Written by Beatrix Vas, Harm Reduction Consortium Project Manager and Board Member of the VNGOC, and Ruby Lawlor, Interim Executive Director and International Communications Officer.

The Thematic Intersessional discussions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs begin today and will be held until tomorrow, 22 September from 10.30am to 1.30pm CET and from 3pm to 6pm CET. 

The meeting is part of the multi-year workplan developed by Member States as a follow up to the 2019 Ministerial Declaration

This year’s thematic focus is that “Responses not in conformity with the three international drug control conventions and not in conformity with applicable international human rights obligations pose a challenge to the implementation of joint commitments based on the principle of common and shared responsibility”.

Thematic Session 1 (21 September 2022) will focus on approaches to drug control different from prohibition (we´re expecting lot´s of fighting over cannabis…), while Thematic Session 2 (22 September 2022) will focus on issues at the intersections of human rights and drug policy, primarily human rights violations related to prohibition and the drug war.

The session is held in a hybrid format and you can follow the discussions live on the webcast: https://webcast.unodc.org/webcast/en/live/cnd.html

You can check @CND_tweets for updates, and the CND Blog will provide live transcriptions of the statements. 

We encourage you to review the Background Note of the session for more information on the context, content and significance of the meeting.

Our very own Beatrix Vas will be speaking as one of the civil society speakers for September 22, for the thematic section discussing the issue “that responses not in conformity with applicable international human rights obligations pose a challenge to the implementation of joint commitments based on the principle of common and shared responsibility”. Make sure not to miss it!

Day 1

Day 1 of the 2 days of the CND Thematic Intersessionals saw the usual rhetoric around youth, mostly from countries and UN bodies with the more prohibitionist and punitive policies around drug use of course (for example, Singapore, China, the INCB, and Russia) but a few more well-rounded and informed mentions of children and youth came from countries that respect and see the importance of harm reduction and ensuring youth have a voice (for example Canada, Czech Republic, Chile, and Mexico). There was also significant debate about the legalisation of cannabis, with countries sitting firmly on one end of the other of the debate, with the Czech Republic (with Canada’s support) providing the strongest evidence and position for the legalization of cannabis and highlighting the facts that punitive drug policies do not work. There was also a call made by Switzerland to include a chapter in the World Drug Report for 2023 on the human rights implications of the 3 Drug Conventions, this was supported by Malta, Germany, Austria, Finland, the UK, Mexico, and Colombia. There we also concerns from the United States and Russia among others about the importance of sovereignty in regards to implementing the 3 Drug Control Conventions and stressing that the INCB does not have mandate to monitor countries implementation. Below are excerpts from interventions made that mention children and youth, gathered from the fantastic IDPC CND Blog. Read the full proceedings and interventions on the CND blog.

  • Singapore: “Our experience in implementing our commitments, our overarching themes are (1) comprehensive and balanced approach to policies – We foster the philosophy that everyone has the right to live in an environment free of drug abuse. (2) Prevention and treatment are priorities – strengthen our laws to better protect youth. (3) Enforcement Strategy – aim: a Singapore without drugs, but rehabilitation is key: drug users who do not have other charges will not be prosecuted (4) We reserve the right of our people to live in a safe, secure and drug-free environment, we hail a zero tolerance to drugs.

In response to the Singapore intervention, Mr Tetty (UNODC Drugs, Laboratory and Scientific Services Branch) asked: “Singapore places huge importance on protecting children. Could you share some more, please?”

  • Singapore: Our drug prevention strategy is community-driven, it is important to mobilize community resources and involve NGOs and the private sectors. We empower youths to champion initiatives to live a drug-free lifestyle. To get our messages effectively across, we adapt our messaging to be appropriate for various age groups, based on research.
  • China: Position number 1: the three conventions are the cornerstones of the international drug control system, non-interference in internal affairs, and ensuring sovereignty while working together is just as important to us as respecting common and shared responsibilities – one MS imposing on another´s regional sovereignty and territorial integrity is not in line with the conventions. Position number 2: we strongly oppose the legalization of any scheduled substances as it is in breach of our agreements. The legalization of Cannabis has led to an increase of use and health problems. After listening to the discussion before, I understand some colleagues think otherwise. This is for us a red flag. We take serious measures to optimize our prevention and education approaches, particularly to children and youth. Treating and helping PWUD follows science-based methods and it results in success for us. Strengthening collaboration with neighbors.
  • Canada: We condemn the ongoing attack on Ukraine, which is an illegal war, an act of aggression from Russia. We are pleased to take part in these discussions as these exchanges foster the development of balanced and evidence-based policies. We determined that prohibiting cannabis was not adequately protecting our people, so to eliminate harm, especially among youth, we passed the cannabis act. This act reflects our public health approach that invests heavily in an educational approach that helped decrease tobacco use significantly. We support community-based organizations and indigenous organizations. Problematic use pattern has not increased among youth. We want to emphasize that we did not legalize cannabis, but we strictly regulated cannabis and cannabis products. We are a strong supporter of the international drug control system that is underpinned by the three drug control conventions. We are concerned about a few things we heard today, for example, the INCB´s perceived role – INCB has a very important mandate, however, monitoring compliance is not a role of the INCB. States have made a commitment to one another to protect our constituencies. The world drug issue has evolved immensely in the last decade, this challenges us to evolve our responses as well.
  • INCB (Ms. PAVADIA, President): The use of controlled substances for nonmedical uses is in breach of international conventions. Reporting requirements. Legal obligations – Legalization carries a significant threat particularly of reducing the perception of risk among young people. The legalization of drugs gravely undermines the consensus the conventions represent. According to the fundamental principles of international law, any deviation undermines the agreement. We will dedicate a chapter to this in our annual report. There is a widespread consensus on some of our main challenges, such as access to essential medicines while preventing diversion. Other challenges, in particular legalization, are more complex and are threatening the consensus in the commission.
  • Algeria: I would like to present my country´s effort in fighting drug risks. Due to our geographical location, we are a huge cannabis seizure spot. My country is actively engaged in the regional and international levels – within the framework of UNODC and INCB. The significant efforts made by Algeria is above all to protect young people and the general population.
  • Russia: While some delegations try to divert the conversation to unrelated political topics, the drug situation continues, and the recreational use of drugs is growing, particularly among young people – fueling black markets, violence, and instability.
  • Chile: Public policies should be founded on scientific evidence. We recognize all treaties, especially those that are priority aim is to protect the welfare of humankind, … prioritize human rights with a particular focus on women and children. Access to medicines, particularly opiates, is guaranteed in our policy system in Chile. We have placed a strong emphasis on the public health dimension in the measures we take and tailor them to those most vulnerable. Personal drug use is not a criminal offense in Chile. In 2014 we have drug treatment courts and lowered sentences for drug-related crimes with more emphasis on treatment. Since 2012, treatment has been available on probation as an alternative to incarceration and recently parole also includes treatment. The world drug report should include a chapter on human rights, and it should cover the protection of children specifically.
  • Mexico (Mr. DEL CAMPO, National Psychiatric Institution): As a former member of the INCB and researcher in drug demand policy, I would like to highlight a few points: (1) drug dependence treatment – a right to health means access to evidence-based dependence treatment on a voluntary basis. States must ensure acceptable, evidence-based, good-quality treatment services and make them accessible for vulnerable and marginalized groups. Confidentiality, the right to privacy – release people in involuntary hold (2) children and the general population have the right to access correct and scientific information, evidence-based and human rights compliant education – do not exclude people from education based on their drug use behavior (3) harm reduction – right to health includes access to harm reduction facilities. State parties should ensure that UN technical recommendations are observed, and these services are funded appropriately. (4) data collection (5) access to controlled medicines.
From the presentation from the UNODC Research and Analysis Branch
From the Czech Republic’s presentation
From the Czech Republic’s presentation
From the Czech Republic’s presentation
From the Czech Republic’s presentation