EU Watch

In Vienna, Italian Rights Groups Push for Better Global Drug Policies

Italian civil society groups are among the loudest voices pushing for new drug policies in Europe and beyond.

by Tommaso Fusco

From 12 to 16 March in Vienna, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) met for its 61st annual session.

Since the UN General Assembly extended the powers of the Commission in 1991 - making it the governing body of the UNODC (United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention) - annual meetings have become one of the central moments in the construction of future drug policies.

It is thanks to the Commission's decisions that certain drugs and substances are considered legal - and therefore available - while others are prohibited and therefore subject to restrictions.

The work of this latest session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs acquires greater importance in view of the High Level Ministerial Meeting which will be held in Vienna next year, and allows us in order to take stock of nearly 20 years of War on Drugs.

The role of the civil society

The work of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs this March, although starting from the positive points of UNGASS 2016, was very much affected by the global political situation, whose balance in recent years is certainly in chiaroscuro.

On one hand, it is an objective fact that, since April 2016, more and more nations have decided to change their drug policies and that, worldwide, there has been a reduction in the number of drug-related death sentences.

On the other hand, we cannot help but reflect that a country like the US - historically a leader in prohibitionist policies - after the brief liberal period of Obama, is returning to tougher positions under the Trump administration, which has brought up the possibility of introducing death penalty for drug dealers (already the reality in Duterte’s Philippines, where the deaths are counted in thousands).

It is not surprising that such obvious contradictions have also resulted in an impasse in the work of the Commission. The representatives of the 53 delegations tepidly agreed on respect for human rights and the need to soften prevention and treatment interventions, but, for example, the joint resolution presented by Uruguay and Canada against the stigma that affects those who consume drug faced many difficulties during the process.

Civil society organizations have played a fundamental role in the work of the Commission and promoted almost a hundred of side events during the meeting. One example of their assistance with the Commission's work is a letter addressed to the directors of the World Health Organization and the Andoc, signed by 188 NGOs - including Liberties member CILD - to request an urgent revision of the standards and guidelines for the treatment of drug use disorders.

The Italian case

Civil society has played an important role in defining the position of the Italian delegation during its work on the Commission. With an open letter, Italian NGOs urged the government not to repeat the mistakes of the past by supporting drug policies in line with those of other European countries, policies which are more respectful of human rights.

The Italian delegation has reiterated several positions that had already been expressed by the the Italian ambassador in the plenary session of UNGASS 2016: harm reduction, the condemnation of the use of the death penalty against drug dealers and a call for the limitation of the use of prison sentences for drug users.

During her speech at the CND, the ambassador reiterated these concepts and recognized the importance of NGOs and civil society in the role of consultants.

Waiting for Vienna 2019, the hope is that this recognition can result in a productive debate between institutions and civil society (as happened in 2016). Through its resulting proposals, this debate should contribute to the reform of Italian and international drug policies.

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