from the opioid strategy towards a synthetic drug strategy, which includes working on multilateralism, early warning systems, educating practitioners about the risks of synthetic drugs. CHAMPS should have a section on this too to raise awareness amongst parents and others. It’s must easier to produce synthetic drugs than plant-based drugs. We just launched a regional strategy on the Arab world and a study in Iraq on the use of synthetic drugs. We will follow up with an intervention to work on this issue. We have also been supporting the global coalition that the US launched.

Question 14: Biopiracy and the misappropriation of natural heritage are considered as crimes in many countries, and an increasing body of international law. It also affects cannabis, coca, poppy, and other traditional and indigenous plants and fungi under control. How is UNODC addressing this ongoing threat, both from its “Drugs” and “Crime” mandates? Fields of Green for ALL, NPC, Myrtle Clarke (South Africa)

Ghada: Traditional knowledge, on medicines, have always contributed to modern science and medicine. We need to continue to focus on modern science, to allow us to understand the benefits and the harms. Working with WHO is important, on this. We need to be aware on how the illicit market damage the environment. We have heard the concerns of people in the Amazon on this and we need to hear the concerns of indigenous groups, including regarding deforestation.  Working with them and civil society groups is important.

Question 15: A realistic assessment of the effects of the implementation of the UN drug conventions requires a broad set of data from different sources, and a holistic approach across the UNODC’s different mandates and across the UN. How does UNODC ensure strategic and coordinated approaches across UNODC and the broader UN system to guide its approach in supporting states in implementation of the conventions? Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), Ian Tennant (Global) and Southeast Asia Harm Reduction Association (AHRA), Murdo Bijl (Thailand)

Ghada: Data is key to inform any decision and any design of any programme and also to inform policies. We have to be guided by data. Numbers mean a lot and teach us a lot. We have been working on improving data collection, including for the World Drug Report, via the annual reports questionnaire. However collecting good data requires money, and even sharing data is another challenge. We have to continue to build trust to gather data. We also need to guide member states on how to use that data. Our chief of research in the UN, Angela Me, is also co-chair of the Chief Statisticians across the UN and the group on data governance. Co-ordination is a challenge but Angela is doing a great job and she can tell you more.

Question 16: UNODC co-sponsored with one Member State a high-level segment side event regarding “evidence-based policies and practices.” The Member State continues to impose the death penalty for drug offences. Under international human rights law, drug-related offences can never serve as the basis for the imposition of the death penalty. Can you please explain UNODC’s justification for this collaboration? Washington Office on Latin America, John Walsh (USA)

Ghada: UNODC is the secretariat, and in doing so, you align yourself with the views of the Secretary General, which is against use of the death penalty. Does it mean that we stop working with countries that impose the death penalty? Of course not. We need to promote UN standards on criminal justice etc. Our position is clear. We oppose use of the death penalty in all circumstances.

Question 17: The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the countries in Central Africa most affected by drug abuse, trafficking, and organized crime. What is UNODC doing to tackle these issues in DRC? OPADEC (organisation pour la promotion agro-pastorale et le développement au Congo), Nshokano kanyurhi Emmanuel (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Ghada: DRC is going through a difficult time, and the whole world needs to pay attention to it. UNODC is talking to different donors, and hoping to have an office in the DRC in 2024. I hope that we can bring in meaningful resources to run some activities, e.g. to implement the package on HIV/AIDS. On organised crime and violence, it is alarming and I hope the DRC can play an important part of our work this year.

Question 18: The UNODC has evaluated legal regulation models for cannabis based on indicators mostly related to consumption. When and how does the UNODC plan to evaluate legal regulation models of cannabis based on the respect for human rights, reduction in criminalization and social justice perspective? Instituto RIA, AC, Zara Snapp (Mexico)

Ghada: We ensure that all activities that we do are in line with international human rights law. We take a human right based approach in all our programmes, and provide technical assistance to the world drug problem that is fully aligned with human rights. We work to address the harmful effects of controlled substance, and ground our work in science. We will continue to support the treaty-mandate bodies.

Question 19: We understand that you have been reappointed as the Executive Director of UNODC although we have seen no formal announcement of this. Please could you provide more information regarding this reappointment including the length of the new term and the specific criteria that were considered? International Drug Policy Consortium, Gloria Lai (Global)

Ghada: There are no formal announcements for renewal of contracts, only for appointments. I have been renewed on a 2-year fixed term contract, based on performance evaluations at the end of every year. I have been renewed for a third term of two years. I have overseen a number of success during my terms, including partnerships with 150 countries, 750 partners and several pieces of research and publications. I have helped to make our operations more efficient as well.

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