The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, taking place from 19–21 April 2016 in New York, is a major political moment and an opportunity for the international community to review and address the world drugs problem.
The last UNGASS took place in New York in 1998, marking the 10th anniversary of the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. On that occasion, countries committed to reducing illicit supply and demand for drugs by 2008. Their 10-year commitment was renewed in a Political Declaration and Plan of Action in 2009.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly decided to convene UNGASS 2016 following a proposal from Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia. The aim would be to review the progress of the 2009 Declaration and assess ongoing achievements and challenges in countering the world drugs problem.
The EMCDDA will be present at the event, participating in the EU delegation.
Statement delivered by H.E. Mr. Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, at the Thirtieth Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) on the world drug problem.
Side event: TACKLING NEW CHALLENGES ON DRUG POLICY: CONTRIBUTION OF EU-CELAC COUNTRIES IN THE FRAMEWORK OF COPOLAD
5.30–6.30 p.m., conference room 11
Organised by the Government of Spain and the European Union.
Leaders and participants of the Programme will discuss the main challenges to be considered in the implementation of public policies related to drugs in CELAC countries; and the role of COPOLAD in supporting new strategies and programmes which are more balanced, respectful with human rights, evidence-based, gender sensitive and thus, more integral and effective. EMCDDA Director, Alexis Goosdeel, is participating as a panelist. More information on the event can be found on the UNGASS 2016 website.
Side event: EVIDENCE-BASED DRUG POLICIES: WHAT THEY ARE AND WHAT THEY ARE NOT
5.00–5.00 p.m., conference room 11
Organised by the Government of the Netherlands and the European Union
EMCDDA Director, Alexis Goosdeel will speak at this event on the subject of 'Challenges and opportunities for evidence-based drug policies'. More information on the event can be found on the UNGASS 2016 website.
Side event: A PUBLIC HEALTH APPROACH AS A BASE FOR DRUG POLICY: THE PORTUGUESE CASE
5.00–5.00 p.m., conference room 11
Organised by the Government of Portugal
EMCDDA Director, Alexis Goosdeel will speak at this event on the subject of 'Towards a public health approach to drug use in the EU'. More information on the event can be found on the UNGASS 2016 website.
The General Assembly (GA) is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 193 UN members, it provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion on the full spectrum of international issues covered by the UN Charter. The Assembly meets from September to December each year.
The United Nations Charter also provides an opportunity for the General Assembly to meet in so-called Special Sessions to consider issues of importance. These are convened by the Secretary-General at the request of the Security Council or of a majority of UN members.
Between 1947 and 2014, 29 Special Sessions were convened, two of which addressed drugs issues. The first of these (20–23 February 1990), focused on ‘Drug abuse’. The second (8–10 June 1998), marking the 10th anniversary of the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, was dedicated to the ‘World drug problem’.
A third Special Session on drugs, UNGASS 2016, has been convened from 19–21 April 2016 in New York to: ‘Assess ongoing achievements and challenges in countering the world drugs problem’.
In October 2012, a resolution was proposed by Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia to convene a UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in April 2016. This proposal was accepted by the General Assembly in December 2012 (Resolution 67/193) (1). The fact that 95 UN members decided to co-sponsor this resolution, including some EU Member States, indicates widespread international agreement that a new global discussion on the world drug problem was necessary (2).
The original proposal from Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia for the Special Session appears to have been motivated by a number of issues, including: growing concerns around levels of drug-related violence in parts of Latin America; recent comments from some political leaders in the region and civil society organisations on the need for an opportunity for a new international dialogue on the drugs problem; and the effectiveness of current international policies in this area.
The aim of the Special Session, as stipulated in a Resolution (67/193), is to ‘review the progress in the implementation of the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem’ and to assess ‘achievements and challenges in countering the world drug problem within the framework of the three international drug control conventions and other relevant United Nations instruments’.
The discussions at the Special Session are likely to be wide ranging, addressing all the aspects of the world drug situation that members of the General Assembly view as relevant and requiring review at this time. It is foreseen that UNGASS will adopt an action-oriented document comprising a set of operational recommendations to effectively address and counter the world drugs problem (3).
The European Union has an agreed common position paper which will provide a basis for their contribution to discussions at the Special Session (4). At a top level, the EU position can be summarised as supporting balanced and evidence-based drug policies, emphasising the importance of respect for human rights and shared responsibility and working within the overall context provided by the UN international drug control conventions.
The European consensus is explicitly based on a commitment to the UN conventions, which are seen as providing sufficient scope and flexibility to accommodate a wide range of approaches to drug policy which can be developed in the context of differing national and regional specificities.
In its common position, adopted on 11 November 2015, the EU reiterates the need for countries to respect human rights when implementing the international conventions. In this context, it calls for the abolition of the death penalty for drug-related crimes and for proportional sentencing and alternative measures to conviction or punishment.
Protecting the health and welfare of mankind is an integral part of the international response to the global drugs problem. In this context, the EU calls for the rebalancing of drug policy towards health-oriented approaches.
In the paper, the EU stresses that international cooperation needs to be strengthened in order to identify, disrupt and dismantle transnational organised criminal groups involved in any illicit activities relating to drug trafficking. It also strongly advocates the use of reliable monitoring, best practice and scientific evidence in informing drug policy.
The 59th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) closed on 23 March with agreement on an ‘outcome document’ to be adopted at UNGASS in April 2016 (5).
The UN General Assembly resolution 70/181 of 17 December 2015 requested the CND to produce a short, substantive, concise and action-oriented document to be recommended for adoption at UNGASS 2016, taking place in New York from 19–21 April 2016.
The CND has now transmitted the outcome document — entitled ‘Our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem’ — to the General Assembly, recommending its adoption during the UNGASS plenary session.
The document is one of a number of resolutions passed at the latest CND on matters ranging from mainstreaming gender perspectives into drug-related policies and programmes, to development and dissemination of the international standards of treatment of drug use disorders. Other topics of the resolutions passed included alternative development and strategies for improving health and social wellbeing.