Home > Towards UNGASS 2016.

Pike, Brigid (2016) Towards UNGASS 2016. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 56, Winter 2016, pp. 12-13.

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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


On 14 October 2015 the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) held an informal briefing for member states at the UN headquarters in New York. It was entitled Preparing for UNGASS 2016: Examining complex drug policy issues. The briefing was co-sponsored by the United Nations and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN. In introducing the three contributors, the Swiss ambassador to the UN highlighted the need for drug policies to be based on human rights and public health principles and the importance of considering the full range of linkages between the world drug problem and Agenda 2030.1

  1. Dr Renata Segura of the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum of the Social Science Research Council highlighted the difficulty of finding common ground between the idealistic approach of minimising the availability of illicit drugs, as advocated by the UN’s drug-policy-making body, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), and the views of some member states and academic civil society, who question how realistic the aspiration of a drug-free world is. She challenged UNGASS 2016 to examine the impact that drug trafficking is having on society, and to analyse the consequences of the current drug control regime.
  2. Professor Jeffrey S. Fagan of the New York-based Columbia Law School discussed the proportionality of punishment in the context of drug-related offences, focusing in particular on whether or not capital punishment is an effective deterrent to drug use and trafficking. Citing empirical evidence obtained over a five-decade long study, he concluded that the research is clear that the use of the death penalty has no deterrent effect on serious crimes such as murder.
  3. Dr Dan Werb of the Toronto-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy highlighted the importance of recognising the inherent limitations of current drug policies in their overall effectiveness related to drug consumption patterns: his analysis of the drug policies of several locations (Vancouver, Switzerland and Mexico) suggested that both liberal and stringent approaches produce very similar results with regard to the age of onset and rate of use for cannabis and cocaine. Among other matters, he discussed the need to re-evaluate the current metrics used to evaluate the effectiveness of drug policies, and urged a broadening of metrics to include a range of indicators based on community health, security, human rights, and development.

Videos of the presentations by the three speakers are available on line at http://idpc.net/blog/2015/10/preparing-for-ungass-2016-examining-complex-drug-policy-issues?utm_source=IDPC+Monthly+Alert&utm_campaign=d08071d8c0-IDPC+November+2015+Alert&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d40f46a7df-d08071d8c0-18215073


In November 2015 United Nations University (UNU) published What comes after the war on drugs – flexibility, fragmentation or principled pluralism? UNU is a global think-tank established by the UN General Assembly to contribute, through collaborative research, to helping resolve ‘pressing global challenges’. A series of meetings, attended by delegates from more than 50 UN member states and  representatives of  UN entities and civil society and academic organisations and aimed at ‘identifying common ground’, examined the relationship between contemporary global drug policy and public health, human rights, development and criminal justice.


Drawing on these consultations, the authors of the ‘policy report’, James Cockayne and Summer Walker, have discerned a clear trend heading into UNGASS 2016: member states will largely coalesce around an affirmation of the existing regime, coupled with a call for flexibility in implementing the regime. The USA and some Latin American countries have called for flexibility as a way to experiment with new approaches to implementing the existing drug control regime, but other states are likely to treat an agreement on flexibility as an acceptable response to their calls for respect for state sovereignty in setting domestic drug policy, including the use of strong punitive approaches. According to the authors, there is a consequent danger, post UNGASS 2016, that flexibility will lead to policy fragmentation.


The authors argue that the key to avoiding fragmentation is to ensure that flexibility is not treated as a code word for unprincipled laissez faire, but instead is embedded in a process of collective drug policy development at the UN, based on a more detailed and holistic analysis by member states and other stakeholders of ‘what works’ in drug policy interventions. They argue that UNGASS 2016 should be seen not as the end of a conversation about drug policy, but as an opportunity to set up a structured and inclusive conversation between 2016 and 2019, when the current Political Declaration and Plan of Action comes to an end, and a new one will likely be adopted. They argue that UNGASS 2016 should initiate a conversation that, though leaving room for states to exercise flexibility and discretion, ensures that their policy choices are guided by three principles:

  • protection of human rights,
  • promotion of human development, and
  • guidance by the best available scientific evidence.

The authors describe this approach as principled pluralism.


On 12 November 2015 CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign held a conference in Dublin on drug policy reform,  seeking to answer three questions:

  1. What have we learnt from 20 years’ experience of trying to tackle the drugs issue here in Ireland?
  2. How can we link our experience in Ireland to the international debate on moving from the ‘war on drugs’ to a public health and human rights approach?
  3. How can we bring together the learning and evidence from the Irish and the international experience to feed into the new Irish National Drugs Strategy?

Speakers in the morning included: 

  • President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins
  • Ann Fordham (Executive Director, International Drug Policy Consortium): The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs & the shifting global drug policy landscape
  • José Antonio Gutiérrez Danton (academic, researcher , community activist): International drugs policy and the ‘War on Drugs’ – the impact on communities in Colombia 
  • John Collins (Co-ordinator, LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project) :Linking current developments in Irish drugs policy to the international policy context
  • Niall O’Connell (Service User Rights in Action): Supporting a human rights approach to delivery of drug services  
  • Anna Quigley (Co-ordinator, Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign): 20 years’ experience of community involvement – key lessons for the next National Drugs Strategy


In the afternoon conference participants broke out into 12 workshops on the following topics:

  • Medically-supervised injecting centres – a case study in bringing about drug policy reform in Ireland 
  • Understanding and responding to drug-related community violence and intimidation   
  • Implementing decriminalisation – developing a model that works in Ireland 
  • Developing the unique role of community drug projects – the factors that make them effective in their work and the challenges they are facing  
  • The role of the media in the discussion of social policy – how to support a rational and informed public debate on drug policy reform
  • Developing a human rights approach to delivery of drug services – A case study on the experience of methadone treatment 
  • Women and the National Drugs Strategy – the impact on women of current drug policy and what needs to be included in the next NDS 
  • Equality and diversity in the new NDS – how to ensure inclusion of Travellers, New Communities, LGBT and other minority groups 
  • The value of family support – how the value of family support work can be understood and measured
  • The role of youth work in developing and supporting effective models of drugs education, prevention and harm reduction
  • Developing an integrated approach to the issues of drug use and homelessness – the experience from the frontline
  • What Ireland can contribute to UNGASS 2016 – examining the concepts of regulation and legalisation


Videos of the speeches, and PowerPoint presentations made at workshops, are available on line at http://www.citywide.ie/citywide-20th-anniversary/presentations.html

1 For more information on Agenda 2030, visit https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 56, Winter 2016
January 2016
Page Range
pp. 12-13
Health Research Board
Issue 56, Winter 2016

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