Tuesday, March 09, 2010

How the UNODC welcomes NGO involvement : slurs and exclusion

The UNODC has been playing up its committment to NGO involvement in this year's Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, but they certainly have a long way to go compared with how other members of the UN family engage with civil society. Or even to be just plain civil to civil society...

For a start the Executive Director of the UNODC deliberately slandered a whole section of the NGO community in his opening speech, calling groups who support a debate on wider drug law reforms/regulation "pro-drugs", despite Transform specifically writing to him, requesting that he desist with this childish and unwelcoming slur, on the basis that it was inaccurate, pejorative and offensive. Would he call the US Government "pro-drug" for supporting the regulation of tobacco and alcohol? No. We wrote to him about this after the last CND - see "Reformers are not pro-drug" - and got an acknowledgment of our concerns, but no actual response.

In addition:

  • NGOs were initially excluded from the key meetings where the real decisions are taken on resolutions (The Committee of the Whole ), despite having been allowed to attend in previous years. This was only resolved following a procedural intervention from the UK delegation.
  • NGOs have one room available for their use, that is too small for us all to fit in at once
  • NGOs are expected to share a handful of computers with all the delegates
  • The microphone for the single seat allocated for NGOs in the plenary was removed, though has now been returned after we complained.
  • The 160 representatives from 55 NGOs (according to the UNODC website) have just this one tiny table (see pic below) to display and share all our materials. Despite assurances that space would be provided to put out materials for delegates to pick up, even this table only materialised today after NGOs complained yesterday.
'Ambassador. you are spoiling us'

To be meaningful, NGO engagement has to be about more than just letting us through the main door - it has to be about providing genuine opportunities for us to express our views and engage in meaningful dialogue with decision makers at the UN, and country delegations both in and outside the formal meetings.

I understand UNAIDS is pretty good on all of this, but to take an example I am familiar with, when I was working on international development issues I went to many Annual and Spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank where all the member countries get together.

Whilst far from perfect, and somewhat begrudgingly at first, these involved:

  • NGO townhall style meetings with the Heads of the Bank and Fund, and Chairs of key committees where we got time to publicly question them on their policies, and closed meetings with them on key themes with groups of key NGOs
  • Staff dedicated not just to NGO registration and support at the events, but also for liaison all year
  • Plenty of computers and space dedicated for NGOs
  • Plenty of space to display materials, posters etc where the delegates could pick it up
  • Controlled but ready access to the press rooms and help distributing press releases to media

NGOs have a huge amount to offer in terms of independent and fresh thinking, factual knowledge and analysis that is not tied to a particular party or national political agenda. This input is invaluable not least forensuring transparency and accountability of these sprawling and often bureaucratic UN organisations to the public at large.

I just hope that Mr. Costa's successor (this is his last CND) takes NGO engagement far more seriously, rather than viewing it as an inconvenience and chore, and at the very least doesn't actively denigrate people and organisations like Transform whose sole purpose is to see the harms from the use and trade in drugs minimised - particularly when they have been awarded UN ECOSOC accreditation to attend and contribute to CND on a formal basis.

Further reading:
Civil Society: The Silenced Partners? Civil Society Engagement with the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (IHRA 2009)

UPDATE 16.00

i ) Mr. Costa is now going to have an informal dialogue meeting with NGOs tomorrow morning - at a time that clashes with a planned NGO briefing meeting.

ii) A second table has belatedly appeared to display NGO materials. (But where is the  designated and signposted NGO zone? Should we really have to beg for these things?)


Anonymous said...

Sadly it is true that some, actually quite a lot of the strident members of the NGO community are little more than "User-advocates". Some of the campaigners are quite open about their own drugs use, even to me.

Nothing wrong with being a "user-advocate" (Other than the illegality) but let us not pretend that such user advocacy does not exist or that many of the NGOsd presnt are nothing more than small pressure groups. There is not much advocacy on behalf of parents who want all the help from governments that is possibloe to keep kids free of harm from drugs, legal or illegal..

Anonymous said...

I think it is pretty clear that they FEAR the NGOs, because they know that their war on drugs has failed and will always fail. They fear to loose their jobs, and don't want to admit that all the money that went into the war on drugs and their offices is completely wasted.