On March 11-15 2013, several of the Community Action on Harm Reduction (CAHR) partners attended the 56th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna – the United Nation’s main regular forum on the issue of drug use and drug markets. These annual meetings have long provided frustration for many civil society groups – who have had to fight hard to have their voice heard amidst the on-going deliberations and political games being played by the 53 Member States that make up the Commission.
However, as documented in the ‘CND Blog’ run by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and Youth RISE, this year represented an improvement on previous events:
- Member States passed a strong resolution on HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis – which endorses the WHO, UNAIDS and UNODC guidance on HIV and hepatitis prevention among people who use drugs.
- Member States also agreed the process for the 2014 High Level Review of drug policies and the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs, which highlighted “the important role played by civil society… in addressing the world drug problem”.
- A number of the CAHR partners made formal statements at the meeting – including strong speeches from Maria Phelan (Harm Reduction International), Eliot Albers (International Network of People who Use Drugs), Mike Trace and Ann Fordham (IDPC).
- The UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, held a constructive dialogue with civil society groups, answering questions from IDPC, the International Network of People who Use Drugs, and from the Malaysian AIDS Council.
- The overall participation of civil society was the strongest it has ever been, with around 160 representatives present – including from CAHR countries.
- IDPC held a well-attended series of side events for civil society and government delegates, covering topics such as African drug policies, law enforcement practices, developments in Latin America, and the decriminalisation of drug use and possession for personal use around the world.
- The “Support. Don’t Punish” campaign received a ‘soft-launch’ at the meeting, with several government representatives posing for photos with the campaign logo – as well as the entire UNODC HIV Team.
However, one major disappointment from the event was the meeting between civil society representatives and Raymond Yans, President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) – the UN body established to monitor adherence to the international drug conventions. In keeping with previous years, this dialogue was undermined by Mr Yans’ derogatory tone and clear contempt for those civil society organisations that question the current international drug control system.