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Home > English (en) > Actions & Events > CAMPAIGNS > 2008 > REPORT ON CND MEETING 2008
Published on 24 March 2008  by encod

REPORT ON CND MEETING 2008

Report of CND-meeting, Vienna 10 – 14 March 2008

by Fredrick Polak, member of ENCOD steering committee, and of the board of Stichting Drugsbeleid, Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation



All the versions of this article: [English] [Deutsch] [Nederlands]






The yearly session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs is a weird kind of meeting. Almost permanently, four kinds of sessions are going on at the same time: the plenary; a committee with the puzzling name “committee of the whole”; “other meetings”; and “side events”.
For me, coming in there as an individual, it was hard to know what was going on, where and when. Gradually I learned that the member states’ delegations and most of the attending organizations were prepared from the start, so that every member delegate knew where and when she/he had to be, taking turns at specific meetings to be able to keep track or make notes of the rare moments that something of substance was eventually being said.
The representatives of OSI (Open Society Institute), IDPC (International Drug Policy Consortium), Transnational Institute (TNI) and other “like-minded” groups were very helpful and openly shared their information with people like me, from organizations with smaller means.

Every morning the agenda of that same day was distributed. It contained only general indications of the sessions, such as:

Plenary 1290th meeting.
- Thematic debate on the follow-up to the twentieth special session of the General Assembly (that is UNGASS 1998, fp).
- (iii) Countering illicit drug supply

and

Committee of the Whole
- Fourth meeting
- Consideration of draft resolutions

These general indications were followed by a list of coded references to texts, without a name of the content. Because of this, planning was rather difficult. To get an idea of the content of the items on the agenda, one had to collect all these reports, statements and other articles. On tables near the entrances of the meeting rooms, numerous piles of reports, articles, statements, speeches, dvds were laid out for the delegates and this material was constantly being refreshed. So it was unavoidable to finally be walking around with a heavy bag full of mostly uninteresting texts.

I distributed the ENCOD-text, “A Clear Head, Please”
on the tables at the entrance of the two largest meeting rooms, and saw the delegates picking it up and quickly continuing their sampling of a large number statements and reports, so that this did not lead to any debates at those locations. The Beckley Foundation, IDPC, the International Harm Reduction Association, AHRN (Asian Harm Reduction Network) and other groups distributed valuable reports.

The meetings themselves followed a dull ritual. UNODC officials gave presentations, and representatives of member states gave statements, all mostly consisting of stereotypical elements. All this was translated in a range of languages. The audiences were so crowded, certainly on the first two days, that it was impossible to find a chair, so one was also without a head-set. The sound sytem and the noise were such that even when an intervention was in English, I had to use a headset to be able to hear it. Often it was unclear who was speaking, and for which country or organization.

When on the third morning I decided to attend the side event “Not so silent partners”: NGO contributions to the 1988 (!) UNGASS targets, organized by the Viennese NGO Committee, I didn’t expect UNODC chief Costa to speak at the beginning. He didn’t hesitate to insult what he calls “pro drug” groups, which he also addressed as “public enemies”. About the DPA-conference in New Orleans (for which he was invited, and it must be said, at the time his acceptance of this invitation seemed a rather brave and encouraging act) he said that of the 1200 attendees about 1000 were lunatics and on drugs. (This is how I read it later - personally I thought I heard him say “1000 lunatics and the other 200 on drugs”. The difference is significant, but the version most people heard is already offensive enough.)

When he declared he wished to be challenged, and to be in favour of radical ideas, I decided to ask him the same question he evaded and refused to answer at the DPA-meeting in New Orleans that he already mentioned: “How do you explain the relatively low levels of cannabis use in the Netherlands where adults can smoke cannabis freely?” The result was the same, he evaded and became angry and incoherent, and this time this happened in the presence of a large and very diverse audience. Balazs Denes and Peter Sarosi (Hungarian Civil Liberties Union) captured it on video, and placed it on their website and on YouTube.

Afterwards, I was very pleased with this, but still, I thought I could have made a few better remarks…. Anyway, this incident shows, as Peter Webster mailed to me:

In relation to my analysis of prohibitionists as being either deluded true believers vs. shrewd insiders, I think the reaction of Costa shows he is an insider. He fully knows what prohibition is really for - a tool for the power structure to use in controlling the world. A true believer would probably enter into a discussion of why Holland’s policies lower drug use, whereas an insider fully knows the danger of such a discussion.”

A few words now about some concrete items that I happened to hear about or be present at.

The Bolivian government issued a statement by President Evo Morales, protesting the INCB call for his country to end the use of coca leaves. Morales made clear he has no intention to comply.

Italy unexpectedly criticized their compatriot Costa. They demanded “a more balanced approach to drug policies pursuing the respect for Human Rights” and pointed out that the claim made by UNODC that thanks to their policies, the international drug problem is now being “contained”, is not consistent with the objectives of UNGASS 1998, which were to significantly diminish drug use and production.

Germany strongly countered criticism by INCB of their user rooms (which are mostly called shooting galleries by prohibitionists to make it sound more repulsive.)

During the five-day event, more and more groups of well-dressed men and women from all over the world could be seen standing and sitting in the corridors and near the coffee and sandwich stand, discussing papers, draft statements and resolutions, because the phase was nearing in which consensus had to be reached on each of these texts. Most of them concerned details, but among all these papers a few contained serious substance.

During the sessions, long discussions were held about many of the resolutions, and a few were still being discussed as I had to leave Vienna. The sessions often went on in the evening, and I heard that on the final day, a few hours were added to the agenda. To get the final results, it is best to await the reports that will certainly become available from IDPC and OSI.

A draft resolution of Slovenia – representing the EU as its acting president – gave a detailed outline of activities for the coming “year of reflection”, leading up to CND 2009. That meeting will not take the form of an UNGASS, like in 1998, probably because UNODC realizes that little can be presented to be proud of. The level of the 2009 meeting will not be of heads of states, but ministerial, and it will be concluded with a political statement that will form the political base for the next period of international drug policy. There was resistance to the strict way in which the Slovenian resolution tried to arrange the whole procedure, and I am not yet aware of the outcome.

The same goes for a few other resolutions, which were hotly debated.
A Chinese resolution called for festivities to be organized in 2009 in Shanghai, to commemorate the International Opium Commission, the “first intergovernmental body in the field of drug control” which convened in Shanghai from 1-26 Feb. 1909. Many people were shocked at this idea, because China has the habit of celebrating the yearly Day of the Fight against Drugs with a number of public executions. Mike Trace, coordinator of IDPC, however, understood that the programme was still completely open and offered to cooperate in the organization.

An important draft resolution was submitted by Uruguay: “Ensuring the proper integration of the United Nations human rights system with international drug control policy”. This would seem self-evident, but for some countries the gap between human rights as seen from the drug war perspective and as described in the UN Charter and in the activities of the UN Human Rights Council needs to stay in place. I heard this text was watered down considerably because of resistance from China, Thailand and other countries, even before there was agreement on a version that was accepted by consensus.

Decision making by consensus

In the CND decisions are made by consensus. This means that the USA, fully prepared to apply its economic power and to threaten countries that need development aid, can simply obstruct the formation of consensus and force opposing countries to have its way. On the other hand, when the EU acts as a bloc, as they did in the demand for an assessment, and for a year of reflection between CND ’08 and ’09, they sometimes succeed in forcing the USA to join the consensus.

Resolutions are the key instrument for policy development at the CND. How the text of resolutions turn out remains uncertain until the last minute of the deliberations. And even then, nothing is certain, because whether a resolution will be carried out in practice depends on the willingness of countries to provide funding for the specific project.

NGO-activities

On the first day, a “side event” was organized by Human Rights Watch, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, IHRA and the Beckley Foundation “Recalibrating the regime: drug control, health and human rights”. In the presentations, a few critical remarks were made about the extremely violent Thai version of the drug war, started a few years ago by then prime minister Thaksin, during which more than 2000 “extrajudicial killings” took place of alleged drug dealers. This issue is of current interest, because the Thai government recently announced phase two of their drug war. Although at this session three high Thai officials reacted indignantly to accusations of violations of human rights, and claimed always to respect human rights, it is feared that the announced intensification of the Thai war on drugs will take place as planned, anyhow. “If 4000 people die, so be it”, the Thai minister of the interior was quoted, a few days before the start of the CND.

A few representatives of NGOs got the opportunity to address the plenary, which was a novelty. It required a lot of discipline though, being present for hours, waiting for a moment at which they could fit in a pause or a moment that the chair thought suitable. Thus, among others, Stijn Goossens (INPUD), Deborah Small (Break the chains/OSI ) and Gabor Somogyi (IDPC) spoke to the plenary for a few minutes.
In line with their efforts to elevate the respectability of critics of UN drug policies, IDPC offered a reception at the British Ambassador’s mansion. This was a very lively and well organized event, with ample opportunity for networking.

The Global Drug PolicOn the first day, a “side event” was organized by Human Rights Watch, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, IHRA and the Beckley Foundation “Recalibrating the regime: drug control, health and human rights”. In the presentations, a few critical remarks were made about the extremely violent Thai version of the drug war, started a few years ago by then prime minister Thaksin, during which more than 2000 “extrajudicial killings” took place of alleged drug dealers. This issue is of current interest, because the Thai government recently announced phase two of their drug war. Although at this session three high Thai officials reacted indignantly to accusations of violations of human rights, and claimed always to respect human rights, it is feared that the announced intensification of the Thai war on drugs will take place as planned, anyhow. “If 4000 people die, so be it”, the Thai minister of the interior was quoted, a few days before the start of the CND.

A few representatives of NGOs got the opportunity to address the plenary, which was a novelty. It required a lot of discipline though, being present for hours, waiting for a moment at which they could fit in a pause or a moment that the chair thought suitable. Thus, among others, Stijn Goossens (INPUD), Deborah Small (Break the chains/OSI ) and Gabor Somogyi (IDPC) spoke to the plenary for a few minutes.

In line with their efforts to elevate the respectability of critics of UN drug policies, IDPC offered a reception at the British Ambassador’s mansion. This was a very lively and well organized event, with ample opportunity for networking.

The Global Drug Policy Program of OSI offered a luncheon briefing on “”Women and Drug Policy: Realities of Enforcement” which focussed on the degrading and cruel treatment of female drug users in the formerly communist countries and in SE Asia.

Conclusions

It is unclear, of course, to what degree the activities of critical organizations will have an impact. It seems unlikely to me that a serious decrease in the application of violence against drug users will occur in the countries where this is most needed, or diminished spending on prisons and law enforcement.

A few improvements may be expected in the acceptance and spread of Harm Reduction methods; in better adherence to Human Rights in the way they are interpreted by other UN agencies; fewer death penalties in drug cases; more funding for treatment. This also depends on the outcome of the debates on the resolutions. To be informed about that, I suggest to wait for the upcoming reports of IDPC and other groups with the means to follow all this more closely.

The issue most conspicuously missing from the agenda was a discussion of alternative methods to diminish drug problems. This question is not being asked and the organization of the agenda prevents this issue from being discussed at an official meeting. Costa’s reaction to my question shows that UNODC is not willing to explain, or not capable to defend their theory of drug prohibition.

In the coming year of reflection, in which we will probably have the opportunity to submit our ideas in the Civil Society or NGO meetings both of EU and of UN, we must do all we can to get the discussion on alternatives to prohibition on the agenda. Otherwise, most of the disastrous consequences of drug prohibition will continue, here and there a little softened, but in other countries possibly in an even more extreme way.

There is one issue on which I agree with the Americans: it is probably better to use the term assessment than evaluation. From a scientific point of view, the quality of the data is lower than one would wish, and probably insufficient for a thorough evaluation. Yet, the experiences in the many years of Prohibition since the passing of the Single Convention are sufficiently clear, and for political purposes sound conclusions can be drawn.

The assessment that will serve as a basis for the determination of policies for the next period (it would of course be better to do this every 2 – 3 years, not only after 5 and 10 years) must concern a number of issues, and the most important question should be the one about the best regulatory regime for drugs. It seems unlikely that one of the member states will put this question on the agenda, so NGOs will have to do this. In the present situation, not to discuss better ways of regulating drugs would be a grave and very consequential error.





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The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, is a pan-European network of currently 160 NGO’s and individual experts involved in the drug issue on a daily base. We are the European section of an International Coalition, which consists of more than 400 NGOs from around the world that have adhered to a Manifesto for Just and Effective Drug Policies (established in 1998). Among our members are organisations of cannabis and other drug users, of health workers, researchers, grassroot activists as well as companies.


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