Civil society pre-CND events

Prepared using the IDPC event report

Traditionally, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) organises civil society events the day before the CND meets every March in Vienna. One of them is orientation training for newcomers, those that participate in this important event for the first time.

This year, parallel to that, IDPC hosted the Consultation on OSF Drug Policy Opportunities.

In 2023, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) announced plans to adopt a new operating model and related changes in their structure and teams – moving away from different regional and thematic programmes, towards a more “opportunity-based” grant-making approach in which all resources are to be focused on achieving a smaller number of big, transformational changes. As part of this process and acknowledging the important role that OSF continues to play for the drug policy and harm reduction sectors, IDPC was invited to conduct a consultation of our membership to provide inputs and ideas into the future of OSF funding in this area. An online survey was issued to all 195 network members, from 75 countries, with translations in English, French and Spanish. A total of 198 suggestions were received from 76 organisations, and these will be shared in full with OSF colleagues. The results then helped to shape discussions at a face-to-face meeting in Vienna, Austria. Approximately 60 people attended this meeting, held ahead of the IDPC members meeting in the margins of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Kasia Malinowska, Director of Drug Policy at OSF, to help frame the meeting and subsequent discussions. Kasia explained the new operating model at OSF, with current plans to focus on 19 headline, transformational opportunities – one of which is progressive drug policy reform.

Six key themes emerged from the survey responses, and these were divided (in no particular order) across two sessions with participants asked to join one of three break-out groups each time and help elaborate key 3, 5 and 8-year goals for each area:

  • Community leadership, mobilisation and campaigning
  • Decriminalisation and criminal legal reforms
  • Narratives, culture and media
  • Reform at the international stage (including regional work)
  • Access to harm reduction, treatment and medical services
  • Legal regulation

Presentation of the group work was held in plenary.

Afternoon was dedicated to IDPC member organisations meeting. We learned about several actions taken by IDPC, discussed network’s strategy and strategic plan and shared interesting information.

World Drug Report 2023 analysis

The World Drug Report 2023 presents – as ever – an impressive array of largely accessible and user-friendly data and analysis of what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC or Office) continues to refer to as the ‘world drug problem’. In so doing, readers can identify many familiar and predominantly alarming trends regarding the growing scale and increasing complexity of the illegal drug market.

Sylvia Kay (Transnational Institute) with contributions from Marie Nougier (IDPC), prepared an independent analysis of the World Drug Report. It is available following this link>>>.


Dramatic failure of the strategy to achieve a ‘drug-free world’

The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) launched today Off track: Shadow report for the mid-term review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on drugs – which exposes the dramatic failure of the current United Nations (UN) strategy to achieve a ‘drug-free world’ and the devastating consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ that it underpins. Released ahead of the mid-term review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on drugs, the report urges the international community to engage in urgent reform. Using wide-ranging data from UN, government, academic and civil society sources, the report represents the only comprehensive evaluation of global drug policy, and illustrates its system-wide collapse:

  • Despite billions spent every year to curb drug markets and availability, the number of people who use drugs increased from 271 to 296 million in four years, reaching a historic record.
  • The latest global estimates on drug use-related deaths reached 494,000 in 2019 alone (the latest global data available), with a surge in overdose deaths.
  • The number of people executed for drug offences, in flagrant violation of international law, rose by 213% between 2019 and 2022.
  • Fuelled by punitive drug laws, the number of people incarcerated worldwide rose from 10.74 million to 11.5 million between 2018 and 2023 – with more than 2 million imprisoned for drug offences.
  • Globally, only one in five people with drug dependence have access to treatment.
  • The shocking disparity in access to controlled medicines continues, with over 82% of the global population having access to less than 17% of the world’s morphine.

Launch of the report in the Vienna International Centre

To access the report, follow this link>>>.


Human rights challenges in addressing and countering the world drug problem

Source: International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)

In a landmark report Human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem released this month, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the failure of punitive drug policies and the global ‘WarOnDrugs’, and called for a new approach based on health and human rights, including through the responsible regulation of drugs.

The report outlines human rights challenges in addressing and countering key aspects of the world drug problem. It also offers an overview of recent positive developments to shift towards more human rights-centred drug policies, and provides recommendations on the way forward in view of the upcoming midterm review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration and to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

To implement the recommendations laid down by the High Commissioner, the civil society, on the IDPC initiative, calls on the international community to reform and rebalance the global drug control regime, and national drug laws and policies. A collective statement, signed by over 100 civil society organisations, including DPNSEE, calls on the international community to act on the UN human rights chief’s groundbreaking call for systemic drug policy reform.

Ann Fordham, Executive Director at International Drug Policy Consortium, analyses in this article key takeaways and significance of the report, noting how its call for transformative change includes an unprecedented recommendation on the responsible regulation of currently-illegal drug markets.

IDPC’s advocacy note highlights the major gains from the 2023 OHCHR report and provides recommendations to Member States and UN entities for its effective implementation.


UN resolution that doesn’t include “drug-free world”

From the Ann Fordham’s article published at the IDPC webiste

For decades, debates and political commitments on drug policy at the United Nations have been plagued by the goal of ‘achieving a society free of drugs’ (or ‘drug abuse’). This fantastical notion has underpinned unimaginable harm as governments all over the world have strived to eradicate drugs through draconian measures. Despite these efforts, the global market in illegal drugs grows ever larger, more robust and with a greater diversity of substances. In parallel, the human cost of the so-called ‘war on drugs’ continues to grow exponentially – a devastating crisis of mass incarceration, overdose deaths, extrajudicial killings and a litany of human rights violations that have impacted some of society’s most marginalised.

Last week the UN General Assembly made history by adopting a resolution on drugs that did not include the long-standing reference to ‘actively promote a society free of drug abuse’ for the first time in three decades. Not only was this overly simplistic, ‘war on drugs’-era notion absent from the text, but the resolution includes some of the strongest ever human rights language relating to drug policy, an aspect on which the main UN drug policy forum in Vienna (the Commission on Narcotic Drugs) has made little progress in recent years.

Resolutions on drug policy at the General Assembly have always been agreed by consensus, however this resolution broke new ground as it was adopted – for the first time in history – after a vote.

It was a reluctant breaking of the consensus with an unprecedented number of countries making statements before the vote in the 3rd Committee, many of them lamenting the need for a vote and noting their hope for a return to the usual consensus for future drug policy resolutions. Ultimately, when the resolution reached the plenary of the General Assembly, a total of 124 Member States voted in favour of the resolution, while 9 voted against, with 45 abstentions.

Overall, by emphasising human rights concepts and doing away with tired and ultimately harmful ideological objectives such as ‘a society free of drug abuse’, the resolution goes a long way towards refocusing international cooperation away from reducing illegal cultivation, production and drug trafficking and towards reducing the negative consequences of the global drug situation on individuals and communities.

Crucially, this progressive text was adopted by an overwhelming majority of Member States, with only 9 countries voting against it. This demonstrates that the ‘Vienna consensus’ has been an instrument to hold back progress on drug policy making, pushing the international community towards policies and narratives that are far more conservative than those of a majority of Member States.

Read more about in the article at the IDPC website following this link>>>.


Calling for rights-affirming drug policies

Ahead of International Human Rights Day on 10th December 2022, which will celebrate the legacy and relevance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ahead of its 75th anniversary, the International Drug Policy Consortium sent an open letter to Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. For the third year in a row, IDPC and more than 100 civil society organisations urge UNODC Director to mark International Human Rights Day by calling for rights-affirming drug policies.

The signatories are calling on UN member states to change drug policies and practices to fulfil the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to place human rights at the centre of all dimensions of UNODC’s work.

The human rights catastrophe brought about by punitive drug policies is well documented by the United Nations system. Every year, UN human rights experts pay increasing attention to the human rights consequences of drug policies, and more are announced to come soon. The recent and unprecedented joint statement released on 26th June 2022 (UN World Drug Day) by 13 UN human rights special mandates, in particular, notes that ‘the UN system, the international community and individual Member States have a historical responsibility to reverse the devastation brought about by decades of a global “war on drugs”’. The joint statement calls on all UN agencies to ‘ground their drug policy responses in international human rights law and standards’, and to ensure that their ‘financial and technical assistance on drug policy’ promotes responses that are ‘gender responsive’ while ‘actively seeking to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms’.

The Open letter is available following this link>>>.


Why DPNSEE is not accredited by ECOSOC?

The Drug Policy Network South East Europe applied for the ECOSOC membership in 2018. Since then, our application was 5 times differed with occasional questions of not a great importance, on which we provided accurate answers. Why this happens? The recent study prepared by the International Drug Policy Consortium explains.


Here is the extract from the IDPC webpage presenting the analysis of this phenomenon:

“Decision-making across the board, on development, on security, on social affairs, is more effective and legitimate when people from different backgrounds are able to contribute. Meaningful participation of civil society in international processes and bodies, including in the UN, relies on free and vibrant democratic spaces with effective participation channels for diverse groups at the national level. This, in turn, requires respect for freedom of expression and access to information online and offline, freedom of association and physical security for those who speak up and assemble peacefully”.

 The United Nations (UN) has long recognised the role of civil society as a key component of effective decision-making at all levels of governance. Yet, civil society continues to face significant barriers in accessing the decision-making table, including at the UN itself. One of these obstacles is the inability for many NGOs to obtain accreditation from the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which would enable them to attend and engage in key UN policy-making fora such as the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, and the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

 According to the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), no less than 41 NGOs have seen their application for ECOSOC status deferred for over four years. Similarly, research by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), which will be presented here, has shown that NGOs working on drug-related issues are facing increasing difficulties in obtaining ECOSOC status. This is mainly due to obstructive practices within the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (thereafter called ‘Committee on NGOs’ or ‘Committee’), which is used by some countries as a tool to limit NGO participation in UN policymaking processes.

 In this advocacy note, IDPC presents key research on how the Committee on NGOs has effectively restricted civic space for drug NGOs wishing to engage in UN proceedings, and offers key recommendations for member states as they are preparing to elect new members of the Committee on NGOs in April 2022.

You can access the report following this link>>>.


New resources to strengthen advocacy for decriminalisation

From the IDPC webpage

Around the world, governments use criminal justice systems to respond to complex issues in society that often have roots in poverty, trauma, racism and other forms of discrimination and inequality. In most countries, drug laws stand out for their strict enforcement, imposition of harsh punishment, disproportionate sentences, and stigmatising and discriminatory impacts.

The criminalisation of people who use drugs is often driven by the goal of a ‘society free of drugs’, and has been central to the policies and rhetoric of the ‘war on drugs’. Yet governments that have adopted punitive drug policies and campaigns have failed to eradicate drug use and dependence, and such policies have had disastrous consequences. The results are seen in overcrowded prisons; the continued existence of detention centres (including those in the guise of ‘drug rehabilitation’); the exacerbation of poverty for affected communities; inadequate and underfunded health and social support services as resources flow to punishment and policing; stigma, marginalisation and demonisation of people who use drugs, which poses obstacles to accessing the support and services they might need, including healthcare, education, housing and employment; and increased incidence of preventable adverse health consequences, including overdose deaths and high prevalence of HIV, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis.

 The ‘war on drugs’ has disproportionately impacted people who are already marginalised, including people living in poverty, women, people of African descent, Indigenous peoples, young people, and other communities who are marginalised because of immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity or race.

 In this Guide, decriminalisation is defined as the removal of all sanctions for drug use and activities relating to personal use: possession, acquisition, purchase, cultivation and possession of drug use paraphernalia. Governments, civil society groups, networks of people who use drugs and academics around the world increasingly acknowledge the need to reform drug policies to decriminalise drug use and the possession of drugs for personal use. The entire UN system has now come together to recommend decriminalisation, with many positive statements also made by other international bodies.

 This Guide for Advocacy, published by the International Drug Policy Consortium (available following this link>>>) is intended to be a user-friendly resource for people from all sectors who wish to understand the key objectives, principles and concepts relating to decriminalisation of drug use and how to advocate for it. Through three stages – Know it, Show it, Grow it – it outlines practical steps for developing strategies to advocate for decriminalisation, and offers tools that can be adapted and applied to plant the seeds for cultivating healthy, safe and inclusive communities.

Seeking to accelerate the growing momentum toward achieving the ‘gold standard’ of decriminalisation, IDPC are delighted to share a suite of other new knowledge and advocacy resources that we trust will be useful to you and your colleagues:

·                Module 5 of the #DrugDecrim [e]Course

·                Decriminalisation: Building a future without punishment for people who use drug

·                Building communities of care: The Support. Don’t Punish 2021 Global Day of Action


Drug Decriminalisation [e]Course

The International Dug Policy Consortium (IDPC) in partnership with Mainline, Health[e]Foundation and Frontline AIDS designed the Drug Decriminalisation [e]Course to support and equip partners from around the world to advocate for the decriminalisation of drug use and personal possession.

The Course includes seven modules:

  1. Introduction, definitions and support for decriminalisation (Available in English and French)
  2. Existing models of decriminalisation (Available in English and French)
  3. Making the case for decriminalisation (Available in English and French)
  4. Designing decriminalisation – part 1: selecting the model of decriminalisation (Available in English)
  5. Designing decriminalisation – part 2: defining drug possession for personal use (Forthcoming)
  6. Designing decriminalisation – part 3: sanctions and intrusiveness (Forthcoming)
  7. The ‘gold standard’ for decriminalisation (Forthcoming)

Ahead of the December break, I share the good news that Module 4 was presented. It is the first of three modules delving into the complex and important challenge of designing decriminalisation models, addressing key issues such as the model’s normative basis and key decision-makers.

This e-course was designed to strengthen our movement’s capacity to advance effective and full decriminalisation and is entirely free.

To register and access the course click here>>>.


On International Human Rights Day, UN drugs body silences UN human rights expert on ground-breaking report

From the IDPC and Harm Reduction International press release

In an unprecedented, last-minute decision, the lead UN drugs body has blocked the presentation of a report from a group of independent human rights experts that calls out governments for serious human rights abuses committed in the war on drugs.

The UN’s lead drug policy-making body has slammed the door on human rights expert Dr Elina Steinerte, Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who was due to present a watershed study on how drug control policies drive an epidemic of arbitrary detention across the world. She has been blocked from addressing the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs today, 10th December, which is coincidentally International Human Rights Day, and her statement has been merely published online. This last-minute decision, which led to a contentious exchange during the session, was reached through an opaque, closed-door process that kept the human rights experts in the dark about their exclusion until today.

The report sheds light on the arrest and incarceration of millions of people around the world for drug-related offences, including for drug use. People who use drugs are also routinely held against their will in so-called ‘rehab centres’, where they are often subject to degrading and inhumane treatment, including forced labour. With today’s decision, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs stands in defiance of the Human Rights Council – the main UN human rights body – which had asked human rights experts to produce the very same report that now has been stonewalled.

The move to block the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s presentation is particularly galling, given that it is happening on International Human Rights Day 2021, held under the themes of equality and non-discrimination. From stop and search practices to mass incarceration or the death penalty, evidence shows that repressive drug policies disproportionately target oppressed and marginalised people across the world, including racialised groups, Indigenous people, people living in poverty, women, and  LGBTQI+ people.