Home > Towards UNGASS 2016.

Pike, Brigid (2015) Towards UNGASS 2016. Drugnet ireland, Issue 55, Autumn 2015, pp. 9-10.

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Since Issue 48, Drugnet Ireland has carried ‘Towards UNGASS 2016’ as a regular column. It reports on policy initiatives, research and debates launched by the UN, member states and civil society organisations in the lead-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, due to be held in New York on 19–21 April 2016. www.ungass2016.org


Released early in 2015, the E-Book of Authorities catalogues agreed UN statements and language on a selection of topics, to show the extent of existing international support for evidence-based drug policies. The objective of the E-Book of Authorities is to help inform international drug policy discussions, debates and negotiations. The topics covered include:

  • Human rights
  • Harm reduction
  • Death penalty
  • Access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes
  • Flexibilities of the UN drug conventions regarding alternatives to punishment for certain drug offences
  • Cultivation and alternative development
  • Civil society engagement.

This e-tool is maintained by a coalition of partners including the International Drug Policy Consortium, Harm Reduction International and the Transnational Institute, and is funded by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Open Society Foundations. http://bookofauthorities.info/about/

Between 9 and 21 March 2015 the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), which supervises the application of the international drug control treaties, held its 58th Session in Vienna, including a special segment on the preparation for UNGASS 2016. In the run-up to the Session, the International Narcotics Control Board and the UN Development Program published reports intended to inform the deliberations of the 53 member states that currently comprise the CND. These two reports are described below.



In early March 2015 the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) published its Annual Report, which provides a comprehensive survey of the drug control situation in various parts of the world. In his introduction, the chairperson of the INCB, Lochan Naidoo, states that as the goal of the United Nations legal framework on drugs is ‘the safeguarding of the health and welfare of humankind … one of the most fundamental principles underpinning the international drug control framework, enshrined in both the 1961 Convention and in the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, is the limitation of use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances to medical and scientific purposes. This legal obligation is absolute and leaves no room for interpretation.’


With an eye on UNGASS 2016, the INCB devotes Chapter 1 of its annual report to reiterating the need to adopt ‘a comprehensive, integrated and balanced approach to implementing the provisions of the international drug control treaties in order to respond to the world drug problem together’. The elements of such an approach comprise:

  • Availability of internationally-controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes: Despite the progress made in some regions, the report acknowledges that approximately three quarters of the world’s population live in countries with inadequate or non-existent access to medicines containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, which leads to unnecessary pain and suffering.
  • Demand reduction: The report cites articles in the drug treaties that stipulate that member states ‘shall take all practicable measures for the prevention of abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and for the early identification, treatment, education, aftercare, rehabilitation and social reintegration of the persons involved’. The INCB recommends that member states put greater emphasis on, and provide political support and appropriate resources to, these efforts, to ensure a proper balance between demand and supply reduction.
  • Supply reduction: Without demand reduction, the report asserts that supply reduction cannot be effective in the long run. As well as responding effectively to emerging challenges such as new psychoactive substances and changing drug supply routes, the report calls specific efforts to focus on depriving the illicit drug economy of its commercial attractiveness and dismantling its socio-economic basis, for example disrupting illicit financial flows connected to drug trafficking, undermining the links between illicit drugs and other forms of criminal activity, and preventing people from being recruited by drug traffickers by addressing the socio-economic conditions that contribute to their becoming involved in the first place.
  • Socio-economic aspects: Poverty, food insecurity, economic inequality, social exclusion, deprivation owing to migration and displacement, a shortage of comprehensive educational and recreational facilities and employment prospects, poor parental engagement and guidance during childhood, and exposure to violence and abuse are all listed as factors contributing to both the supply and demand sides and affecting the interaction between the two sides.
  • Socio-cultural aspects: Influencing or changing people’s perceptions in relation to illicit drugs is seen mainly as a prevention matter. But it is also affected to a certain extent by the overall structure of drug control policy and the image it projects: imbalanced approaches to different aspects can diminish public support. The main element of sustainable success is not reactive approaches alone, according to the report, but rather the fostering a of a ‘preventive culture’, one that is resistant to the appeal of popular culture that promotes drug use  http://www.incb.org/incb/en/publications/annual-reports/annual-report-2014.html

In early March 2015 the UN Development Program published Perspectives on the development dimensions of drug control policy. While drug control policies have been justified by ’the real and potential harms associated with illicit drug production, trafficking, and use’, the report points out that various UN organisations have observed that these policies have had ‘harmful collateral consequences: creating a criminal black market; fuelling corruption, violence, and instability; threatening public health and safety; generating large-scale human rights abuses, including abusive and inhumane punishments; and discrimination and marginalization of people who use drugs, indigenous peoples, women, and youth’. The report goes on to note that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has stated that ‘the UN drug conventions do not require penalization of drug use or drug possession for personal use’ and that the UNODC Executive Director, Yuri Fedotov, has encouraged UN member states to use UNGASS 2016 as an opportunity to ‘discuss ways to rebalance international drug control policy responses to focus on health and respect for human rights, and address stigma and discrimination that limits access to services by people who use drugs’. http://www.unodc.org/documents/ungass2016/Contributions/UN/UNDP/UNDP_paper_for_CND_March_2015.pdf

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 55, Autumn 2015
October 2015
Page Range
pp. 9-10
Health Research Board
Issue 55, Autumn 2015

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