Drugreporter recorded six side events, organised by NGOs at the 66th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, between 13-17 March, 2023. The issues addressed are implementing a human rights approach in drug policy, the nordic drug policy reform, Ukraine’s harm reduction measures during Russian invasion, environmental impacts of the war on drugs and more.
From Principle to Policy to Practice: Implementing a Human Rights Approach with People who Use Drugs
The session explored what it takes to actually implement a human rights approach, when it comes to drug policy. Aspects of drug policy in the area of health, the social sector, economic perspective and service provision. The speakers: Michel Kazatchkine, Global Commission on Drug Policy; Angela Constance, Minister for Drug Policy, MSP; Seth Kwame Acheampong, Minister of State, Ghana; Aditia Taslim, INPUD; Stephen Cutter, Head of Legal Services, Release; Julie Hannah, Director, International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy; Alan Miller, Chair of National Collaborative, Scotland. Organised by the Release Legal Emergency and Drugs Service Limited with the support of Ghana, Norway, the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy.
Ensuring Human Rights Protection in Nordic Drug Policy
The organisers at this side event at the 66th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs chose to highlight drug policies in Nordic countries specifically because countries from the region share similar social, welfare and economic policies. The Nordic welfare model is built on the idea of ensuring positive health outcomes for all, and Nordic countries also share a common respect for democracy, the rule of law, equality and human rights. But in the area of drug policy, Nordic countries have traditionally sought to achieve the objective of a ‘drug free society’, with an approach focusing on interdiction and criminalisation including for drug use. In recent years, however, there has been a shift in the public discourse which has led to unprecedented political debates to move towards a health-based approach to drug use. This has resulted in initiatives to decriminalise drug use and possession in the Parliaments of Iceland, Denmark and Norway, and cannabis law reform discussions in Finland. The speakers: Marie Nougier, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC); Eivind Digranes, Norwegian National Human Rights Institution; Haldóra Mogensen, MP, Iceland; Nanna W. Gotfredsen, Streetlawyer and MP, Denmark; Arild Knutsen, Norwegian Association for Humane Drug Policy (FHN). Organised by the FHN with the support of Iceland, Norway, IDPC, RIO. Side event organizer: John Melhus, The Norwegian Association for Humane Drug Policies.
Literacy and Rights for People in Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT)
The event argued for a shift of power from the clinic to the clients. Professionals and community-led speakers presented recently developed tools for person centered OAT services, that aim to promote literacy about OAT options and highlight the rights of people on OAT, including women. This is a key foundation to support community-led monitoring of OAT services and fostering meaningful therapeutic alliances. The Speakers: Judy Chang, International Network of People who Use Drugs; Christos Kouimtsidis, National Coordinator for Addressing Drugs in Greece; Andrew Scheibe, UNODC Consultant; Dr. Richard Healey, PhD; Christos Anastasiou, EuroNPUD; Alison Crocket, Head, Whole Systems Unit, Drug Policy Division, Scottish Government; Duncan Hill, Specialis Pharmacist in Substance Misuse in NHS Lanarkshire (NHSL); Paula Kearney, Community Development Worker, Ireland. This Opioid Agonist Treatment side event has been organised by EuroNPUD in the name of Médecins du Monde.
Drug policy and economic, social and cultural rights: Overturning decades of neglect
In the last 15 years we have seen unprecedented progress in recognising the human rights impacts of drug policy. Every year we see more evidence, more advocacy, and more political recognition of the devastation that punitive drug policies have caused in a broad range of human rights all across the world. In October last year, a new chapter in this progress and reform was opened, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights announced that it would start work on a general comment on the impacts of drug policy. This is the first time that a human rights treaty body decides to write a thematic comment on drug policy. It’s a historic opportunity to cement drug policy within human rights and also human rights within drug policy debates, and the general comment will provide systematic coherent and authoritative guidance for member states on how to discharge their human rights obligations, in the implementations of drug policy. The speakers: Ann Fordham, International Drug Policy Consortium; Susan Eckey, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Norway; Laura Gil Savastano, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Colombia; Seree Nonthasoot, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Kassandra Frederique, Drug Policy Alliance; Sandra Bermúdez, Corporación Viso Mutop; Aditia Taslim, International Network of People who Use Drugs. This session was organised by the International Drug Policy Consortium with the support of Colombia, Czechia, Ghana, Norway, Portugal, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Dejusticia, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association, Harm Reduction International, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the International Network of People who Use Drugs, and the Transnational Institute.
Drug-related health responses to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and neighboring countries
Since 24 February 2022, more than 16,5 million people have left Ukraine because of the Russia war in Ukraine. Humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has brought tremendous suffering and health consequences for the Ukrainian people in general, especially for vulnerable groups, such as people who use drugs. According to the UNAIDS’ latest estimates, there are 258,000 people living with HIV in Ukraine, 366,000 people who use drugs (of which only 20,000 have access to opioid agonist treatment), 80,000 sex workers, and 179,000 people, who belong to the LGBTQ community. Since the beginning of the war, governmental and non-governmental organizations inside Ukraine, working in the harm reduction field, as well as harm reduction organizations working in the neighboring countries immediately initiated and coordinated a rapid humanitarian response, providing urgent support to meet the health and social needs of people who use drugs inside the country, as well those, who fled it. The side event focused on the drug-related emergency health responses, challenges related to it and inspiring examples of how to address needs of people who use drugs and other key populations in face of the humanitarian crisis. There were shown examples showcasing how in life-threatening situations health and social service providers have organised evacuations, heating, generators, shelters for overnight stays, food, basic health care, response on gender-based violence during war to people who use drugs and their families. Humanitarian crisis in Ukraine led to the development of the emergency harm reduction package, as well as а coordinated effort of regional civil society organizations to respond to the threats of authoritarianism and pressure on activists. The speakers: Ganna Dovbakh, Eurasian Harm Reduction Association; Anna Shemet, Ministry of Health, Ukraine; Anton Basenko, European AIDS Treatment Group; Sergii Filippovych, #Sos 2.0, Alliance for Public Health; Magdalena Bartnik, Prekursor Foundation. Organised by the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association with the support of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, Alliance for Public Health, Ukrainian Network of People who Use Drugs (VOLNA) and Precursor Foundation for Social Policy.
Aligning Drug Policy with Environmental Protection
As the UN is seeking greater drug policy coherence, including via the implementation of the UN System Common Position, it is urgent that drug policy becomes better aligned with other crucial UN priorities, including protecting the environment, conserving nature, tackling climate change and upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples. To date, only limited steps have been taken to illuminate the intersections between drug policy and the environment, and even less to bring global regimes into alignment. The UN drug control system is often found to operate at odds with UN regime complexes in other issue areas. This side event explored how punitive drug policies have empowered organised crime and accelerated environmental degradation, and proposed concrete recommendations to ensure that UN and national drug policies can support – instead of undermine – efforts made by the international community to protect the environment. The speakers: Clemmie James, Health Poverty Action; Jhon Alexander Rojas Cabrera, Governor of Nariño, Colombia; Kendra McSweeney, Ohio State University; Dave Bewley-Taylor, Global Drug Policy Observatory; Pedro Arenas, Corporación Viso Mutop; Sylvia Kay, Transnational Institute; Marta Machado, National Secretary for Drug Policy, Brazil. Organised by the Transnational Institute, the governments of Brazil and Colombia, the Global Drug Policy Observatory, Health Poverty Action, the International Drug Policy Consortium, Open Society Foundations, Viso Mutop and the Washington Office on Latin America.