Mixed feelings remain on outcome of UN drug summit in Vienna

The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (Encod) looks back with mixed feelings on the High Level Segment of the 57th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) that concluded Friday, March 14. Although it is undeniable that winds of change are blowing through the international drug policy debate, there remains a significant distance between words and actions.


In the mornings of Thursday March 13 and Friday March 14, a group of Encod members from 11 different countries organized a piece of performance art at the entrance of the UN building. In full 18th Century regalia, they presented the arriving UN delegates with street theatre, living cannabis plants and information on the reasons to end the war on drugs.

Related story: Encod takes fight for just drug policies to heart of UN in Vienna

[quote_right] The end of the worldwide drug war means a safer, healthier world[/quote_right]

The theatre invoked the episode of the Coffee Sniffer Brigade, a group of disabled soldiers who had to enforce the ban on coffee roasting and brewing that was imposed by the Prussian King Frederick The Great in the second half of the 18th Century. Delegates reacted first with reservation, then with support: many of them took the flyers and put thumbs up when they went in. This, of course, is a gesture that symbolizes the fact that the arguments for ending the drug war are gaining traction across the world.

A Coffee Sniffer Photo: Derrick Bergman
Two Coffee Sniffers
Photo: Derrick Bergman

The other part of Encod’s action program in Vienna, an independent media centre covering the UN meeting, unfolded successfully as well. Over a dozen news reports, interviews and talk shows were produced with activists and experts from Europe, South- and North America to analyze the proceedings in the CND and the effects on the drug policy debate in the member states. All reports are available on the Encod website.

The Encod delegation inside the UN meeting, which included US author Doug Fine, Bolivian coca leaf producer (and ex-vice minister for coca affairs) Dionisio Nuñez and Encod president Janko Belin, witnessed the usual diversity of opinions coming from member states and UN officials. Delegates from several Latin American countries stressed the need to reconsider the traditional interpretation of the three UN drug conventions. This seemed to foreshadow that the major breakthrough that many were expecting after the legalization of cannabis in Uruguay and some US states is in fact underway.

However, other countries (like Sweden, Japan and Russia) left no doubt that the ideal of zero tolerance is still firmly embedded within the debate, and it will take time to reach consensus on a significant reform of the UN conventions. Hopefully, for the good of public safety and clean banking, not too much time. Significantly, though, UNODC’s director Yury Fedotov highlighted the role that is played in the drug debate by civil society, who he described as ‘heroes’. He also said that should the number of nations favoring a Drug Peace reach a “tipping point,” the international conventions will follow.

Related story: Doug Fine brings ENCOD’s statement on international Drugs policies at the UN [Video]

[quote_right]We hope for and expect major change at the 2016 UNODC meetings in New York. Prohibitionary drug laws are the problem. Removing them is the solution.[/quote_right]

We at Encod therefore derive hope from the fact that, contrary to earlier CND meetings, there are now countries openly condemning prohibition as the basic answer to drug problems. More than ever, not just governmental but UNODC officials see the writing on the wall. Instead of insisting on the need to create “a drug free world”, they refer to the need to protect people and societies from the damages of drugs and drug trafficking. We continue to urge governments to put these words into action and steadily direct their policy towards legal regulation as the only way to reduce harms and increase public safety. We hope for and expect major change at the 2016 UNODC meetings in New York. Prohibitionary drug laws are the problem. Removing them is the solution.

Whether the UNODC’s director is able to turn words into action remains to be seen. Encod’s presence at the CND was tainted by the revocation of the accreditation to the meeting of Encod’s coordinator Joep Oomen. On Thursday, Oomen, a decades-long and very respected activist and father, had been picked out and forced to undergo a humiliating body search when he entered the building, for the curious reason that he had organized the aformentioned performance piece outside.

When he requested to be informed of the protocol according to which this body search was based, UN security personnel acted aggressively, throwing Mr. Oomen’s belongings into the street and pushing him towards the exit. Some fifteen security officers, among them four supervisors, then arrived. After a lengthy discussion, Oomen was told, “go enjoy the Vienna sun today, come back tomorrow.” However, the next morning a security guard told him his accreditation had been revoked by the UNODC secretariat, without any further explanation. With Mr. Oomen banned, Mr. Fine delivered the Encod speech at the Round Table meeting on Friday (full text in attachment).

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, states:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of international law against such interference or attacks.”

If the UN is not able to protect this article, then who will?

In the end, though, the undeniable take-away from the 57th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs is that irrevocable progress toward the international drug peace is as inevitable as it is within the member states leading the charge.

And for this, we are grateful, because the end of the worldwide drug war means a safer, healthier world.