Drug Policy – Role of Civil Society Organizations at the UN

There is room for improvement so that civil society can contribute effectively to a decision-making process at all levels

Today, it is taken for granted that civil society should be attending the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meetings (CND). However, not long ago, the sole mention of ¨civil society¨ was not welcomed by all State representatives. The most significant changes derive from the work of the Vienna NGO Committee (VNGOC), a platform gathering NGOs working in the field of drugs, and to the facilitator role of UNODC Civil Society Team. Moreover, the tireless effort of NGOs such as Dianova, which have endeavored to be present at each session and to give their opinion about everything of concern to them.

Dianova´s objective it is not only to represent the interest of its network within international organizations, it is also to strengthen the role of civil society in these organisations. For this reason, Dianova has been a member of VNGOC Board Committee since 2008 and has attended all CND sessions.

The last 58 CND session took place between 9th and 17th of March in Vienna. In this meeting, we could confirm the ground gained by civil society members within the organism, as well as their broad acceptance by the United Nations. The following constitute a sample of these affirmations: 

Launch of a Civil Society Task Force to Prepare UNGASS

Thanks to the collaboration of NGO Committees working in the field of drugs at the United Nations, a Civil Society Task Force has been established, the  objective of which is to ensure a comprehensive, structured, significant and balanced participation of civil society at UNGASS. The working group consists of 27 members (18 representing various regions in the world, 6 the affected populations and 3 covering global perspectives), that will be presenting civil society stances regarding issues to be addressed during UNGASS 2016.

Fourth Civil Society Hearing

Dianova representatives

This type of meeting, which was organized informally in the previous years, has been established within the CND system, which implies to incorporate Civil Society in the consultation procedures.

The fourth hearing counted with the participation of UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov; Chair of Board in charge of UNGASS, Khaled Shamaa; and UNODC chief of prevention and treatment branch, Dr. Gilberto Gerra, among others. Highest authorities have recognized the role of civil society and have supported the creation of the Civil Society Task Force.

During last civil society hearing which took place in New York, Elena Goti from Dianova International presented Dianova Chile program for women with dependent children.

Informal Dialogues with Civil Society 

These dialogues allow the creation of a space where civil society can interact directly with UNODC and INCB members. The dialogues are conducted on the basis of questions that were previously sent by NGOs.

In this session Aldo Lale-Demoz, Operations Director of UNODC and Dr. Naidoo, INCB President answered two questions brought up by Dianova International on UNODC role as a space to reach consensus and on INCB´s feedback on country visits. 

Interactive Debates

The special segment on UNGASS preparations was structured around five different interactive debates.  Each debate would count with a panel comprising representatives of member states, regions, high level authorities and, for the first time, a representative of civil society. The latter had the opportunity to address the plenary session (among which were representatives at the ministerial level) during 7 minutes. Moreover, during the Q&A, civil society representatives were entitled to ask questions, as any ministry-level State representative.

VNGOC: Civil Society Platform

Taking advantage of the gathering of so many NGO representatives, VNGOC organized an Assembly of members. VNGOC members discussed next board elections (to which Dianova has presented its application) and the implementation of the Civil Society Task Force. Elena Goti as a VNGOC board member was very active throughout the CND session. 

In addition, the VNGOC presented an online platform prototype on which the organizations has been working for more than one year. The Market Place program ressemble a kind of Facebook network designed to put in touch service providers and clients in the field of drug prevention, treatment and reintegration. In addition, VNGOC organized an informal meeting for  NGO members attended by more than 70 people . 

Space for NGOs in Plenary Room

NGOs with ECOSOC status and that have registered to CND 58, had a reserved seat in the plenary room. This is very significant and shows how the civil society is gaining ground at this concrete international organism. 

Dianova deems especially positive the many advances made to make civil society representatives and organizations more visible and accepted. However, we should remain vigilant because there is still room for improvement so that civil society organizations can secure their role in the CND and through their expertise contribute effectively to advancing drug policies worldwide. Our ultimate objective is to have a positive impact on people's lives.