Home » Side event: Global civil society inputs for the 2024 mid-term review and beyond

Side event: Global civil society inputs for the 2024 mid-term review and beyond

Organised by the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs with the support of Australia, Portugal, Slovenia, the United States, the African Union Commission, the European Union, the UNODC Civil Society Unit, the Executive Secretariat of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the Organization of American States, the Africa Civil Society Forum on Drugs, the American Coalition on Drug Policies, the European Union Civil Society Forum on Drugs, Intercambios A.C. and the New York NGO Committee on Drugs

Matej Kosir, VNGOC. The report is now available on the VNGOC website.

Barbara Zvokelj, Slovenia. Thank you all. I would like to welcome you to this side event supported by Slovenia and other countries. Slovenia puts forward civil society when working on drugs. I chaired the roundtable on the roundtable last week and we heard good proposals from civil society and others on how to improve coordination and complementarity at different levels (national, regional, international), and among different stakeholders (academia, industry, youth, NGOs), and on different topics. Civil society has and will continue to have an important place. Slovenia is particularly strong on prevention, with a resolution at CND in 2022, focusing on a specific age group that has been neglected: children. But challenges remain on drug policies aligned with science which would have a better return. This is where the role of CSOs comes to light, with diverse positions, and bringing the voice of those most affected and the grassroots. I want to mention one initiative for the sake of the future: the UNODC CHAMPS initiative. Policy makers need immediate results. This one is not immediate but important for us to push. I urge our governments and international organisations to build a safety net for children and our communities. Together we can do it. If we are not going to give up on them, they are not going to give up on themselves either.

Matej. I want to acknowledge the financial support of Slovenia for supporting the in person consultation in February. We also acknowledge Portugal’s support for a regional consultation in Africa.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC. Thank you for inviting us here. This room is too small, but shows the enthusiasm and energy on this. Thank you to VNGOC and NYNGOC for bringing this together. I congratulate CSOS for this broad consultation and consolidated global report. It’s a real work of endurance bringing the voices of those with limited resources who may find it difficult to participate in meetings such as the CND. A one-dimensional approach is to fail on a multifaceted complex challenge. The goal today is to ensure that the public at large and most vulnerable can be stay out of harm’s way. Data tells us that fewer than 20% of people with drug use disorder access treatment. It’s dispiriting that those in need of medicines cannot access them. It’s equally shocking that those who are socio-economically vulnerable often initiate a new drug fashion, and end up with a dependency. On the positive side, what’s heartening is the hundreds of small and big CSOs which on a daily basis build resilience against possible harms and provide services and help people reinsert back in society. I refer to two recommendations: 1- need for capacity building for individuals and institutions. I mention that most institutions have chronic shortage of funding. By investing in robust training programmes, we can address substance use disorders. We work with member states to help implement international guidance for evidence-based interventions. 2- Prevention: while saving lives is of a principle concern, we must turn the running tap down on those who put themselves in harmful ways. Our goal is to contribute to long term public health. By investing in prevention we can empower individuals and mitigate associated harms. I mention our initiative CHAMPS. We stand together with you and we need to have UN entities and CSOs to help us in making this a success. In conclusion, UNODC congratulates both of you for bringing this together and for all who contributed to this process. Let’s work together with the means and skills available. Let’s empower practitioners with the capacity they need. We need to turn paper resolutions into tangible actions.

 Nazlee Maghsoudi, NYNGOC & Ganna Dovbakh, VNGOC. In this PowerPoint, we provide an overview of the global civil society report. Last year we entered a joint agreement with VNGOC to ensure the broadest possible civil society engagement in the midterm review. Since then, we held a number of consultations on progress made and ongoing challenges. We had a global online survey (inputs from all over the world) and 4 regional consultations: Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. We published the report as both committees as an official contribution to the midterm review and beyond. 173 NGOs responded to the survey, most of whom engaged in local or national work. The report is not a compromise, it balances the different thematic focus of the organisations who fed into it. We tried to see if there was progress or regression on each of the challenges, and there was no definite answer. But NGOs are involved in implementing a lot of challenges on health, new markets, NPS, responding to HIV, etc. None of the challenges were not addressed by CSOs. We will now present a selection of the findings.

Challenge 1: some of the progress made on expanding and diversifying markets: progress was made on early warning systems, drug checking, etc. But challenges were highlighted on overdose deaths, the impacts on indigenous populations, and poly-drug use. Safe supply initiatives were highlighted as a potential response, as well as legal regulation as highlighted by the OHCHR’s latest report. NGOs were also active on rehabilitation and youth services.

Challenge 2: record levels of use, cultivation and trafficking. Funding constraints, public perception (stigma) were highlighted. Education campaigns were highlighted.

Challenge 3: synthetic opioids: prevention measures were articulated here regarding overdoses. New barriers and difficulties in access to services were mentioned as challenges. Education and harm reduction programmes were mentioned for NGO responses.

Challenge 4: increase in drug-related deaths and unmet need for services: Naloxone and take home naloxone were mentioned, as well as the increased global recognition of gender, although services remain scarcely available on the ground. Evidence health based services and advocacy were mentioned as NGO responses.

Challenge 5: transmission of HIV, HCV and other blood-borne diseases: mention of PrEP and other services for men who have sex with men and PWUD, lack of funding and reduced accessibility due to discrimination.

Challenge 6: NPS: early warning systems especially in Europe was mention as progress. There was an increase in evidence based prevention and training, as well as harm reduction services.

Challenge 7: low availability of medicines: we saw progress in facilitating access to cannabis-based medicines and psychedelics for medical purposes. But continued low access to opioids for medial purposes, especially in low-income countries, due to cultural bias, opioid-phobia, lack of availability, lack of regulations. The humanitarian crisis and violence affects this further. NGOs are very flexible in addressing this challenge.

Challenge 8: links between trafficking, corruption and organised crime: we need to increase collaboration between stakeholders to address this challenge and involve civil society.

Challenge 9: value of confiscated proceeds of crime and money laundering: some progress, but confiscation is not seen as an effective deterrent scheme.

Challenge 10: misuse of information technologies: these tools can be used for good, including for harm reduction purposes. NGOs must be able to use technologies for prevention and harm reduction.

Challenge 11: non compliance with drug conventions and human rights conventions: We assessed how work done by NGOs and other affected human rights: health, fair trial, free from arbitrary detention, from discrimination, etc. We see progress in documenting human rights violations, but this is not always addressed. We also reflected the discussion around legal regulation.

Challenge 12: this was not discussed in the intersessionals, but it was considered very seriously here due to the need for more reliable data, including on health services for PWUD. We must develop new indicators on human rights, like with the Global Drug Policy Index. We saw progress in civil society engagement, in safe supply and overdose prevention, etc. But we also see stagnancy in drug policy, insufficient progress in war and crisis, and lack of funding, as well as harassment and violence against civil society. We also need to concentrate on discrimination and addressing the root causes of these issues.

On the way forward; we need capacity building, we need investment in prevention, improved access to harm reduction, treatment and recovery, address the root causes of drug-related issues, a shift towards a health focus rather than sanctions, and we called for increased collaboration across UN bodies.

Rogers Kasirye, Africa Civil Society Forum on Drugs. Thank you so much. I will make a brief intervention on the need to invest in evidence based prevention and for capacity building. Coming from Africa, the need is great. Because Africa is young. We have a population out of school, with high levels of unemployment and crime. When the forum came up, you want us to perform better. This is why we are grateful to UNODC CSU and our big brother the AU to help us note that there are some good interventions at UNODC such as CHAMPS and others which are really useful. We need to scale those up and learn from others. In Africa, our people are scattered in rural areas, this means we need more evidence, more interventions, more skills, etc. to prevent emerging crime, violence, drug abuse. The message is that we should not leave anybody behind. Bring African civil society on board. Thanks to the AU, thanks to Portugal for the funding. Support us as civil society, and also support our governments. The forum helps to take good things, build capacity and learn.

Iqbal Masud, Asia-Pacific Working Group. Thank you for the collective efforts. We are a collective of NGOs from Asia Pacific. We come together to address critical concerns on the complex challenges related to drug policy. We represent a spectrum of perspectives but are united in driving positive changes in drug policies. We invite you to read the common position of the Working Group that guides the work of our organisations across the region. The region has rich cultural diversity. We face challenges such as a health crisis, including HIV, HCV. We want policies aligned with the drug conventions, human rights and the SDGs. Fostering the strength and resilience of our communities is key. We need funding for prevention, harm reduction and treatment based on evidence, moving beyond law enforcement centric approach by providing public awareness and empowering individuals, especially women and children. We emphasise the importance of integrating mental health and harm reduction in our efforts, including addressing the diverse needs of our communities. We need an inclusive approach, for HIV and hepatitis C to reach those most affected. Harm reduction, community led programmes and prevention and care can empower our communities to overcome these challenges. Discrepancies during drug policies and the obligations of our drug conventions and human rights standards must be addressed. We must focus on health and community-based interventions that are inclusive and respectful of human dignity. We propose key recommendations for consideration: funding and resource allocation; promote health and wellbeing over law enforcement; focus on gender-specific programmes; public awareness and education on the risks associated with drug use with importance of mental health and harm reduction; align drug policy on health and human rights standards that are more compassionate; sharing of best practices. As a diverse collective, we are committed to inform compassionate and inclusive process to drug policies and practices.

Adria Cots Fernandez, EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs. I am a research and advocacy at the International Drug Policy Consortium and, more importantly, I’m the chair of the Working Group on international drug policy of the CSFD. We partnered with NYNGOC and VNGOC to conduct a comprehensive consultation on the 12 challenges of the MD2019 in Europe. We did 3 online conversations for 2 hours, and then one all-day consultation in Ljubljana. Big congratulations the board, also, by the way, I’m grateful to Matej for his idea.

The consultation went well beyond the CSFD and included dozens of organisations across Europe. There is a broad diversity of approaches to drugs, approaches to drug laws, some emphasising drug reform, other prevention, harm reduction, drug user rights. Etc. That is our strength – this diversity. But there is a common and clear position that public health is not compatible with punishment. Arresting, incarcerating, policing people is not the way forwards. You cannot deliver support at the point of a knife.

There are three things that I wanted to highlight. First of all, need to meet people with there. Which means we can’t impose interventions on people. No matter whether we are doing prevention, recovery, harm reduction, treatment – we all agree that these interventions need to be tailored to the needs of people who experience problems with drug use, they should be human rights-based, and they need to be voluntary. Coercion, forced treatment, forced drug testing, can be punishment, it can be stigmatising, and it is simply not effective. Secondly, punishment always targets the people who are most marginalised. People who live in poverty, people who are discriminated on the basis of their race, ethnicity, people who do not meet societal expectations, children. And these are the very same ones. Thirdly, support for people who use drugs must of course include all health interventions, including prevention, treatment, harm reduction, all of those, for all populations,  should go beyond health services and should consist of a genuine person-centred interventions, that go well beyond a medicalised understanding of a drug service and systems of care. In many cases, people will need housing, secure food, secure income, understanding the intersection between mental health and drug policy.

Lastly, I just wanted to note that in line with these finding, the Civil Society Forum on Drugs in the EU just adopted through a decision by a large majority of its members to adopt position paper in favour of the decriminalisation of drug use and possession for personal use, as a key measure to protect the health of people who use drugs. We hope that this will take us to a more effective and just.

Carolina Ahumada, Intercambios & American Coalition on Drug Policies. Esteemed panelists and audience, I am honored to be here with all of you. To respond to this question, I will address progress achieved, the challenges encountered, and the strategies for advancing a more just and equitable approach to drug policymaking in the Americas. The findings from the online survey and regional consultations addressed the topics of non-compliance of drug policies with the international drug control conventions and non-compliance of drug policies with human rights obligations, either jointly or separately. This reveals a mixed landscape: While some respondents, particularly from the Africa and Asia Pacific region were more optimistic, others, including Europe and Americas, expressed concerns about regression.

One of the primary challenges highlighted by NGOs in the Americas is the persistent non-compliance of drug policies with international conventions and human rights standards. Participants emphasized the need for a human rights-focused approach to drug policies, advocating for community-based action and a shift away from punitive measures. However, the absence of a systematic mechanism for addressing non-compliance poses a significant hurdle, particularly concerning the rights of people who use drugs.

Discussions surrounding the legalization and regulation of cannabis underscore the complexity of aligning drug policies with international obligations. While some argue that such approaches uphold public health and welfare, others question their compatibility with existing conventions. Some respondents welcomed the World Health Organization’s critical review processes for cannabis, as well as for the coca leaf.

Particularly among some respondents from Latin America, ensuring a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights was identified as a key challenge. Human rights violations related to drug policies are widespread, ranging from criminalization and stigmatization to inadequate access to health care, disproportionate targeting of marginalized populations and negative impacts of drug policies on Indigenous Peoples, as well as on Brown and Black people.

While there was no consensus, people called for Member States to review and reform the international drug control conventions and system to align with human rights objectives. NGOs play a vital role in documenting these violations, raising awareness, and advocating for rights-compliant policies. Initiatives such as the Global Drug Policy Index and the American Drug Policy Coalition, exemplify the power of collaboration in driving positive change. Participants also welcomed the resolutions from the Human Rights Council and the recent report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, titled, “Human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem.”

As we look to the future, it is imperative to strengthen collaboration across UN bodies, civil society, and governments to promote human rights-centered drug policies in the Americas. We reaffirm our commitment to placing equality and non-discrimination at the center of drug policy making. By acknowledging the progress made, addressing the challenges ahead and charting a direction for the future, we can build a more just and equitable society in which the rights of all people, including people who use drugs, are defended and respected.

Judy Chang, International Network of People Who Use Drugs. Our reason for existence is because we believe that people whose lives are directly impacted should be involved in decision making processes. As it stands, too often drug policies are crafted without the experience of people with lived experiences. We are not deemed as fit actors. We should not accept this as the status quo. When we did community led research, we found that some decrim mdoels did not go far enough, thresholds were too low, people were still criminalised, some models were counterproductive and only served to punish the poor. We are also important to understand the volatile drug market. There is no movement that does not include people impacted at the forefront. It is not acceptable not to have people who use drugs included here as it would be unacceptable not to have women involved in policy making. Network representatives should be the first port of call. There is an existing movement and it is growing. There are also issues: we need funding, and criminalisation which constricts our movement. I want to finish with a quote from the ED of UNAIDS: “Communities across the world have shown they are willing to lead the way, but they need barriers to be pulled down and they need to be resourced”.

Abel Basutu, African Union Commission. Two points after having listened to the speakers. We must put forward the health and human rights of people.

Elsa Maya, Portugal. I will be very quick. Ensuring balanced and meaningful CS participation in all formulation, implementation and evaluation of drug policy is a long standing priority for Portugal. We are happy to have supported this exercise. I was reading the outcome document adopted last week, but it only mentioned civil society engagement tice. Considering the controversial discussions, we regretted that the voices of civil society were not heard. Our discussions were politically strong, but lacked the knowledge from the ground. We discussed evidence, but did not discussed what was happening in our countries. So I am happy to be here and show how important it is to listen to civil society.

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