Monday, March 12, 2012

Transform at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meets in Vienna this week for its annual gathering of UN members states, to discuss 'global drug control'. According to the UNODC:

The Commission reviews and analyses the global drug control situation, considering the interrelated issues of prevention of drug abuse, rehabilitation of drug users and supply and trafficking in illicit drugs. It takes action through resolutions and decisions

Transform has had UN ECOSOC special consultative status since August 2007 so is able to send up to five representatives to the CND. Transform will this year be represented by CEO Caroline Pringle for the first half of the week, handing over to senior policy analyst Steve Rolles on Wednesday. The remaining places are used to support colleagues attending. 

The CND takes place at the UN complex in Vienna

Much of the official business of the CND is bureaucratic tedium and political posturing, frequently appearing, to observers and participants alike, as a bit of circus (although without the entertainment value). The plenary 'debates' in particular involve no actual debating, being essentially a procession of prepared statements, only very rarely diverging from a predictable set text.

In 55 years there has been zero debate on the issues of decriminalisation and legalisation/ regulation and whilst it won't happen this year, it is highly likely that the Latin American-led debates around substantial reform will hit the floor of the CND in 2013.

Meanwhile in so-called 'real world', an estimated 70 million people will tommorow tune into the biggest ever global debate on ending the war on drugs - hosted by Google+ and YouTube (Danny and Steve from Transform are participants). The disjuncture between the public debate and the peculiar anachronistic world of the CND could not be more stark.

This might be the last CND to pass by unnoticed in the world of elite politics.

The Committee elements of the CND are generally a bit more interesting, with a series of resolutions being debated in forensic detail over the five days. You can read the draft resolutions here. These debates can often produce some interesting dynamics between the more progressive and conservative leaning states - especially when issues such as human rights or harm reduction crop up.

NGO input to plenary sessions is marginal and tokenistic, and similarly negligable in the committees, although we are allowed as observers, we can of course work with and lobby national delegations, and some delegations have included NGO representation (including the UK in the past - although not this year for some reason). Compared to other comparable UN bodies (e.g. UNAIDS), meaningful civil society participation and involvement, although certainly improving slowly with the help of the Vienna NGO committee, remains inadequate.

CND 2011

Much more interesting then, and correspondingly more a useful reason for attending, are the range of side events, amongst which are those organised by civil society groups. Transform has run a number of these in the past - including last years launch of the Count the Costs initiative. There is a list of these events for the 2012 CND provided by the VNGO committee here. It is an interesting mix and these events usually allow a far higher level of discussion and engagement.

Perhaps most useful of all is the mere fact that such a diverse range of expertise and interests is gathered in one place. It is one of the few occasions when civil society groups can engage directly with such an array of government and UN officials. The reform oriented groups are also in the same space as many of the prohibition groupings, and whilst this sometimes leads to tension, it is actually a rare opportunity to try and find some common ground - rather than the more commonly polarised 'debates'.

We will update this post with links to useful material, analysis and discussions as they happen but if you are interested in staying in the loop we would recommend:
You can get much more detail on the strange machinations of the CND  from the UNODC CND page and the VNGO website.

*pics by Steve Rolles, Copyright Transform 2012

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