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Dillon, Lucy (2017) Beyond UNGASS. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 62, Summer 2017, p. 12.

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The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is the governing body of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Essentially, it is the central drug policy-making body of the United Nations. Membership is made up of representatives from 53 UN member states, allowing for a spread of geographical representation. Ireland is not currently a member. The CND led the preparations for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem held in 2016 and led negotiations on the associated outcome document.1 While that document was heavily criticised by some stakeholders, it was also seen as indicating a more progressive direction in terms of putting health, human rights, and development more at the core of drug policy.2


Implementing the UNGASS document

The CND is responsible for leading on the implementation of the recommendations of the document. Since UNGASS, they have appointed a ‘facilitator for post-UNGASS matters’ and have held a variety of meetings to progress the recommendations. They held two intersessional meetings to discuss each of the seven thematic areas covered in the UNGASS document. Member states, UN entities and specialised agencies, international and regional organisations and civil society (including non-governmental organisations) were all in attendance. The first meeting provided participants with an opportunity to share experiences across the themes, discuss lessons learnt, and report on ‘concrete activities’3 (p. 1) that had been undertaken to implement the UNGASS operational recommendations. The second meeting took a more forward-looking approach, focusing on what the CND could do to operationalise the recommendations. A recurring theme throughout the meetings was the need for the CND and UNODC to collaborate closely with all relevant UN entities and other international organisations and civil society to deliver on this work.3


60th Session of CND

The CND’s 60th Session was held in Vienna (13‒17 March 2017) and provided a valuable opportunity to demonstrate improved collaboration. As well as the core plenary sessions, around 100 side events and numerous exhibitions were held. Approximately 1500 people attended the session, representing the same broad scope of stakeholders as the earlier thematic meetings. Among the main issues discussed was the implementation of the UNGASS outcome document. At a plenary session that dealt specifically with the follow-up to UNGASS, statements were made by member states, a number of other UN entities and civil society. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) all made statements welcoming the UNGASS document and its progress towards a more health and human rights approach to drug policy. The closer links it established with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals were also welcomed.4,5


The need for the outcome document to produce ‘concrete, operational results if it is ultimately to be deemed a success’ was noted.4 Among the challenges identified by the other UN entities in attendance were how different the situation currently exists in some states, when compared to what the outcome document required. For example, some of the OHCHR’s key points were:

  • The right to life continues to be challenged in some states, in particular through extrajudicial executions of drug users and traffickers.
  • Those suspected of drug-related offences are often detained unlawfully or confined to compulsory detention or treatment.
  • There has been a long history of inaction on the right to health of people in terms of their access to essential medicines, such as opioids for the relief of pain and for substitution therapy.

The UNDP5 highlighted how challenging many stakeholders found it to deliver a more human rights approach to drug control policy. They remarked that there is little clear, comprehensive assessment of how to effectively deliver it in practice. To fill this gap, they are working in collaboration with a number of partners to develop international guidelines on human rights and drug control.


In conclusion

Overall, the session was seen by commentators as indicating important progress by continuing the move more towards a health and human rights led approach to drug use reflected in the UNGASS document. For example, a HIV/AIDS-related resolution was passed that calls for member states to increase their funding for harm reduction activities for people who inject drugs.6 UNODC Chief Yury Fedotov closed the event with a focus on people’s health and welfare:

Together we have made a commitment under the international drug control conventions to the health and welfare of people and communities everywhere an enduring promise to millions of children, women and men that we must uphold.7


1    United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (2016) Outcome document of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drug and Crime. Retrieved 11 April 2017 from:

2    Dillon L (2017) Responses to UNGASS 2016. Drugnet Ireland, 60: 8‒9.

3    United Nations Economic and Social Council (2017) Remarks by H.E. Ambassador Pedro Moitinho de Almeida, CND Facilitator for post-UNGASS Matters: Second round of thematic discussions on UNGASS follow-up (January 2017). New York: United Nations Economic and Social Council. Retrieved 11 April 2017 from:

4    CND Blog (2017) Plenary – Agenda Item 6: Follow-up to the special session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem held in 2016, including the seven thematic areas of the outcome document of the special session (Thursday, March 16, 2017 – Afternoon): Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights statement. Retrieved 11 April 2017 from:

5    United Nations Development Programme (2017) Commission on Narcotic Drugs 60th Session, 13 to 17 March 2016, Vienna [UNDP statement made at Plenary Agenda Item 6]. Retrieved 11 April 2017 from:

6    Fordham A (2017) Drugs at the UN: the needle inches forward. London: International Drug Policy Consortium. Retrieved 11 April 2017 from:

7    UNODC (2017) Press release: ‘Extraordinary’ 60th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs closes with commitment to keep protecting people. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Retrieved 11 April 2017 from:

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 62, Summer 2017
August 2017
Page Range
p. 12
Health Research Board
Issue 62, Summer 2017

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