Written by: Marialba Quesada Abrams

Day 3 of the Paradigma Coalition at the CND
Youth RISE’s Delegation of the Paradigma Coalition. March 20th, 2024.

Last Wednesday, March 20, we reached the halfway point of the CND. And despite the non-stop hard work and the lack of sleeping hours, we continued our path of activism and youth inclusion in the discussions held during the various events, informal dialogues and plenaries.

Initially, the Paradigma Coalition team participated in the UNODC ED Informal Dialogues. During this session, two pointed questions were asked:

Nick Kent (Australia), member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia, mentioned, “Student for Sensible Drug Policy Austria advocated for our government to send independent youth delegates to the UNODC Youth Forum in 2021-2023, but we have since found this avenue to be ineffective in elevating Australian youth perspectives, as the forum operates outside of the CND and lacks inclusivity. The Australian Government, among others, decided not to nominate a candidate for the 2024 UNODC Youth Forum. How will UNODC ensure meaningful youth participation globally in the future, given the declining attractiveness and accessibility of the Forum, especially for young Australians?”

In response to this question, representatives of the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs highlighted the need to advocate for a strong commitment to drug policy at the local level, urging governments and members of civil society to continue to strengthen their right to be part of the national, regional and international discussion tables. “Thanks to these types of opportunities, we have been able to connect more with youth and make them part of the decision-making process”, they added.

During this year’s CND, the C.H.A.M.P.S (Children Amplified Prevention Services) project was introduced to some of us, and reinforced as a past discussion to others. This caught the attention of the Paradigma Coalition, who have consistently pointed out the violation of rights, stigma and discrimination that can underpin certain social good projects, whose focus of work could potentially rely on abstinence, prevention, and crime. Especially those seeking to work with young people and vulnerable populations.

In order to clarify this situation and provide a better context, Azra Panjwani (International Liaison at Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Co-Chair of CSSDP Edmonton), in collaboration with Ruby Lawlor (Youth RISE – Resources, Information, Support and Education), shared the following question: 

Even with the limited information we have about the CHAMPS initiative, we are already concerned about the ineffectiveness of this programme and its ability to provide a comprehensive response to children and adolescent drug use. Early prevention is only one part of the response to such a complex issue and should be coupled with complementary health and drug policy reform and ensuring compliance with human rights. Noting that UNODC does not have the mandate or the expertise to cover all dimensions, we would like to know how UNODC is planning on collaborating with and learning from the expertise of relevant UN bodies such as UNICEF, UNDP and OHCHR most notably?

Despite the pointed question and our clear concern, the answer received was perhaps not what we expected. 

In a mocking tone, we were told that there is no reason to be concerned about a project for which there is still not enough information available. “Perhaps something that would make you feel less worried is to know that this project is not intended to be developed behind closed doors. UNICEF, UNODC and civil society organizations are and will be part of the process to develop this initiative, especially those who are working with children”. Finally, C.H.A.M.P.S. is mentioned as a comprehensive approach. Through 12 modules, it seeks to explore issues related to education, parental care, prevention and raising stronger and more resilient children. “Tomorrow these children will be able to say no to drugs, no to violence, no to organized crime or to anything that could harm them in the future”. It is worth mentioning that the C.H.A.M.P.S. project will initially be carried out in 10 countries with the highest levels of vulnerability and violence against children.

In regards to the actions that took place at the Plenary, Rebeca Marquez Rocha (Youth RISE) and Jacob Chagnon (Students for Sensible Drug Policy International), shared two statements under Agenda Item 6: Follow-up to the implementation at the national, regional and international levels of all commitments, as reflected in the Ministerial Declaration of 2019, to address and counter the world drug problem.

Rebeca’s statement was aimed at sharing some outcomes and recommendations from a recent study Youth RISE has conducted to understand the needs and challenges faced by young people who use opioids and help develop an adequate public health response.The participants of this study were young people who are using opioids, and harm reduction practitioners, or, in some cases, both. They covered the regions of North and Latin America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Eastern and Southern Africa. “The consequences of a drug-related criminal charge are life-altering in any case, but affect young people especially negatively. Criminalization and the resulting stigma often lead to isolation from family and community, reduced access to education, reduced prospects for employment, limited access to housing and financial instability – all causing further harm”, Rocha mentioned.

Day 3 of the Paradigma Coalition at the CND
Rebeca Rocha sharing her Statement during CND’s Plenary. March 20th, 2024.

On the other hand, Chagnon’s statement sought to highlight the collaborative effort made by the Paradigma Coalition to guarantee the participation of young people at the discussion tables and at the same time ensure that they are part of the decision-making spaces that involve the lives of young populations. “In an effort to decolonise the treaties, we request a full review of the three international drug control conventions with the meaningful participation of these affected groups.

This includes embracing an intersectional approach, and recognising that experiences within these affected groups are highly diverse and intersect with other factors such as, but not limited to, race, gender, region, socio-economic status, and disabilities. Conjointly, we would like to draw particular attention to the conflict between the control of coca under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the rights of Indigenous peoples”, Jacob pointed. It is important to highlight that the Paradigma Coalition commits to speaking with one voice and acting in solidarity to ensure that youth voices are fully integrated into drug policy discussions.

Day 3 of the Paradigma Coalition at the CND
Jacob Chagnon sharing his Statement during CND’s Plenary. March 20th, 2024.

Paradigma stands ready to work with the UNODC and the Member States of the CND to monitor the adequate implementation of all human rights conventions for the well-being of youth from a compassionate and self-determining perspective.

In regards to the Side-Events: 

VNGOC and Youth RISE’s IWG member, Beatrix Vas presented at the side event: The Role of Youth Participation in Drug Policy and Drug Prevention. However, what primarily caught our attention is to recognize that out of a panel of 8 panellists, only 3 represented the youth population. This type of situation has repeatedly been a concern for the Paradigm Coalition, since the spaces where the actions carried out by and for youth are discussed do not constantly look for ways to include this population in their goals and projects. In addition, Beatrix was the only participant who could offer her knowledge and life experiences in harm reduction.

Day 3 of the Paradigma Coalition at the CND
Beatrix Vas presenting the side event: The Role of Youth Participation in Drug Policy and Drug Prevention. March 20th, 2024.

Vas also attended the VNGOC AGM, since she sits in the VNGOC Board. Beatrix representing Youth RISE on the Board is a key example of how impactful YPWUD are, proving that we can serve within these leadership positions, and demonstrating the importance of youth engagement and diversity within civil society.  

Day 3 of the Paradigma Coalition at the CND
Side Event: Navigating tensions and contradictions: addressing human rights challenges related to the lack of, and the unequal access to, treatment and harm reduction. March 20th, 2024.

Finally, Youth RISE Co-sponsored the Side Event: Navigating tensions and contradictions: addressing human rights challenges related to the lack of, and the unequal access to, treatment and harm reduction, ran by the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD) and the Strategic Coordination Group on Drugs (which Youth Rise is part of).