Muted response to first ungass since 1990s

UNGASSThe world needs global drug policies that ‘put people first’, UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov told the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in New York, although many campaigning organisations have expressed disappointment at the event’s outcomes.

The session, the first since 1998, was originally scheduled for 2019 but was brought forward following pressure from Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico – nations badly affected by the effects of the drug trade and the violence associated with drug cartels. It saw the official adoption of an ‘outcome document’ that has been greeted with dismay by some campaigners, who branded it ‘disconnected from reality’.

UNODC remains committed to promoting approaches to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration that are ‘rooted in evidence, science, public health and human rights’, Fedotov stated, adding that it would work to ‘ensure access to controlled drugs to relieve pain and suffering’.

‘Putting people first means balanced approaches that attend to health and human rights, and promote the safety and security of all our societies,’ he said, adding that the founding purpose of the existing international drug control conventions had been the ‘health and welfare of human kind’.

The event’s outcome document, Our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem, contains the reaffirmation by UN member states of the goals and objectives of these conventions, as well as a commitment to ‘tackle the world drug problem and actively promote a society free of drug abuse’. The document – which was finalised at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March rather than at UNGASS itself – has been branded ‘a turgid restatement of “business as usual”’ and a ‘profound betrayal for the many stakeholders across the world who were promised real dialogue, new thinking and change’ by Transform’s senior policy analyst Steve Rolles.

While campaigners have welcomed the inclusion of sections on alternatives to prison, access to essential medicines and overdose prevention, the statement could have been ‘very different’ if ‘more progressive inputs’ had been included, says Transform.

‘The UNGASS was called for by three Latin American countries who are desperate for a critical evaluation of the failings of the global war on drugs, and an open and honest exploration of the alternatives,’ said IDPC executive director Ann Fordham. ‘But the outcome document does not do this. Instead it reflects the lowest common denominator consensus position that is almost entirely disconnected from reality.’ IDPC was one of more than 200 civil society groups to sign a statement condemning governments for ‘failing to acknowledge the devastating consequences of punitive and repressive’ drug policies in the run up to the UNGASS.

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