11/15/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week we look forward to UNGASS 2016 and learn about a new policy report by UN University, "What Comes After The War On Drugs?"

Audio file


NOVEMBER 15, 2015


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization. Legalization. The end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello! And welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network.

And now, on with the show.

Next weekend will be the Drug Policy Alliance's international reform conference. That's in Crystal City, Virginia, right outside of Washington, DC. It's held November 18th through 21st. Registration is still possible. If you can get there, please do, it's going to be a great time. You can find out more at the Drug Policy Alliance's website, DrugPolicy.org.

For this show, we're going to be taking a look at another topic that we've been working on quite a bit lately, and that is the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, to be held April 2016. UNGASS, as we like to call it. It's the first chance for the world's leaders, and their delegates, and agencies, and civil society, to join together and discuss the world drug problem, the world drug control treaties, and how we move forward. 2016 is important, well, so is 2019. We have these Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals, which the UN has laid out, and which nations are trying to work toward -- or at least, they're hoping to be seen to work toward. Whether anything actually gets accomplished or not, well, that's an open question.

The UN University was established a few decades ago. It's a global thinktank and postgraduate teaching organization. The mission is to contribute to efforts to resolve pressing global problems of human survival, development, and welfare. In carrying out its mission, the UN University works with leading universities and research institutes in UN member states, acting as a bridge between the international academic community and the United Nations system.

On November Third, they launched a report titled "What Comes After The War On Drugs?" First, we're going to hear from the head of the New York office of UN University, as he introduces this panel. That gentleman is Doctor James Cockayne. Dr. Cockayne -- yes, that's his name -- Dr. Cockayne introduces the report and discusses what they're going to be talking about during this presentation. Dr. Cockayne's presentation will be followed by a reponse from Ms. Simone Monesabian. She's the director of the New York office of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. As you might expect, Ms. Monesabian is not necessarily enthused about the recommendations from UN University. Having said that, she's expressing some of the same concerns that I am, that simply creating another bureaucracy, simply creating another task force, another work group, to look at a problem and spend years coming up with a policy guideline that basically says we don't want to rock the boat -- really, that's not progress. That's not accomplishing something.

So, Doctor Cockayne, take it away.

JAMES COCKAYNE: As you all know, the UN General Assembly will convene a special session on the world drug problem in April 2016. The Special Session has been convened in part because of a growing sense in some quarters that global drug policy needs rethinking. Other quarters, however, see UNGASS 2016 as an opportunity to build up on and strengthen the current approach to drug policy to adapt it to new challenges, new drugs, and new realities. Either way, UNGASS 2016 will set the stage for what comes after the war on drugs.

United Nations University, which is a thinktank founded by the General Assembly to provide policy research on pressing global challenges is presenting this new policy report, which you all have a copy of, to explain the background to UNGASS, to explain the major perspectives of different states and civil society groups going into UNGASS, and to present ideas on what is likely to happen at UNGASS and how that outcome might be strengthened.

The report is based on a series of consultations that we've held, which many of you have kindly attended over the last year, involving over 50 member states, 16 UN entities, and 55 civil society organizations, which we called Identifying Common Ground, because that was precisely our aim: to identify specific areas where there might be common ground for operational recommendations that could go into the outcome document of UNGASS 2016.

Our recommendations in the report present our analysis of what specific, concrete operational steps are possible at UNGASS 2016 in the current political environment. So this is not about anybody's ideals. This is about what is possible for everyone in the current political climate.

After a detailed review of the current system, the current global drug control system and its operation, the report examines the perspectives going into 2016, looks at how they are interacting, and predicts that at UNGASS 2016 member states will affirm the existing global drug control regime, while making positive reference to the need to protect public health and human rights. We argue that the states that have called for UNGASS 2016 who are skeptical of the status quo have not yet outlined a clear alternative package to the orthodox approach to drug policy.

Some of the payoffs from a more human-centered approach to drug control are beginning to come into focus, for example, those relating to development. But we argue they have not yet been articulated in an overall package with sufficient certainty to win over many of the swing voting states. We also predict however that member states will call at UNGASS 2016 for flexibility in the implementation of the global drug policy regime. And the report is cautious about this concept. The United States in particular has championed flexibility in response to moves by some of its own states to permit recreational use of cannabis, not something traditionally understood as being permitted by the global drug control regime. Hence the call for flexibility.

But we caution that while flexibility may breathe new life into the regime, it also risks, in time, leading to what we describe as policy fragmentation if it is not embedded within certain common principles. The reason for this is simply that states in different regions will use the notion of flexibility to take drug control policy in very different directions. Some will use it to reinforce the orthodoxy, while others, other more skeptical states, will use the concept of flexibility to experiment with liberalization.

So to avoid policy fragmentation, we argue, member states should use UNGASS to start a global conversation about what works in drug control policy, a conversation that can deliver national-level flexibility but without sacrificing agreed global principles. And we describe this approach as principled pluralism.

To achieve that principled pluralism, we make six specific, concrete operational recommendations for steps that states can agree in the current political climate at UNGASS 2016, to move in this direction. I'm going to focus on just one of them, and then Summer Walker will present the five others. The one I will focus on is, in a sense, the most important, and that is creating a temporary open working group on drug policy to develop global drug policy goals for adoption in a new plan of action in 2019, when the current plan of action expires.

We argue that an open working group will allow states to step back ahead of 2019, and focus on what works in drug control policy. And we also argue that goals are an effective way to define the key objectives of a regime, to direct resources, and to work towards a shared vision of what works in implementing that regime. There are many precedents around such goals, as you know. Of course, the Millennium Development Goals, the recent Sustainable Development Goals, but also interesting examples such as the 2013 global action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.

To develop these goals, we argue in favor of a temporary process, the open working group, which explicitly recognizes four principles, back to the principled pluralism. First, inclusiveness. Second, science-based decision making. Third, protection of human rights. And fourth, promoting human development.

First, to be inclusive, we argue that the open working group on drug policy should be open to all member states, and it should sit in New York, not in Vienna, to facilitate that inclusive participation. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs, based in Vienna, is nominally open to all member states but in reality half of the UN membership does not have permanent representation in Vienna. The open working group on drug policy, a temporary forum, should also the participation of relevant UN actors and civil society.

But to be clear, the discussion we're trying to prompt here is not about location, it's about finding a sufficiently inclusive process to begin to figure out in more detail what works in drug control policy.

The second principle we mentioned is that this process should be based in science, and for that purpose, we argue that it should be advised by a scientific advisory committee, which should function a little bit like the intergovernmental panel on climate change, drawing on and synthesizing the best available global scientific evidence on what works.

Third, to protect human rights, it should be advised by a specialist human rights committee to ensure that whatever proposals it comes up with are fully human rights compliant before they're delivered to member states for action in 2019.

And fourth, the open working group should work towards global drug policy goals that encourage human development, something that Summer will speak to a little longer.

So, some might say that this would all be a rather costly and unnecessary exercise, since many of these topics are already handled through existing forums such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. To that we would respond simply that preparations for this UNGASS 2016 demonstrate both the strengths and the limitations of CND processes. If thinking is opening up ahead of UNGASS 2016, it seems to be precisely because of the more inclusive discussion with a broader array of voices that has been fostered by the event being held in the General Assembly.

And to the extent that UNGASS 2016 seems to be on track simply to reaffirm existing orthodoxy, and not to address some of the bigger questions now afoot, that may be because of the path dependency of CND processes.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Dr. James Cockayne. Doctor Cockayne heads up the UN University office in New York at UN General Assembly headquarters. You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Next, we're going to hear from Ms. Simone Monesabian. She's an attorney and director of the New York Office of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

SIMONE MONESABIAN: First, let me just say that, if you look at resolutions of the General Assembly 69-200 and 201, there was a strong call by member states for all UN agencies to be involved in the UNGASS process. This was in the most recent CND modalities resolution and so UNU's report is an important contribution to that call, so we thank you for having this timely report well in advance of the UNGASS, to look at various issues. And one of the things that we think is particularly important, James, is that you highlight that we have to do more on alternatives to incarceration and criminal justice reform, that we have to look more at the development issue, and scientific practices that are evidence-based, and on health issues.

I think that, when it comes to scientific evidence and evidence-based, viewing things through an evidence-based lens, viewing things through a development-oriented lens, and a people-centered approach, that should apply to everything that we do in the United Nations, as much to drugs as to anything else.

I think that a lot of the points that are made about lack of proportionality in criminal justice, and lack of access to medications, are things that we have to continue to keep on the agenda. I'm not sure that all the recommendations might be the most productive way to go about them, and so I just will bring some questions that I would ask us all to consider, and at the end of the day, member states will decide whether these are the best ways to go forward or there may be some other ways coming out of the UNGASS in April that none of us have thought of yet that may be better.

With the first recommendation on penal policy, here I think, over the course of the last couple of years, since, under Mexico's excellent leadership we were able to get an UNGASS in April of 2016, much has been done on criminal justice reform, and we see it also now coming about in other resolutions that come out of the CND and CCPCJ [Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice] in Vienna. For example, in the last six months we've seen the Nelson Mandela Rules adopted, updated what was a 50-year-old document on standard minimum rules for, you know, prisoners. I think that a lot of these discussions have influenced that finally taking place after many years of deadlock. And that was something that Vienna was able to achieve, in Austria, not in New York.

So, the first recommendation, to create a forum to encourage states and civil society to share scientific evidence about drug control, penal policy interventions and their outcomes, it says that's what the UNGASS 2016 should do, create a forum. I will say it has created that forum, and I would hope that that forum and that discussion continues after 2016, not just until 2019, but as something that we should continue to highlight. So I think with that one, we're on the right track, we just need to continue to do it.

On the second one, recommendation two on access to controlled medicines. Here, I couldn't agree with you more strongly on this unconscionable situation of lack of access to medicine, I mean -- the one time I was in a hospital after an accident, it was in a country that didn't have any of these types of medicine and so I was using Tylenol, and I survived, and I was lucky, and, you know, somebody brought me something that I could use in that country because it wasn't available to me. I understand that, but I'm not sure that more bureaucratic architecture and funds going to that additional bureaucratic architecture, here you're asking for a high-level commission on improving access to controlled medicines. A high level commission that would be supported by WHO, that would report back to the GA or ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] via the Secretary General.

Well, what I would say here is that there already is a fantastic global program on access to medications that UNODC and WHO have been working on. So far, that has provided, thanks to the Australian government's support, extra budgetary funds, some best practices that are available to all member states, we know what the best practices for access to medicine are. The problem is, are the medicines being provided? Are there funds to provide those medicines? And I'm not sure having a high-level commission to determine, under WHO, how this should be done is what's needed. What's needed is more funds for this. And the CND already has highlighted this issue in a way that I think can give us a clue as to where the member states and the CND are looking.

On September 24th, just last month, a month and a half ago, there was a plenary for the reconvened session of the CND that was supposed to start at 10 o'clock. WHO and UNODC had a very important meeting, or high level event on access to medication organized by Australia and by Norway. The chair of the CND, the ambassador of Thailand in Vienna, decided to, for the first time ever, stop the plenary and say that, I want everybody to be able to go to this event, it's so important that we're going to start the plenary an hour later.

And so I think that there is a great deal of concern, but the fact that that global program that we have right now is only funding programs in Ghana and Timor West is an indication that more resources are needed to actually fund things on the ground, and not have more talk shops or high level commissions for which I think there's a lot of fatigue. How do we get the work of UNODC and WHO that have these best practices more available to member states who may not be using that, is something that we can discuss.

Another thing that I would talk about is on recommendation number three, on drug dependence treatment. Here, you're asking the SG to develop coherent UN system-wide guidance on drug treatment programming. I think that every aspect of the United Nations, every UN agency, has already looked at how this should be done. UNODC has guidelines on these issues that are available to all the UN agencies and member states for application across UN programming context. Whether the member states will use this, because they don't have the resources to use this or they are not yet sufficiently informed about their existence is another issue.

Recommendation number four on human development and drug control metrics. Here, you're asking for the UNGASS to call on the UN Statistical Commission to initiate a formal work stream to develop new metrics measuring the human development impacts of drugs. What I could just say to you about that is, this recommendation seems a little bit out of place in timing, in that the IAEG [Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators] met last week in Bangkok, and has already discussed and is about to finalize the indicators on target 3.5, which is coverage of treatment interventions, pharmacological, psychosocial, and rehabilitation aftercare services for substance use disorder. It's also not within the scope of the IAEG to discuss new policy paradigms such as the human development impact on drugs. The IAEG has been tasked to identify indicators to monitor existing targets. The indicators emerging from the IAEG are strictly tailored to monitor treatment as one of the components of the target. The IAEG mention the need to also monitor the second element of the target, prevention, but technically this was found to be extremely challenging at the global level.

The UN Statistical Commission could however eventually consider a discussion on measuring the human development impacts of drugs in 2017, when it has in its agenda the topic, statistic on drugs and drug use. So that might be an area where this could be further explored.

And the next to last recommendation on human rights, where you're asking for the SG to task the UN system task force on transnational organized crime and drug trafficking as a threat to security and stability with the development of a policy of protection of human rights in drug related programming. We already have the HRDDP [Human Rights Due Diligence Policy], we already have a lot of discussion on this, of course. Every UN agency has spoken out against the death penalty, against overuse of criminal and penal resort, over the disparate impact of some of these disproportional things on women, on youth.

I think that here, the UN system is very clear under the leadership of the Secretary General and the DS, who's also been a champion on this issue. And so the issue is not that there is a lack of agreement in the UN system as to what a human rights policy on drug programming is. The issue is as follows: some human rights organizations say if a country applies the death penalty, do not provide any services to that country, period. You are supporting a regime that is committing human rights abuses.

However, for UNODC for example, we work with the resident coordinators of UNDP [United Nations Development Program] to make sure that our work is not in any way supporting efforts that are contrary to human rights law or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or any other standards and norms, and so I think that we have to bring some countries along. Our executive director also engages in diplomacy. He's talked to various member states, just -- I'll get to the last point, yeah. Yeah.

He's talked to a lot of member states who don't want to be embarrassed and named and shamed in terms of compulsory treatment. There are a lot of countries now who used to de facto and de jure give compulsory treatment, and they thought it was a good thing and they were proud of it. Now, they won't de jure get rid of it but they have de facto gotten rid of it, and I think that's thanks to the UN system speaking with one voice, but of course, we could look at how the task force could with -- already within its terms of reference, or if the suggestion is enlargement of the terms of reference, to help member states more with understanding what this human rights based approach is, and then it's up to member states to decide if the UN's views on this are adequate, or applicable to their particular context.

Finally, onto -- one of things you say is, in the report is that a human rights based approach is an alternative approach that you are seeking. We don't see a human rights based approach as the alternative approach to the UNGASS and the follow up to UNGASS, we see that as the approach. And the fact that some are on board with it in terms of member states, and some may not, is another issue. But it is the approach. It's all about the implementation.

Finally, recommendation number six, where you talk about this open working group. Putting aside member states' open working group fatigue, after the transformative thirty, 2030 agenda, I would just say a couple of things. You say on page 20 that the conversation in terms of the UNGASS and its follow up needs to take place outside the confines of the CND, which too many states see as unrepresentative and beholden to a drug control discourse that fails to generate coherence within the UN in terms of peace, security, development, and human rights.

Well, I will just say this: Based on my 25 years of experience in crime prevention and criminal justice, seven of which I was representing accused who were victims of disproportionality in sentencing and begging for them not to go into jail, or hoping that judges would have mercy on them, and ten years of sitting in the Third Committee here in the GA and the Fifth Committee, trying to advocate as best as I can in our attempts to help member states and civil society with how we can have a holistic approach to the problem of drugs, I would say the following: Where do we see in the General Assembly, if New York is a better venue, in the Third Committee omnibus resolution on drugs, a reference to the death penalty? We don't see that here in the GA. Where do we see in the Third Committee resolution a reference to harm reduction?

The reason why we don't have references to harm reduction or the death penalty, which a lot of what you're advocating for in this report would seem to suggest, is because, not that the CND is stopping it or unable to broker consensus, but because here, where there's 193 member states, there is not consensus in New York on the application of the death penalty, on harm reduction. And so, is the answer, you know, location location location, as they say in the real estate business, or is the answer something else. I mean, if as you say on page 20 that this has to come out of Vienna because there aren't all the member states represented in Vienna, well then, what do we do next? Do we move the human rights out of Geneva and some of the urban issues out of Nairobi? I'm not so sure about that.

I think that we have to remember that in the 67th session, it wasn't the CND that determined what the scope of the UNGASS would be, however satisfying or dissatisfying that scope may be, however fragmented or unfragmented it could be. It was this General Assembly in the 67th session that said we will limit our review to implementation of the political declaration and plan of action, and within the purview, within the context of the three drug control conventions, what are the challenges and opportunities within the three drug control conventions of implementing the political declaration and plan of action?

And then it was the General Assembly again, in every single session that's taken place, that decided that the CND was the best place to have this discussion. It wasn't the CND that came and imposed upon the General Assembly, because it has no basis for doing so, what the discussion should be. So, I think we could also learn some good practices from what happens in Vienna. In March, I was at the high level meeting of -- yeah, this is the last point. This is the last point, I'm sorry.

In March, I was at the high level meeting of the CND and Heather will talk more about what she's seen on behalf of civil society. There was more civil society participation over there on the floor than I've seen at some GA meetings. So, I think at -- my last comment, to wrap it up, in two words, is that as we implement the SDGs, let us look at all the things that you're talking about here, and make sure that they feature prominently, and let's put more money into the things that are working that are small instead of bringing perhaps more architecture that will take away either from those resources or not be as useful on the ground as those resources. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Simone Monesabian, she's the director of the New York office of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. And well folks, that's all the time we have today. I want to thank you for listening. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.