03/20/19 Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week on Century of Lies, international drug policy reform. We hear portions of the 62nd Annual Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, live from Vienna, including interventions by the delegation from Switzerland, the World Health Organization, the Canadian HIV Legal Network, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Audio file



MARCH 20, 2019

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.

On this edition of Century of Lies, and for the next couple of weeks, we're going to look at international drug control policy.

The Sixty-Second Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place in Vienna, Austria, March 14 through the 22 this year. They held a high-level ministerial segment on the first two days, the 14 and 15. That may sound impressive, but what it simply means is that on those two days, high government officials from nations around the world traveled to Vienna, Austria.

It's really just to enjoy themselves in one of Europe's most charming cities, but while there, those high government officials -- I'm sorry, that should read "highly placed government officials," my bad -- also have to put in a brief appearance at the Vienna International Center, which is the UN's office complex in Vienna, to talk about drug control policy.

Those first two days were the only bits that the CND intended to be webcast to the public. The remaining five weekdays of meetings, debates, discussions, resolutions, et cetera, were supposed to go on without the prying eyes of people like me.

The CND must have forgotten to mention that to the folks with the UN Information Service, which handles news and public affairs for the UN in Vienna. The entirety of the meeting held on Monday, March 18, was webcast live. I recorded it. On this edition of Century of Lies, we're going to hear portions of that audio.

First up, let's hear from the representative from the World Health Organization, Doctor Gilles Forte, addressing the morning plenary session on the topic of the implementation of the international drug control treaties.

GILLES FORTE, PHD: Mister Chair, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen. Half a million people die each year from psychoactive drug use, through overdoses, accidents, and drug related illnesses like HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. A majority of these could be prevented.

WHO is carefully assessing the cost to human health of the most harmful and prevalent of these drugs. The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances mandate the World Health Organization to undertake the assessment of psychoactive substances that pose harm to health.

This mandate has been reinforced by the 2016 UNGASS document, and by a number of recent CND resolutions. Assessment of psychoactive substances are undertaken by the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, ECDD, on the basis of data that is scientifically valid.

For the substances under review, the WHO provides the CND with recommendations on appropriate levels of international control to prevent harm to health, including deaths.

There are three major issues currently being addressed by WHO. The first is the provenance of new psychoactive substances that are causing significant harm to human health, but for which there is very limited data to inform ECDD reviews.

NPS are substances that have potential for abuse and dependence that are harmful and that can cause deaths. Hence the proliferation of a large number of substances that are detected on the market. However, for most NPS, reliable scientific data on their potential for abuse, dependence, and harm, is piecemeal or is not available. Therefore, they do not meet the criteria for formal review by the WHO ECDD.

The lack of scientifically valid data is currently the main obstacle that limits the number of NPS reviews by the ECDD. In almost all instances, there are few published scientific reports regarding NPS.

In order to increase the information available for consideration by the ECDD, WHO engages with international and regional organizations as well as member states to facilitate sharing of scientifically sound information from reliable sources that has not been published.

WHO is currently developing a global surveillance and health alert system on NPS and other harmful substances as requested by the CND resolution 60/4. This surveillance system aims to alert member states to the risks associated with substances not currently scheduled and for which there is insufficient information to enable scheduling.

This system will also facilitate the collection of unpublished data on harm to health from the largest possible number of countries.

The second major issue of global importance is the problem of non-medical use of synthetic opioids that has been associated with a large number of deaths from overdoses. WHO is very concerned by harms posed by the non-medical use of synthetic opioids. The World Health Organization is committed to address this important public health problem in collaboration with other international organizations and in a comprehensive manner.

Since 2014, WHO has increased the frequency of ECDD meetings and scaled up the number of NPS reviews, in particular for non-medical synthetic opioids. WHO has recommended the placement of a number of opioids under international control, including the strictest level of control for very harmful substances such as carfentanyl.

In line with CND resolution 61/8, WHO collaborates with UNODC and INCB for jointly attacking the opioid crisis. As part of this collaboration, a UN inter-agency toolkit on synthetic drugs is being developed, and will be launched later this week.

The Forty-First ECDD undertook a critical review of tamadol, a synthetic opioid analgesic for the treatment of pain of moderate to severe intensity. The Committee was concerned by the increased evidence for tramadol abuse in several regions.

However, the Committee recommended tramadol not to be scheduled at this time, in order that access to this medication not be adversely impacted, especially in situations where there is limited or no access to other opioids. ECDD recommended that tramadol be put under surveillance.

And the third issue in the ECDD agenda, which is of importance for WHO, is a review of cannabis and cannabis related substances. This review was conducted in response to the CND resolution 52/5, and decision 50/2, requesting WHO to carry out further reviews on cannabis and cannabis related substances.

A number of member states have also expressed increased interest in the collection and analysis of newly available scientific evidence on the harm and on the medical use of cannabis and cannabis related substances.

Cannabis has never been subject to a formal review by WHO until now. The review of cannabis and cannabis related substances has been carried out, and ECDD recommendations have been submitted for the consideration of the Sixty-Second CND.

WHO has been engaged so far in a number of interactions with member states regarding the rationale and process of the Forty-First's recommendation on cannabis. WHO is prepared to hold subsequent information sessions with experts from member states that would require further clarification on the recommendation on cannabis.

UNODC and INCB participation to these information sessions will be critical in order to assess the requirements for the implementation of the cannabis recommendations, and the expected impact in countries.

Mister Chair, WHO is committed to continue to intensify the review of harmful NPS, in particular opioids, and to strengthen mechanisms for a systematic and speedy collection of robust evidence on harm to health.

WHO is scaling up the establishment of its global surveillance and health alert system for NPS for raising awareness on the risk for public health in particular from opioids.

As we contribute to actively tackle the global opioid crisis, we are at the same time engaged to address the barriers to safe and effective use of opioid medicines for the management of pain.

WHO is committed to a scientifically sound approach, to minimizing the risk of cannabis abuse and dependence, while not impeding development and access to new medications derived from cannabis.

WHO will pursue its collaboration with UNODC, INCB, and other partners, including civil society, in order to reduce the risk to public health associated with the use of narcotic and psychotropic substances. I thank you, Mister Chair.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Gilles Forte, PhD, representing the World Health Organization, addressing the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on the implementation of the international drug control treaties on Monday, March 18, at the Sixty-Second Session of the CND in Vienna, Austria.

Let's hear now from a civil society representative who was there at the CND. The Canadian HIV Legal Network does great work. Here's their executive director, Richard Elliott.

RICHARD ELLIOTT: For more than twenty years, member states have recognized in multiple unanimous resolutions of the General Assembly and of this Commission that countering the world drug problem must be carried out with full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This was reaffirmed most recently in the Ministerial Declaration adopted by the Commission last week.

However, too often the reality has diverged, and still diverges, from this important commitment.

We therefore wish to draw the attention of member states to the international guidelines on human rights and drug policy, the result of a three year consultative process to address this gap. The guidelines were released here during last week's Ministerial Segment, with the support of member states, UN entities, and leading human rights experts.

The guidelines outline the measures states should take or refrain from taking in order to comply with their human rights obligations. The guidelines do not invent new rights. They apply existing human rights law to the legal and policy context of drug control in order to maximize human rights protections, including in the interpretation and implementation of the drug control conventions.

The guidelines first present foundational crosscutting human rights principles, such as equality and nondiscrimination, the accountability of states, and the right to an effective remedy for violations of human rights.

They then set out specific universal human rights standards and apply them to the specific context of drug policy. These include, but are not limited to, such matters as:

the right to health and what it requires in the areas of prevention of problematic drug use, harm reduction, drug dependence treatment, access to controlled substances for medical purposes, and measures effecting the environment with health implications;

the right to life, which continues to be violated in some settings by the continued application of the death penalty and widespread extrajudicial executions;

freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, which for example continues to be widespread in compulsory drug detention centers, where people are subjected to horrific abuses, sometimes in the name of supposed treatment for drug dependence;

and the rights to privacy, to freedom of expression and information, to a fair trial, and to enjoy cultural life, among numerous others.

The guidelines also address states' obligations in relation to the human rights of particular groups, such as children, women, prisoners and other persons deprived of their liberty, and indigenous peoples, for which groups there are specific human rights instruments of relevance to drug policy.

The guidelines also recognize that many other groups experience disproportionate harm, inequities, and intersecting forms of discrimination, which must be taken into account in drug policies, including on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, migration status, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, poverty, and the nature and location of livelihood, including employment as rural workers or sex workers.

The guidelines respect states' prerogative to determine their national drug policies. But states have also repeatedly and unanimously declared their commitment to ensuring full respect for human rights in law, policy, and practice related to drugs.

We urge member states to make use of this new resource in order to fulfill this commitment. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV Legal Network, speaking at the Sixty-Second Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which was held in Vienna, Austria.

That meeting took place on Monday, March 18. I was only able to get this recording because some anonymous person with the United Nations Information Service, which is based in Vienna, made sure that there was a webcast that day.

The next morning, Tuesday March 19, I was sitting at my computer at 2 AM waiting for the webcast to start live from Vienna. I was still sitting and waiting at 3 AM. That's when I tweeted the CND to let them know that there were technical issues.

A little while later, I got this reply via direct message from the CND twitter account, @CND_tweets. Quote: "Hi! We only had a webcast for the ministerial segment, not the regular segment. Apologies for the misunderstanding. Kind regards!" End quote.

The Ministerial Segment was March 14 and 15. The CND's annual session runs through the 22nd.

You are listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. We're listening to portions of the annual meeting of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which was held in Vienna, Austria. We'll be back with more in just a moment.

The UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs holds its annual sessions at the UN complex in Vienna, Austria, which is the headquarters of the CND as well as headquarters for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and of the International Narcotics Control Board.

If these meetings were being held at the UN's facility in Geneva, Switzerland, or in New York City, then there would be video and audio of the entire proceeding online, both broadcast live at the time of the meeting and available afterward in an archive.

Unfortunately the UN's drug control agencies over in Vienna seem to think that they're living in the 1960s. It's so much easier to do the work of the people, for the people, when the people can be shut out of the proceedings entirely and left in the dark.

But you know, considering the catastrophic global failure that is international drug control policy, you can kind of understand where they're coming from.

Yeah, well, that stuff don't fly with me, whether it's policy making or law making, these sorts of proceedings need to be carried out in the open. Governments must be held accountable.

Drug warriors at these meetings insist on blind obedience to a set of outdated, ill-thought-out conventions that were doomed to fail because to do otherwise would be to admit that they were wrong. Millions of lives lost, more millions of lives ruined, all because some git in a suit with a government job can't admit that they got it wrong.

Drug control policies based on prohibition and centered around punishment have consistently failed for decades. If you look at the policies, the data, the facts, then that is undeniable.

That's the reason the CND doesn't keep an archive of its meetings, that's the reason why they don't video or webcast any of the many side events held during their annual meetings, that's the reason why they only do a live webcast of portions of their meeting.

That's also the reason why I watch and record as much of their meetings as possible, and why I encourage everyone from civil society who's attending these meetings to do everything they can to document, whether it's live tweeting, blogging, recording audio or video, using their smartphones, their tablets, their laptops. By every means available.

The CND hates people like us, dear listener. Global drug control policy is decided in darkness and maintained through ignorance. But we can force it into the light of day. We are doing it.

As I always say, the drug war is built on a foundation of lies. Those lies crumble when exposed to the light of truth.

Now, while I climb down off my high horse and compose myself, let's hear more from the 2019 meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The audio from that meeting that I'm using on this edition of Century of Lies was recorded on Monday, March 18. The CND did not plan to webcast any of what went on that day. Thankfully the techs with the UN Information Service didn't get the memo in time.

During the discussion of implementation of the international drug control treaties, the delegate from Switzerland had strong words for the International Narcotics Control Board, another UN entity which releases its annual report a few days before the CND has its annual meeting.

DELEGATE FROM SWITZERLAND TO THE CND: I would like to draw your attention to three issues: transparency and open dialogue; treaty mandate of the INCB; and evidence based policies.

Switzerland welcomed the INCB mission to our country in November 2017. We have taken note of the Board's recommendations to Switzerland in its subsequent letter, as well as published in its annual report of 2018.

But we would like to know what these recommendations were based upon.

We believe that for an open and constructive dialogue between any member state and the INCB, it is important to have all the decisive points at hand, and to discuss them. That is why we have requested the INCB to provide us with its mission report, and we would like to reiterate this request here, again.

The ultimate goal of the three UN drug control conventions is to protect the health and welfare of mankind as well as to ensure the availability of, and access to, controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes.

In this regard, the Board should support any scientific research, including research on cannabis.

We are surprised to see that the INCB comments on society's perceptions, based neither on data nor on scientific evaluation. Commenting on the medical usefulness of any substance, including of cannabis, is not a mandate of the Board, but the Treaty mandate of WHO.

Questions regarding how cannabis should be administered are equally the mandate and within the competence of WHO.

The INCB, as a quasi-judicial body, should be impartial and focus very clearly on its mandate: monitor the global drug situation and ensure adequate access to and availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes.

The INCB should contribute to informed decisions by member states, with scientific based information on all issues.

We would like to reiterate that Switzerland is committed to a multidimensional approach to the drug related problem. We look forward to continuing our cooperation and to maintaining an open and honest debate between the INCB, member states, and the Swiss authorities. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was the delegate from Switzerland, speaking on Monday, March 18, at the annual session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. She was bluntly critical of the annual report by the International Narcotics Control Board, another UN drug control agency.

Let's hear now from another UN agency. Here's Zaved Mahmood, Human Rights and Drug Policy Advisor to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

ZAVED MAHMOOD: Mister Chair, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights thanks you for inviting us to speak at this session.

The United Nations Human Rights Office welcomes the recommendation on human rights related issues in the International Narcotics Control Board's annual report 2018. The INCB report includes two key issues related to human rights. These are extrajudicial acts of violence, and the death penalty.

In the following, I briefly reflect -- I will briefly reflect on these two important issues.

In the outcome document of UNGASS 2016, all states committed to promote, respect, and protect human rights in drug control efforts and tackle impunity.

Despite this commitment, in recent years there have been alarming tendencies towards a deeper militarization in drug control efforts. We have also seen the concerning pursuit by some states of the so-called 'war on drugs' to counter drug problems.

Such approaches have disproportionately affected vulnerable groups and have repeatedly resulted in serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations in several countries.

The United Nations Office strongly condemns all extrajudicial and other killings, and all other serious human rights violations committed in the name of drug control. In accordance with their human rights obligations, authorities must adopt the necessary measures to protect all persons from targeted killings and extrajudicial executions. It is their utmost duty to protect the right to life of all, without any discrimination.

In the INCB report 2018, notes with serious concern that in several countries, in particular in south and southeast Asia, extrajudicial acts of violence continue against persons suspected of drug related activities.

Senior officials of those countries often commit such violent acts, frequently at the direct behest of senior political figures or with their active encouragement or tacit approval. I unquote.

The report also informs us that INCB has communicated with concerned governments to seek clarification and to remind them of their obligations under the international drug control conventions.

Such obligations include the requirements for states to respect the rule of law and due process when carrying out their obligation under those conventions.

The INCB report also mentions that in pursuit of its mandate, the Board will continue to monitor these developments and to draw attention of the international community to them. United Nations Human Rights Office welcomes INCB's initiative and recommendation.

United Nations Human Rights Office also calls upon all concerned states, in accordance with their obligations under international law, to carry out independent, impartial, prompt, effective, and credible investigations into all extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations carried out in the name of drug control.

States should provide full reparations, including adequate compensation and rehabilitation, to the victims of such violations.

Dear Chair, now I turn to the second issue, death penalty.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regrets that, despite repeated calls by the international community, including INCB's, 35 states still have death penalty for drug offenses, in violation of international human rights law.

In recent years, most of the executions were carried out, for drug offenses, in a small number of countries. In its 2018 annual report, INCB once again encourages states that retain capital punishment for drug related offenses to consider the abolition of death penalty for that category of offense.

Dear Chair, I would like to note some positive trends that have been reported in the last year. Reportedly, executions for drug offenses have fallen nearly ninety percent since 2015. This decline, a significant positive development, may have resulted from the amendment to the drug trafficking law and recent legislative initiatives on death penalty reform in several countries, mostly in the Asia region.

Any death penalty reforms, including its full abolition, are welcome and should be applied retrospectively.

While removing the death penalty from their laws, states should also revoke death sentences issued for crimes not qualifying as the most serious crimes, such as drug crimes, and pursue necessary legal procedures to re-sentence those convicted for such crimes.

Excellencies, despite various political trends towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, our Office remains concerned about warning signs of a resurgence and reintroduction of death penalty for drug offenses in a small number of countries.

Considering the death penalty as the model solution to address the drug problem is wrong, and indeed not based on any evidence. On the contrary, all the evidence indicates that death penalty neither deters crime nor does it provide justice to the victims of crime.

Its application also has the potential to become an obstacle to effective cross border and international judicial cooperation against drug trafficking.

In accordance with their international human rights obligations, states around the world adopted numerous national laws that rightly prohibit the exchange of information, mutual legal assistance, and extradition in cases where the suspects may face capital punishment.

The death penalty undermines human dignity, and its application violates human rights norms and principles.

The United Nations Human Rights Office once again calls upon all states to abolish the death penalty in all circumstances, including for drug offenses.

Dear Chair, in conclusion, our Office strongly encourages the INCB to continue to address human rights issues in the implementation of the drug control conventions. The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to cooperate with the INCB in this regard. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Zaved Mahmood, Human Rights and Drug Policy Advisor to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the Sixty-Second Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

The CND is held in mid-March each year at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria. We'll hear more from this year's CND on next week's show.

And that’s all the time we have this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're 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.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. 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.