Wednesday, March 12, 2008

UNODC director describes DPA event as '1000 lunatics', 'obviously on drugs'

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.

a low point for UNODC civil society engagement

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.


Anonymous said...

I was at the event in New Orleans and heard his speech. I am sickened and appalled by his comments, and I saw no one at the conference who appeared "high" or in any other way impaired. Shame on this man!

john-boi said...

It seems that Costa has lost the argument and is unable to defend his position. To all right thinking people drug users or not his position is really indefensible and flys in the face of reality and totally ignores the untold damage the polices he promulgates causes.

To right off over 1000 people and label them as drug users just because he was unable to defend his postition against their erudite and informed criticism shows the man is on the back foot.

Long may it continue

Steve Rolles said...

Ive reluctantly deleted an anonymous comment; agreed with costa (a 'good judge')but clearly wasn't there - I deem that straight up abusive.

SteveHeath said...

Costa merits praise for having the sack to speak publicly to a large audience in (at least partially) a strong endorsement of Prohibition as sound public policy.

Where he loses points is that he did not stand up for the diplomatic components of his speech in New Orleans when challenged later in Europe - most likely by ardent Prohibitionists seeking to either belittle him or to get him to back off the more reasoned points made in New Orleans. It would seem they were successful with the latter and it's a stark reminder to us how valuable it is to have the resources we do in the 21st century where such comments made in public can be accurately quantified and be less able to deny later when a guy like Costa goes from being reasonably firm to utterly flacid - if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Cheers from the distant land of Clearwater FL where today it was 83degrees (F) sunny and I wore shorts to the beach. To my friends in the more blustery UK - please don't hate me.

Steve Heath
Media Activism Facilitator