Written by Ailish Brennan
The second day of the 62nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs may have been lighter in content in the form of interesting and progressive side events but was certainly not without noteworthy occurrences. As the two major youth-led drug policy reform side events drew closer, with both taking place at the 2:20PM time slot on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, people’s minds were at times focussed elsewhere.
In the early morning slot, Harm Reduction International, in conjunction with a number of government delegations and Amnesty International, organized a side event entitled “The death penalty for drug related offence: The impact on women and vulnerable groups”. The event was attended by key delegates from the respective governments, including Great Britain, and Paradigma ally Chloe Swarbrick of New Zealand.
It is truly inspiring to see such an event sponsored and attended by high level policy makers, especially with the focus on the impact on the gendered aspect of the death penalty and the impact on marginalized groups. These voices are often systematically excluded at these events.
The event placed a focus on the 35 countries which retain the death penalty for drug offences, directly contravening international law. The focus throughout remained on how people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the enforcement of the death penalty. Foreign nationals, women, people from lower-socio economic backgrounds, people of colour, as well as the people at the intersection of some or all of these subgroups, are most likely to be affected by the use of the death penalty. The most disadvantaged members of our society are significantly less likely to be given a fair trial due to racial prejudices, or their inability to speak the local language of the country in which they have been arrested.
With the prevalence of foreign nationals being sentenced to the death penalty, eleven foreign nationals have been executed this year already in Saudi Arabia, including three on New Years Day. In Malaysia meanwhile, foreign nationals are half as likely to have their sentence revised down from the death penalty as Malaysians. It is hard to imagine that the sentencing in Saudi Arabia was much more fair or transparent than the bias seen in Malaysian courts.
Other more youth-based side events were also taking place throughout the day, although these were somewhat less progressive. The Government of Pakistan organized a side event on their incredibly ground-breaking plan to implement education programs in schools promoting abstinence from drugs. This side event was, thankfully, very poorly attended, mostly by other drug free world focussed organizations and delegations. I would like to hope that this is because even the majority of prohibitionists can see the futility in further expanding the implementation of these programs in their current form.
In the final side event slot of the day an event was organized by the government of Great Britain, attempting to discuss their tackling of the recent surge in violent knife crimes, and how these are related to drug use. They decided to conflate the increased use of crack cocaine with the upsurge in knife crimes. However, when pressed about whether they had conducted research into the well-documented effects austerity has had on social problems in the United Kingdom, they were unable to say they had because it is “easier” to conduct the research they had decided to do.
On top of this question about austerity, Great Britain was thankfully pestered by a number of progressive civil society organizations on their presentations. The above question was asked by myself, and was accompanied by Eva Cesarova, also of Youth RISE, enquiring about whether they have considered decriminalising drugs as a means of impacting the level of violent crime associated with drugs. On top of this, Clare Mawditt of the Women’s Harm Reduction International Network, pointed them towards recent reports indicating the benefits of stimulant legalisation and regulation. Both of these questions were met with varying degrees of silence.
In the Plenary throughout the early parts of the day, some of the most mundane yet efficient events at CND occurred, with numerous fentanyl and cannabinoid derivatives being scheduled. The speed with which the scheduling of most substances occurs is breathtaking relative to the rest of the events if CND. I never would have guessed that CND delegates had the ability to be productive! The one piece of note was the postponement of the decision on scheduling of cannabis until March 2020, when delegations will have had enough time to consider such a potentially radical decision. Truthfully this amounts to little more than kicking the can down the road, and it remains to be seen how much further it can be delayed.
While today, as with much of CND, has been filled with negativity throughout the main sessions of the day, tucked away in a quiet corner, away from the main diplomacy, the Vienna NGO Committee held their annual voting for board members. In a fantastic win for the wider drug policy reform movement, Jamie Bridge of IDPC was elected to Chairperson and Penny Hill, currently of Harm Reduction Australia and formerly of Youth RISE and SSDP Australia, was elected as Deputy Secretary! It is wonderful to see headway being made in the non-governmental sections of CND at the very least.
It is results like this that begin to show the true scale to which the wider drug policy control system is falling behind civil society in terms of following evidence, health, and human rights based approaches.