In a strange and disturbing turn of events here in Vienna at the UN CND, the UNODC director Antonio Maria Costa, who had seemed to be making positive rhetorical gestures to the concerns of the NGO community with his speech on Monday, has this morning managed to spectacularly embarrass the UNODC with some intemperate remarks insulting a large swathe of the very civil society he has been at such pains to claim meaningful engagement with.
There is a parallel meeting taking place today titled 'Not so silent partners' ,an NGO forum organised by the Vienna NGO committee considering NGO contributions to the UNGASS review process. Costa addressed the forum this morning and raised his attendance at the DPA conference in New Orleans last December (blogged here). He noted:
"I attended the meeting of the drug alliance [DPA] in New Orleans last December, 1200 participants, 1000 lunatics, 200 good people to talk to. The other ones obviously on drugs."(it was being filmed by the HCLU so will be on YouTube and this blog next week).
By any standard this was an extraordinarily offensive, inappropriate and stupid remark for the head of the UNODC to make in any public forum, let alone an NGO forum about UN engagement, and one where many of those present were also in New Orleans (including myself as it happens). The audience in New Orleans were in fact very polite and respectful, both for the fact that Costa had made the effort to attend and engage, and for some of his more conciliatory remarks (and in truth Costa hardly spoke to anyone in New Orleans that would enable him to form an opinion or label them). He has managed to offend a broad spectrum of opinion present at the DPA event, the DPA itself, and indeed the drug user groups with whom the UNODC process is nominally engaging at a high level. When challenged by a member of the audience, Costa refused to apologise for the remark stating 'that's my opinion' and 'I don't know which class you are from' (i.e lunatic / good person).
He has a bit of a temper, does Costa. This had also been exposed in New Orleans when he had lost his temper having been challenged on the availabilty / use correlation (with reference to the relatively low levels of cannabis use in the Netherlands - see blog). He had lashed out at the Netherlands referring to the Netherlands 'poisoning the rest of Europe' with its amphetamine production. This remark, also filmed, had made its way back to the Dutch Ambassador who then made an official complaint to the UN and subsequently received a written apology from Costa.
I expect he will have some more apologising to do after today. Totally unhelpful and completely out of keeping with the UN spirit.