UNU Co-Hosts Side Event at 59th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

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  • 2016•03•24     New York

    On 16 March 2016 UNU and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN co-hosted a side-event on After UNGASS: What Happens between 2016 and 2019? The event was held during the 59th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, as Member States were preparing a draft outcome for the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS). This will take place in New York on 19–21 April 2016.

    The meeting’s panellists reflected on how drug policy discussions will unfold after UNGASS, leading to a review in 2019 of the current Political Declaration and Plan of Action, the overarching document that guides Member States’ implementation of the global drug control conventions.

    The key question addressed at the event was: How can an evidence-based, inclusive discussion best be fostered ahead of 2019? 120 representatives of Member States, UN entities, civil society organisations, and academia were present to hear reflections on both the challenges faced in fostering this type of approach and ideas for overcoming them.

    Efforts to arrive at consensus ahead of the Special Session have revealed considerable divisions between groups of Member States with different strategic goals for global drug policy. As one speaker pointed out, major obstacles exist for even defining what is meant by “inclusive” and “evidence-based”. Counsellor Martin Matter from the Permanent Mission of Switzerland called attention to significant policy differences among states, stating there is no longer “global agreement that we should wage a war on drugs, or that a drug free society can be achieved”. Because of this, he remarked, 2019 presents an opportunity for a new common vision for the next decade as a way “to sustain the spirit of common and shared responsibility”. Efforts made between 2016 and 2019 will determine if Member States can arrive at a new common vision.

    Other panellists suggested four ways to foster a more inclusive, scientifically-driven discussion on drug policy in the next three years:

    1. Use the 2030 Agenda: Some speakers suggested the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers a framework for discussing drug policy objectives while maintaining system-wide coherence – for example, coherence between the UN’s drug control, development, human rights and public health objectives. Speakers also suggested it provided a ready-made framework for monitoring drug policy outcomes. Mr. Matter pointed out that any 10-year Plan of Action adopted in 2019 will more or less share the target date of 2029/2030 with the 2030 Agenda.
    2. Include the field: Jean-Luc Lemahieu of UNODC called for the need for field-level analysis to help policy at the global level respond to realities on the ground. United Nations Development Programme representative Javier Sagredo likewise called for community-level research on the impacts of drug policy on human development, using the Sustainable Development Goals as a point of departure. Such research could help identify areas where policies are at odds, and create a space for innovation to achieve effective policy integration.
    3. Ensure access to expertise: Martin Jelsma of Transnational Institute highlighted a disconnect between the ideas contained in the numerous contributions by civil society and UN agencies during the UNGASS process and the draft outcome document. He also noted that while previous UN General Assembly Special Sessions on drug policy established expert panels to review global drug policy, a current proposal for a similar panel in 2016 was not supported by Member States. Jelsma argued that mechanisms should be considered for the period after UNGASS that ensure states have access to the full-range of expertise they need to develop evidence-based drug policy.
    4. Develop a monitoring framework for drug policy: Diederik Lohman from Human Rights Watch outlined lessons for drug policy offered by the process that produced the 2013 Global Action Plan on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD). Both agendas are complex policy agendas with a similar need for diversified goals to comprehensively measure impact towards public health outcomes. The use of clear targets and measureable indicators in the Global Action Plan on NCD offers an example of a framework created to encourage a whole of government response. Lohman added that this type of process requires an appropriate time frame and would need to begin shortly after the Special Session to feed into the 2019 negotiations.

    For more information and related outputs, see the UNU project Identifying Common Ground for UNGASS 2016.