Home » Side event: Paving the way for the future: Uncovering and addressing blind spots in United Nations drug policy

Side event: Paving the way for the future: Uncovering and addressing blind spots in United Nations drug policy

Organised by the IDPC Consortium with the support of Canada, Colombia, Czechia, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the United Nations Development Programme

Ann Fordham, Executive Director, International Drug Policy Consortium: Welcome to this side event:Paving the way for the future: Uncovering and addressing blind spots in UN drug policyMy name is Ann Fordham and I’m the ED of IDPC. I’d like to begin by thanking our co-sponsors:  Canada, Colombia, Czechia, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, the OHCHR, UNAIDS and UNDP.We will focus today on some of the key “blind spots” identified in IDPC’s Shadow Report (which we launched here in December) and options for reform between now and the final review of the Ministerial Declaration in 2029.Our Shadow Report evaluates the progress made in achieving the goals and 12 challenges included in the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on drugs, as a contribution to the 2024 Midterm Review. In our analysis we identified a number of ‘blind spots’, that is, topics that had not been considered as priority areas at the time or that arose as major issues of concern since 2019. These include, among others, the lack of UN guidance on the human rights implications of the increased use of new technologies and on responsible legal regulation, the environmental impacts of drug policy, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, or the need to place racial justice at the centre of drug policy.Our report also reveals a very sobering picture in general with increasing drug-related deaths, while access to gender-sensitive and age-appropriate harm reduction, treatment and other support services falls dramatically short of what is needed. Access to controlled medicines for pain relief and palliative care also remains low to non-existent in most parts of the world. Our report also highlights that, in all regions, the human rights impacts of drug control have either worsened or remained unchanged. These abuses are widespread and range from the ongoing use of the death penalty, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, mass incarceration, and cases of torture masquerading as ‘treatment’. There is also widespread discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age and socio-economic status.In this side event, and as an important follow up from the Midterm Review, our panel will propose recommendations on how to give prominence to, and address, the blind spots in particular as a matter of urgency – with the objective of better aligning global drug policy with human rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Introduces the first speaker: Ambassador Raphael Nägeli, Permanent Representation of Switzerland to the UN in Vienna

Ambassador Raphael Nägeli, Permanent Representation of Switzerland to the UN in Vienna: Welcome to this important side event. The IDPC launched its shadow report last December and identified important challenges. We learn from this report that drug markets are not only expanding but diversifying,. Illegal drug markets also continue to cause violence, human rights violations and conflict. Unfortunately violence and human rights violations are found in prosecution. Increased prison sentence . Many countries are imposing criminal and other sanctions on people who use drugs. Not only human rights are under threat but also health. The Report notes the increase in overdose related death as well as increased in HIV transmission and hepatitis. Access to harm reduction remains limited and not accessible in many countries. Switzerland knows these developments based on our past. In the 1990s severe crisis led to a paradigm shift putting health at the heart of drug policy. 5 pillar strategy based on prevention, treatment, harm reduction and repression. This strategy has yielded significant results. As per today, the number of fatalities and infections has decreased. Partnership approach where health and law enforcement work with civil society, providing service sto people house drugs, affected communities and general population. Federal organisations are important. Civil society provides information and services to respond to these specific needs. Shadow report and today’s side event are so important for that reason. This report is based on a survey of communities worldwide bringing us the views of those who work daily with affected communities , Delivering prevention, treatment and harm reduction services We welcome recommendations in this report, which help us shape our thinking and thank their independence voices. Collection of data and information and gives the voices to those who often have none. Lastly, civil society voice reminds us of the importance of CND voice in influencing national and local drug policy and importance of balance. To preserve the health and welfare of humankind.

Ann: One of the blind sports concerns the lack of meaningful discussion on legal regulation when this is an increasing discussion and reality in some parts of the world. As legal regulation starts happen, we need to think of the role of corporations and who to avoid corporate capture. And the implications for the global drug control regime. 

Lisa Sanchez, Executive Director, Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia: Good afternoon. My name is Lisa Sanchez and I’m the executive director of a Mexican NGO called Mexico United against Crime. I thank the organizers for the invitation and I excuse myself in advance because I will need to leave this event earlier as I must start the journey back to Mexico.Before I start, let me take a moment to express our solidarity with the Palestinian people as they face an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.As civil society representatives committed to human rights, several of us would like to urge Member States to uphold international law and prevent further bloodshed and destruction through concrete action including: an immediate permanent ceasefire, the effective delivery of humanitarian aid, the end of the occupation of Palestinian territories, the cessation of arms transfers, the release of those arbitrarily detained on all sides, and credible commitments toward peace and justice.Back to the topic of our event, let me start by saying that, for decades, Mexico has suffered the most extreme negative impacts of prohibition and punitive drug policies.Violence, conflict, human rights violations, criminalization, prison overcrowding, and further exclusion of marginalised populations are just some of these impacts, and most of them relate to the fact that prohibition created illicit economies and empowered criminal actors.Due to the nature of our problems, that are more linked to prohibition than to drugs themselves, it became clear to us that we needed to reform our drug policies and that it was also imperative to adapt the international drug control regime to make it more fit for purpose.To achieve these goals, civil society in Mexico has advocated for change and has pushed for the adoption of alternative approaches that include harm reduction, effective decriminalisation and legal regulation of different substances, starting with cannabis.Civil society has also advocated for the recognition of the current tensions within the international drug control regime, and between the drug Conventions and national legislations in many countries.Working towards that goal, civil society in Mexico has been somewhat successful in advancing the cause. We managed to take prohibition to court and we won.Specifically, in the case of cannabis regulation, we participated in an unprecedented effort of strategic litigation that took a series of cases to the Supreme Court and argued that prohibitionists drug laws violated the right to health of patients who needed access to medical cannabis, as well as the privacy of those adults who wanted to grow and use cannabis without recurring to the illegal market.As a result, the Court reached a number of rulings in which it declared the administrative prohibition of cannabis unconstitutional.Such win lead to a complicated and unfinished process of legislative change that in the case of medical cannabis, translated into a law enacted in 2017 that allowed for the medical and scientific use of cannabis derivatives.Although this was an important step in the right direction, this law failed to address the problems that it was intended to solve. The resulting regulation prioritised profit over the rights of patients, and continue to exclude farmers and criminalise users.In the case of the regulation of cannabis adult use, the incapability of Congress to approve a law resulted in a bizarre regime in which those individuals who can get a government permit to grow and use cannabis are now allowed to do so, whilst the rest of the population is not.Lessons learnt from these processes show that we need to have broader and more profound discussions within national governments, and among governments and other stakeholders including civil society, to define what are the public problems that we have and n…

Ann: Addressing the colonial legacy of the global drug control regime and the disproportionate impact on specific ethnic groups is of utmost importance. On that, our colleague.

Gilbert Taurua, Representative of the International Indigenous Drug Policy Alliance: Thank you to the International Drug Policy Consortium for this opportunity and the inclusion of the International Indigenous Drug Policy Alliance in this important side event.We acknowledge the support of the Open Society Foundation that has enabled our Indigenous voice to be heard at this year’s UN CND.The International Indigenous Drug Policy Alliance was launch in 2018 at the Healing our Spirit Worldwide Gathering in Sydney. The Alliance is a partnership between the Aboriginal Drug & Alcohol Council of South Australia, Te Whare Tukutuku of Aotearoa New Zealand (inclusive of Te Rau Ora and NZ Drug Foundation) and the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation of Canada.As a member of the International Indigenous Drug Policy Alliance, I personally have been advocating with the IDPC for the last 10 years for the need to ensure an Indigenous voice in international drug policy development.Indigenous Peoples are distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or have been displaced. Indigenous Peoples are inheritors of their unique culture and ways of relating to people and their environment. They have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, Indigenous Peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their human rights.I acknowledge the role of IDPC in the production of the Off track: Shadow Report for the mid-term review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on Drugs.The International Indigenous Drug Policy Alliance believes the Shadow Report highlights some important Indigenous drug policy issues and has been endorsed by 51 civil societies and an expert advisory committee. It would be our preference that Indigenous human rights are further amplified and my observation on the Shadow Report are as follows.• Protecting the health of people who use drugsThe Shadow Report struggles to recognise the disproportionate health burden on Indigenous people, our late presentation and in turn poor health outcomes. It fails to recognise that health services are not always responsive to Indigenous population in part perpetrated by racism and unconscious bias. We were informed this week by Professor James Ward from the University of Queensland that there is now evidence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia contracting Hepatitis C more than 7 times after being treated with antiviral medications.• Reducing the overuse of prison and punishmentThe Shadow Report struggles to recognise the over incarcerations rates on indigenous peoples worldwide. In Aotearoa NZ Māori make 17% of the total population yet, 53% of men and 67% of woman make up our prison population which often steams from minor drug offending.• Addressing organised crime, violence, and insecurity.In Aotearoa New Zealand some organised crime is facilitated through indigenous Māori gangs such as the Mongrel Mob, Mana Kaha and the Black Power. These groups formed in the 1960s and 70s and were as a direct result of colonisation and the urban drift from traditional lands and ways of living. Solutions in reducing drug harm in these communities requires innovation and unique approaches versus always being hard on crime and the need to work with these gangs to find their own solutions.• Reforming drug policies that violate human rights.The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) sets out the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education, and other issues. The Shadow Report could strengthen the inclusion of UNDRIP, the right to self-determination, and the requirement of member states to consult with Indigenous People.• Improving data collection and analysis.Data governance and data sovereignty from an indigenous perspective is now recognised as acceptable best practice. The collection of data and its analysis requires affirmative action inclusive of indigenous peoples.I congratulate the IDPC on the Off Track Shadow Report. The International Indigenous Drug Policy Alliance looks forward to contributing to policy solutions into the future.In pre-colonisation times Indigenous peoples controlled their own destiny, had access to their own psychotropic worlds and were the first harm reductionists. Colonisation was founded on the trade of drugs and alcohol to seize lands and dispossess our peoples.Blanketed approaches like the war on drugs has particularly impacted on Indigenous people. Police targeted racial profiling has resulted in more hazardous behaviours, incarceration and higher rates of HIV, HepC and early death.Healing from addiction for Indigenous People is rooted in cultural interventions which address wellness in a holistic approach, in contrast to western biomedical models.The disproportionate impact of current drug laws, policy, and practice is influenced within the context of personal and institutional racism which is consistent across all Indigenous communities.The “war on drugs” has never been a war on the root causes of drug use, it has always been a war on the people using drugs through increased policing, prosecution and incarceration. It fails to recognise why people use drugs and the complex web of social factors that contribute to drug use.Similar to ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’ the International Indigenous Drug Policy Alliance strongly advocates for the meaningful inclusion of Indigenous people in the design and development of future drug policy.For those interested in exploring these issues more we are hosting a side event tomorrow at 2.10pm M7, ‘Moving Towards Drug Policy That Improves Wellbeing and Aligns with Indigenous Knowledge and Practice’. This side event is supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Australian and Canadian Governments.

Ann: The third blind spot of the Shadow Report: the ongoing lack of recognition of ‘harm reduction’ at the CND, and how this is in sharp contrast with the positions of other UN entities such as UNAIDS.

Emily Christie, Senior Advisor, Human Rights and Law, UNAIDS: Thank you chair and thank you for the invitation to join today. I’d like to thank IDPC for this important report.It’s been five years since Governments expressed concern on the high rates of HIV and Hepatitis among people who use drugs and committed to take “initiatives and measures aimed at minimizing the adverse public health and social consequences of drug abuse”. In 2021 the UN General Assembly also adopted new targets relating to HIV and we had a new Global AIDS Strategy, with specific targets on harm reduction. However when we look at harm reduction it’s both provision and coverage of services, as well as their uptake, and the barriers that prevent both provision and access – stigma, discrimination, criminalisation, violence and harmful gender norms. Of course harm reduction needs to be even broader than this, social protection, legal support, family support, mental health services all need to be part of this. See WHO consolidated guidelines.Unfortunately, as noted in IDPCs report, the world is not on track to accomplish our commitments for people who inject drugs – harm reduction services are still not available to many and where they are available, criminal laws still render them inaccessible. I’m not going in to all the data, you can find it in our brochure up the back and online. Some highlights: Despite a slight increase in the number countries with harm reduction services in the last five years, actual coverage and access remains limited. Since 2018 only 3 countries reported achieving the recommended target of 50% of opioid users accessing OAMT, and only 5 reported achieving the target of 200 NS per person.In 2019 we reported that less than 1% of people who inject drugs live in countries with the recommended coverage levels of NS and OAMT. Since then no other country has reported reaching these targets.Funding for harm reduction is also far below that required. Data from UNAIDS, across 45 countries reporting funding data for programmes for people who inject drugs, actual spending only amounted to 7% of the estimated resource needs. Even for that small amount, almost 70% of those funds came from international donors rather than domestic resources.Even if we achieve our objectives of providing harm reduction services, the provision of punitive laws and policies create additional barriers for people who inject drugs to access those services, perpetuate society stigma and discrimination beyond legal sanctions. In 2023, in eight of 14 countries that reported data to UNAIDS, more than 10% of people who inject drugs avoided accessing healthcare services due to stigma and discrimination.At least 145 countries still criminalize the use or possession of small amounts of drug the use or possession of small amounts of drug, compared to 108 countries in 2019.People who use drugs are also the least likely of any key population to be represented in development of policies making that affect them.What this leads to is a situation where HIV prevalence is 7 times higher than in the rest of the population, and in some countries more than 50% of people who inject drugs are living with HIV. Incidence is higher among people who inject drugs than any other population. What is incredibly frustrating is that in other countries prevalence is close to zero – demonstrating harm reduction approaches do work, it is possible.We must scale up the implementation of harm reduction and law reform, under the leadership of well funded organisations led by people who use drugsTo achieve this objective, we need coordinated action among governments, community-led organisations, UN agencies and other stakeholders to redirect our efforts towards a human rights and health approach in drug policy.What can we do at the CND:We were really happy to see how many delegations last week included representatives of Ministries of Health, speaking about experiences in implementing harm reduction programmes and decriminalization approaches. We hope this can continue and even increase over the next few years. The CND provides an important forum for the exchange of country level experiences in this regard.I was at a number of side events which discussed decrim and alternatives to incarceration, we need more of this, including in plenary. What are countries doing in this space, what is working or not working.Stronger connections with other parts of the house – great to see the High Commissioner here last week and the head of the UN General Assembly. The report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is an important report. I urge everyone to read it, it, and future reports.Famous John Muir quote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Multilateralism is important, but it only works if we also link it to multisectoralism. Thank you.

Ann: The final blind spot of the Shadow Report: how to address the human rights abuses associated with the use of new technologies and highly punitive drug control.

Johann “Panki” Nadela, Executive Director, IDUCare, Philippines: Let me start with the experience of women who use drugs in the Philippines. Barangay is the smallest local government unit in the philippines. Tokhang is the war on drugs operation. She was illegally arrested in her house. Arresting officer not wearing a uniform. Police beat her up. Her face was swollen because of that. Detained in a police station and her relatives didn’t know she was detained. It was as if she were missing. Secretly detained for a week to let the bruises on her face heal. Still in pain from the beating she was sexually abused and raped while in detention. After a week, accused of use and selling. The probnlñem with the barangay watch list is that you have to surrender in a community based rehab programme that you cannot withdraw from. Anyone can send a name to the watchlist, which means people can use it for personal gain or revenue. This also leads to overcrowded prisons. No withdrawal management. Plea-bargaining policy supposedly to decrease prison population but there’s more arrested than release. Relapsing is considered a crime. For that case, 10-12 years of imprisonment. So you have to plea bargain. But that is a hindrance of life outcomes because of the criminal record. Random testing is a requirement, which crease stigma. Violating pearl bargains leads to rearrest. Police plant evidence. Proving innocence is hard Planting evidence is illgal but this is done by law enforcement as abuse of power. This justifies the killing of people who use drugs. It also gets used a s away to get promoted. If not corrected, planting evidence will become normal and entrenched Surrenderers are considered a menace to society. 

Ann: Sometimes with negotiation, in rooms dominated by MS.Humanity is forgotten. People’s lives and their experiences on the ground tend to be forgotten. It’s important to remember. We have 15 mins of discussion and Q&A.

Ann: Listening to the situation. We know that the situation in the Philippines has been draconian. Would you be able to share any recommendations on what we can do as the international community to support you in what’s happening in the philippines.

Question 1: Appreciate the paradigm shift from punishment to health. While we talk about that shift. Even if we’re successful. Some sentences, some legal decisions, have been made and are being made. Putting people in jail. One of them is Leila de Lima. Suppose we change the paradigm. But we have not changed the sentences. What do we do with it? My nephew has been given a double life sentence for a few grammes.

Question 2: How do we get the regulators responsible for the things they’re doing? How do we hold them responsible? We’re talking the same thing here in side events and above at the Plenary. But it feels like two worlds. I don’t feel I can engage with them, to be honest. How do we make them responsible?

Emily: My space is more in HRC. This is not the only palace where civil society can hold governments accountable. All conversations we have here on health and human rights relate to the UDHR, Human Rights Committee and others. So making sure those mechanisms are also used, and those treaty bodies and experts are aware is really critical. Making sure we use all those spaces.

Question 3: Very interesting situation. A fight. Some countries argue that human rights are separate from drug policy. And then came the speech of Volker Turk. Why separate both?

Ambassador Nageli: Why should we not discuss all elements? Human rights is part of the answer. It’s part of the guiding principles how to address drug issues. It should be of guidance. That is the case in many countries and not all of them. There’s 90 countries here. And different views.

Ambassador Nageli: On the questions of drug policies in Thailand. Implementation lies with domestic governments. If a government decides to shoot their own people, that’s not the UN’s responsibility.

Question 2: But they say that UNODC tells them to do this.

Ambassador Nageli: Other governments do not understand UNODC as requiring that. So, ultimately, this is to be addressed at the national level.

Gilbert Taurua: Prohibition harms people. Some governments clearly say it. I heard it from Czechia. The more we can quantify and qualify the harms of prohibition the more movement we can elicit.

Emily: Use the UPR too. It’s a moment for countries to discuss other countries’ human rights records. So countries can ask questions about the record of those countries being evaluated. So it’s a different form of accountability that does not exist in this space. The UPR is happy to welcome issues around human rights. The idea of siloing drug policy exists here but the UNGA has resolutions on drug policy and other processes too.

Question 4: In a post prohibition world, what would be the role of IDPC and other organisations?

Ann: I guess we’ll go to work in environmentalism! Our purpose is to end Prohibition and make ourselves obsolete. Of course, as we see with legal regulation, there’s questions about social justice that are not being met. So ensuring that those markets work in ways that are socially just and fair. And that we transit people who are already involved in the market, is also a responsibility. We don’t want corporate capture. A corporate system will not be socially just. That’s not what we are after. Also to the other question, since IDPC has been engaging at CND, we’re told: this is not the place to discuss human rights. We do not agree. We will keep engaging all human rights mechanisms to encourage them to engage in these debates. Volker Turk speaking here is a breakthrough in that regard. They’re not winning that argument.

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