From 7 to 11 March, the yearly Meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place in Vienna. ENCOD Steering Committee Members Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt and Peter Sarosi were in Vienna and sent a daily report on the things they saw and heard.
12 March 2005:
— ONLY RESOLUTION CALLING FOR AVAILABILITY OF CLEAN NEEDLES DIES AT CND
— DEFINITION OF HIV PREVENTION NARROWED TO DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION AND TREATMENT
— POSITIVE LANGUAGE ADOPTED ON AFFORDABLE SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT AND COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION
— ARGUMENTS ON HARM REDUCTION EXTEND EVEN TO THE LANGUAGE OF THE SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS
— NGOS RAISE THEIR VOICES DESPITE LIMITED ACCESS
— NO CONDOMS, NO CLEAN NEEDLES, NO HUMAN RIGHTS, AND NO HARM REDUCTION IN FINAL RESOLUTIONS AT CND
The only resolution affirming access to clean needles and the human rights of drug users died today at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. “HIV/AIDS and the Right to Health,” proposed by Brazil and supported by the group of Latin American and Caribbean countries (GRULAC), was declared by the US in a small group meeting to contain language that was “unacceptable.” Although delegates from across the European Union, Iran, Canada, Mexico, Nigeria and other countries supported the proposal, the US–backed by Japan and Russia–refused to compromise.
“It was like taking a beating,” a member of one Latin American delegation reported. After hours of negotiation, GRULAC withdrew the resolution. Announcing the decision, Brazil noted that “harm reduction activites are an integral part of and an important element of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs,” that the share of AIDS cases attributable to injection drug use in Brazil had fallen by nearly half following the introduction of harm reduction, and that the approach deserved further consideration at the next CND.
More broadly, objections from the US ensured that references to HIV prevention in all other resolutions were either removed or restricted to substance abuse prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. This confirmed fears leading up to the CND that the US would oppose any HIV prevention measures, such as condoms or sterile injection equipment, that did not promote abstinence from illicit drugs.
— POSITIVE LANGUAGE ADOPTED ON AFFORDABLE SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT AND COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION
Several resolutions contained language that will be encouraging to harm reduction and HIV/AIDS advocates.
A resolution sponsored by Nigeria encouraged countries to ensure affordable access to drug treatment and reduce drug users’ barriers to HIV/AIDS care and support. It also called on countries to consider linking their national drug control and HIV/AIDS strategies.
A resolution sponsored by Bolivia recognized the importance of promoting community participation in the formulation of drug policies.
— ARGUMENTS OVER HARM REDUCTION EXTEND EVEN TO WORDING OF THE SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS
Controversies over harm reduction extended even to the wording of the report summarizing the half-day debate on HIV/AIDS (which took place on March 8). More than half of countries (17 of 30 who spoke) in that debate made positive mention of harm reduction, yet the phrase did not appear at all in the official summary. The summary stated, accurately, that most speakers in the debate had testified to the success of comprehensive HIV prevention programs including syringe exchange. This brought strong objections from Malaysia, the US, Japan, and Lebanon, and an equally strong defense from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Croatia, Macedonia, Finland, UK, Brazil, and Australia. Russia, which had remained silent through the debate itself, objected to the summary’s description of a consensus about the link between injection and HIV epidemics in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russian delegates argued that this was a matter of opinion, not consensus.
NGOS RAISE THEIR VOICES DESPITE LIMITED ACCESS
NGO access to the CND is limited–only representatives from UN-accredited NGO delegates can attend, and are not permitted in the small group meetings where much negotiation occurs. Access was a particular issue at this year’s meeting, with NGOs denied entrance to press conferences and at one point barred from the forum where country resolutions are debated more publicly. One NGO was forced to move a lunchtime event off premises after several of its speakers were unable to obtain day passes into the building.
Nonetheless, NGO voices on harm reduction and HIV prevention made themselves heard. Harm reduction NGOs were represented on a number of country delegations. For the first time this year, a person living with HIV/AIDS made a brief statement in favor of methadone at the CND. The day-long official NGO forum focused on issues of HIV prevention among drug users. A side event on Law Enforcement, HIV Prevention and the Human Rights of Drug Users, sponsored by the Open Society Institute, Human Rights Watch, and the Government of Brazil’s HIV/AIDS Program, drew seventy people, including fifty country delegates.
(sent by Peter, written by Daniel Wolfe, OSI)
11 March 2005:
You will no doubt read the excellent stuff in the press wriitten and organised by the NGO’s – OSI, HRW, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal team..I was welcomed to one of their breakfast briefings…they don’t stop working.
One NGO speech that happened that may not have had any coverage yet was by a TRP representative, Marco Perduca.. he spoke about the situation for prisoners who were locked up simply for consuming drugs, the dangers that can bring come with it with lack of access to clean injecting paraphernalia and addiction medicine. It was a typically empassioned speech that brought home to the assembled delegates some hardcore facts too easily overlooked. Marco reminded me that Costa had in fact mentioned prisoners and he had also said that he wanted more of the victims to speak at the CND next time…get ready!
At this point, I just want to say one thing..in 2003, I ran over to the ONDCP when they would not support a resolution on the table “to protect injection drug users..” I asked the Preident of the INCB why they were trying to kill us (as if we weren’t perfectly capable of doing it to ourselves). He had no answer. ONDCP staff Murray and Sivilli promptly said they would change it and didn’t..
This time, I found my courage and went and spoke with Ms Sivilli, who I guess is Dave Murray’s assistant. We had a brief chat at the coffee bar. I wanted to know why the ONDCP seems so against harm reduction policies, and June Sivilli answered that I was inferring that they were obssessed with resolving the addiction thing. Yes, and that some harm reduction work is short term actions in a health emergency that can affect millions (NOT just injectors) whereas addiction treatment is clearly something that has to be addressed all life-long. I did mention that I was a recoverng addict and i noticed her eyes light up, whereas my head flopped to my chest. She then said something like “Well ya know, we don’t really wanna put so much focus at that end of the drug-problem.”
Mmh, watching clients/friends stick needles in themselves day in day out is not fun, but in the world of the medical pragmatist it is bearable.
An official complaint is being put forward by NGO representatives about them being ousted from the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole, which has previously always allowed for NGO observers to listen take notes and report back to their own local communities.
10 March 2005:
The following may read stupid, particularly if you work in the trenches of the drug war, fighting for drug treatment and AIDS/Hepatis treatments to dying drug-users. It is. It may also turn out to be more dead bodies for no good reason..
This morning, the ONDCP “hangman”as described by TNI’s Martin Jelsma, – Dave Murray of the ONDCP – raised the issue of the status of NGOs at a session of the ad hoc committee of the whole; that is are we there as participants or observers. After another wasted hour, this afternoon, the Nigerian chair, a playful man, in subdued voice said that “NGOs with ECOSOC status could watch from the back unless one nation State objected” Murray looks over at us and intimates to the chair: “if there are rules on this, I do not have to make a direct rejection statement.” A Dutch govt. delegate raised a point of order but in fact she said that the secretariat had confirmed that we do not have observer status in that meeting.”
Most of the nation states delegates there were in support of us staying, who spoke (five) but Murray and his blonde female sidekick, clearly had a problem with us being there and did what U.S. government folk are becoming world-famous for doing – bullying the least powerful. We left with rage and dignity.
The issues in question there are of paramount importance to the health and security of injection drugs-users and their significant others, but as the last 25 yrs of history has showed us, not to U.S. govt. officials, whose obssession remains with whether we are drug dependent, or not. Many of you will not need to be reminded of what the outcomes of their policies are…shamefully, of one of the most affluent nations of the world, they have 25% of IDUs infected with HIV disease. Their prisons fill up with other non-violent prisoners and many of them are used as cheap labour for the major multi-nationals. Some say it’s a deliberate strategy that keeps this population disenfranchised and in the end under somebody’s control.
If Gary Webb, writer of “Dark Alliance” had not exposed the complicity of CIA agents in the distribution of cocaine and heroin around the planet, I might be able to bear it.
As it is, I cannot. WHY do we let ourselves be so easily bullied?
10 March 2005:
Sweden said that the stigma and discrimination against Injection Drug Users (IDUs) presents an unecessary obstacle to HIV prevention within the IDU community… Sweden!!! (I think PCs been over there again) or is that funding being manipulated again.
The WHO speech was very heartening to me..He said there are 13.2m IDUs in over 100 countries. That four million of them are already infected with HIV…Piot was one of the only male speakers here to mention HCV, which has infected 170 million world wide and kills approx 10% of the infected.. so yes 4x as many IDUs will die from Hepatitis. i think this does call upon NGOs to make more of a evaluation of what is going on with Hepatitis in IDUs and getting UNODC to give guidance to govts on how to respond to it as well as fund them to prevent and treat their peoples.
He said that 6 interventions could be put into place NOW
b) Substitution therapies for IDUs
c) HIV Testing,
d) Counselling on Prevention: [condom and needle usage etc.]
e) Promoting Peer-based education programs
f) STD Education
g) HBV vaccination
He said there is sufficient evidence that drug users can in fact adhere to HIV treatments as well as any other group, [so the excuses used not to prescribe ARVs, NNA and other anti-AIDS medicines.]
He said the key issue that was preventing these interventions from being implemented were social discrimination and political sensitivities: as of Dec 2003, only 5% of PLWHIV had access to ARVs, so the WHO called it a public health emergency.
He suggested that embedded within all this were too often the issues of social justice, drug control and poverty.
I found the most encouraging speech came from the Brazilians … prolly all those wonderful uppity transexuals, X/current IDUs and queens getting challenging from the bottom up!!
9 March 2005:
Today the delegates of the CND discussed a draft resolution submitted by Nigeria to build capacity for civil society to fight HIV/AIDS. The United States torpedoed all paragraphs that can be interpreted in a slightiest way as a reference to harm reduction. It’s really disappointing to be here…
At the thematic debate on demand reduction the chairman concluded that only the delegate of the Netherlands refered to the evaluation of demand reduction programs. The other delegates measure the effectiveness of demand reduction in the number of demand reduction programs. It’s ridiculous. Especially Japan, still calling for the creation of a drug free society.
8 March 2005:
Gate-crashed the Senlis Luncheon and it was partly a conversation about the politics of Harm Reduction:
a)Costa co-opted the term in his speech saying that harm reduction is also reducing supply, providing treatment/prevention and education [all things that have been done before..]
b) Benedicte Fisher (to do with the heroin-prescribing program in Canada/NAOMI) said that politicians should be reminded of the money that can be saved by Bloodborne Disease prevention, and somebody else said he/we should get with the program and recognise how the world works. He meant that collaboration of the private/public and govt sectors are necessary to enable the sustained use of such programs.
7 March 2005:
A few words about Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meeting:
1) Costa (executive director of UNODC) seemingly warning of future clamp downs on rave-culture
2) Senlis Council Lunch with Costa and the International Red Cross was cancelled by Costa for no obvious reason…so the SC are making sure there is another press noise about that.
3) Walters’s plenary speech played very safe: – as Joep says, Drug Policy largely gets made behind closed doors..(I feel a song coming on! “..when we get behind closed doors, then [we] let her hair hang down. Then she lets me know that I’m a man. Noone knows what goes on behind closed doors.” Sex and drugs – hiding as always!!)
6 March 2005:
I arrived to Vienna to participate at the CND. Tomorrow Mr. Costa and John Walters, the US drug czar will speak, I will send you updates. The Open Society Institute is organizing a lunch on Thursday, Human Rights Watch and the Brazil National AIDS Association are co-organizers. We hope lots of delegates will come, we are going to distribute the invitations tomorrow, just as the open letter to the delegates signed by more than 350 NGOs. As far as I know Senlis Council has lunch on Wednesday, though there is little info about that event, there is not really good communication between OSI and Senlis.