The global community prepares for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016. How can NGOs be involved in the process?

  • Carmen Masias-Claux, Executive President of National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs, Peru
  • Michel Perron, Chairman, Vienna NGO Committee
  • Ralf Löfstedt, Head of section, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Sweden
  • Richard J. Baum, Senior Policy Analyst, Office or National Drug Control Policy, USA
Moderator: Gabriel Romanus, Former minister for Social Affairs, Sweden

Michel Perron reviewed that the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) of 2016 serves as the next major international destination that will govern how we work in drug policy. It is important that organizations have a role in that process.

The Vienna NGO Committee (VNGOC) is a global network of over 140 NGOs working in field of drug abuse, many of which are large member organizations (e.g. WFAD, ECAD). Members are involved in a broad range of services and programs related to area including, prevention and harm reduction (in conformity with the UN Conventions and not before treatment and prevention services), treatment and recovery at the policy and program level. The mission is to develop NGO capacity to engage UN member states and relevant UN bodies, advocacy, and create opportunities for policy development.

At the UNGASS, the heads of all UN Member states will gather in 2016 in New York to consider the future of drug policy. NGOs have a critical role to play. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has a mandate to prepare for UNGASS. They will have active deliberations and discussions to decide what will be on the agenda of UNGASS.

Government leaders need our voices heard.

At UNGASS the government, international organizations and NGOs are represented. Well-funded NGOs will advocate for certain positions in drug policy. Because the organizations at the World Forum do not have the same resources, using a collaborative approach is even more important.

Members of the World Federation Against Drugs need a 2-year commitment to get engaged and active with the VNGOC, their governments and networks of like-minded NGOs on the process leading up to UNGASS 2016. Being present at the UNGASS is important to serve as a visual representation of our voice. This will require support from financial sources to permit NGOs to share their knowledge and experience on the international stage

If NGOs do engage, global policy decisions will be based on a broad and inclusive array of NGO voices with frontline experience and knowledge. Future drug policy will commit to prevention, treatment and recovery services.

Currently, CND preparations are underway. Consider the opportunities and obstacles to your participation. How can VNGOC best support your needs? How can we engage with a broader array of NGOs for UNGASS? Where do you think VNGOC should focus its attention?

VNGOC is presently north-centric, looking for new voices and representation worldwide.

VNGOC is submitting a proposal to UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson for NGO participation to UNGASS 2016 which will include:

– Creation of a Civil Society Talks Force for UNGASS

– Regional consultations (electronic or in person) to seek input on how to address Drug Abuse through a Health Based Approach as part of the International Drug Control Conventions

– Hosting a formal Civil Society hearing three months prior to UNGASS

VNGOC has committed to:

– Host a 4th Civil Society Hearing at CND 2015

– Coordinate Civil Society into work of CND

– Advocate for greater civil society participation at UNGASS an preparatory meetings

– Support and guide NGOs in how to make their voice most effective in this process


Mr. Perron asked that as an assignment, every NGO at the World Forum identify a new member to the VNGOC.

As Executive President, National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA), Carmen Masias-Claux works with all sectors of the country of Peru including health, education, defense, justice, agriculture, armed forces and political forces, organizing their work against the drug problem. DEVIDA’s mission is to work from global community to reach consensus, work with NGOS, academic groups and scientific evidence, and private sectors (business/entrepreneurs)

The government of Peru supports the UN conventions and is firmly against the legalization of any drug. Peru is the first producer of raw cocaine in the world. The Peruvian strategy is to reduce the production of raw material, illicit traffic and drug consumption. In this effort, Peru has focused on raising more money to combat narcotrafficking.

Not only does Ms. Claux articulate and gathering consensus within other areas of Peruvian government on drug policy issues but also works collaboratively internationally with nations of the Americas and nearby and bordering countries as well. An estimated $400 million dollars has been spent on controlling the drug problem in Peru, including significant spending from other areas of the world in which cocaine is trafficked. Approximately 60% of cocaine in Peru will travel through narco-trafficking to Europe.

A number of changes have occurred over the in addressing the drug issue in Peru, including strong work by the government. Cocaine use in the United States has decreased 40%. Now Brazil is the second most cocaine-consuming country in the world.

In addition to the exchange of intelligence and close work with law and drug enforcement groups, Peru recognizes the role of NGOs, the scientific and academic community and the private sector, including working with entrepreneurs and the media. An estimated 95% of the Peruvian population is against legalization of any drug, and an estimated 97% of coca in Peru goes to narco-trafficking.

In 2012, the area of coca leaves was reduced by 3.6%. Peru hopes to reduce an additional 10% of the area of coca leaves. What is needed is to change attitudes and behaviors. Methods are needed to provide new opportunities to help young people avoid engaging in trafficking. NGOs and the private sector can play an important role in this and in working with political parties. Also needed is to provide alternative opportunities to farmers that are growing coca leaves so that they can grow products such as coffee, fruits, etc.

The issues related to drug policy in Peru extend beyond economics. There are about 70,000 rural areas that have no connectivity. Peru is growing 6% economically, changing so connectivity from government,

Peru is interested in prevention and rehabilitation, and developing sanctioning alternatives. Interdiction is important and Peru works on maintaining border protections with consensus among these countries.

Ms. Claux encouraged in the preparation for UNGASS that NGOs work together with their governments. While the laws come from government, the creativity comes from the NGOs. NGOs have many contributions to make to fill the voids of government in areas of prevention and treatment. She encouraged NGOs to develop proposals for concrete synergies and action mechanisms between NGOs and governments (i.e. case studies).

Peru has a strong strategy to fully address the country’s drug problems. Legalization of drugs, including cannabis, is not a part of that plan. Peru is dedicated to help the General Assembly reach that conclusion.

Ralf Löfstedt, of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs in Swedenparticipated in the 1998 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). The idea behind UNGASS is to mobilize global society on how to deal with drug problems. At the 1998 UNGASS there was more or less no resistance against the UN drug conventions. A number of new documents were developed, including a declaration of demand reduction. Before that time there was very much a focus on supply reduction.

Since that time there has been significant progress, but also some failures. There is now strong opposition to the concept of the conventions, that is, resistance to the idea that we should avoid all use of narcotic drugs except for scientific and medical purposes.

The main message of some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are arguing against the ideas of conventions is that the conventions have failed. Their arguments include that policy must be health-oriented and support human rights. But Mr. Löfstedt noted that the conventions do not fight against human rights, and the protection of children and young persons from drugs is the ultimate human rights perspective. The more problematic argument is the idea of reducing criminality related to illicit drugs. He suggested that in forthcoming discussions there will be a focus on ideas on global security of which illicit drugs is a part.

Mr. Löfstedt reinforced that rather than abandoning the conventions, the implementation of the drug conventions can be improved in all member countries.

Mr. Löfstedt shared that these shifts in views started with NGOs but are also occurring in some Member States. At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), there will be much debate about how to proceed from UNGASS. Should discussions be led from Vienna or New York? In Vienna there are many representatives who are competent on drug policy. Discussions in New York will likely be more political.

The worst expectations for UNGASS would be that world leaders come together in New York, make speeches and go home without any changes. Mr. Löfstedt emphasized that it will be important to come through this debate to develop the next steps in global policy concerning illicit drugs.

Based on the Swedish perspective, it is important to protect the drug conventions and idea behind it; and promote the idea of universal prevention. Universal prevention is where NGOs come in.

There is much work ahead but it is important for NGOs to show that it is possible to influence this situation, to show others that we can work in the spirit of the conventions. In the end what matters is what we do back home.

Richard Baum of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) emphasized that UNGASS provides an important opportunity where the key drug policy issues are elevated to the highest levels. UNGASS is the place where the global community reflects and makes plans on the direction in which we are headed.

Michel Perron has pulled together a great group of NGOs, which continues to be developed. It is tough because there are highly paid advocates whose job is to push ideas of legalization and not to advocate services, etc.

Each year the United States prepares for the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) which will be part of the preparation for UNGASS in 2016. The USA strongly supports the UN conventions and is opposed to any renegotiations of the UN drug conventions. Mr. Baum noted that overall there is very little support in Member State governments to renegotiate the conventions. But that doesn’t mean it is not of concern.

It is important to promote a balanced approach to drug policy. NGOs must make the point that because they are a part of the “anti-drug” community they are not for the status quo. We want to make improvements in policies and have reforms. These important changes can be made under the conventions. There is no need to break the global regime. Today drug policy discussions discuss a false choice of either legalization or incarceration. This choice does not exist.

We are duty-bound to find ways to improve our drug policies. Mr. Baum emphasized that even when using evidence-based programs such as Drug Courts, we need to evaluate these programs and make them work better. We need to do what we can to make the drug problem smaller. This means thinking about public health, but still having strong support for supply reduction and law enforcement efforts.

The USA works with many nations globally, and on all areas of drug policy. There is no single solution to the drug problem.

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