The Engagement of Civil Society for UNGASS – Drugs & Crime

Civil society organizations contribute to the preparatory process of UNGASS 2016: Drugs and Crime

Following the Global Civil Society Survey, implemented by the Civil Society Task Force (CSTF) designed to help civil society organizations provide input prior to the forthcoming UNGASS 2016, we have decided to publish the second part of the document jointly prepared by the VNGOC and the NYNGOC, the theme of which is "Drug and Crime". These recommendations are based on a preliminary compilation of the results of the CSTF survey.

This document appears essential to us because it has been designed to help civil society actors raise their voice. This is the reason why, as a member of the VNGOC, we wanted to make this document more widely available, with French and Spanish translations.  

Concerns about the unequal enforcement of policies and sentencing

Members of Civil Society have expressed concern for the disparities in arrest and sentencing for drug charges, as well as the proportionality of punishment for drug offences. It is these disparities that have contributed to concerns about the fairness of the current regime in their countries of origin. There is a need for this issue to be discussed in the preparations for the UNGASS, as it is a concern in many regions of the world.


  • “Consistent, fair penalties” (Educational institution, Europe)
  • “Incarceration/sentencing reform” (Treatment facility, North America)


  • Disproportional punishment for drug offences” (Research institution, Central America)

The harms of trafficking and its associated violence and exploitation

In the context of international security, civil society groups are concerned about trafficking and violence. Civil Society recognises the potential complementarity of trafficking in drugs with trafficking in people and arms. There is a sense that the successful and profitable networks engaged in drug trafficking have expanded; also that this masks human trafficking with a linked concern that these developments have begun to fund various forms of political terrorism. There is support for this issue to be discussed at the UNGASS and during its preparatory meetings.

Mentions and emphasis in respondent answers:

  • “Priority for law enforcement [to] limit[ing] drugs trafficking.” (Non-government organisation, Central Asia/Middle East- translated from Persian)
  • “Drug issues as they relate to human trafficking and sex trafficking” (Consulting firm, North America)
  • “Drugs as a contributing factor to crime and insecurity in the globe” (Health organisation, Africa)
  • “Marijuana and crime; drug cartels, drug gangs (both inside America and in the Narco-Nations of Latin America and Mexico” (Advocacy organisation, North America)

Some broader concerned comments include:

  •  “How prohibition policy funds organised crime and terrorism.” (Member-based organisation, Europe)

An evaluation of whether the current system is cost-effective and making society safer

Many members of civil society see a need for large scale research and evaluation on the impact of global drug policies on crime. The following quote summarises the concerns of some that there are costs to the current regime which must be identified and then evaluated:

  • “Economic analyses of current drug prevention approaches that include the societal and indirect costs of mass incarceration, turning users of less addictive drugs, such as cannabis, into felons excluded from civil society” (Research organisation, North America)
  • “Ensuring that both successes and failing[s] of global drug control are reviewed and discussed – and that policy is evaluated in line with UN priorities of health, human rights, development and security.” (Policy advocacy organisation, Europe)

These quotes highlight a perceived need from some civil society actors for the collection of data which will allow the evaluation of drug policies. Civil Society groups wish the UN, through its various instruments, to collect and utilise data that could support informed and balanced discussions, grounded in facts and evidence for both the UNGASS and its preparatory meetings.

Allowing for greater policy experimentation by member states

There are a number of civil society actors who have called for adequate attention at the UNGASS and its preparatory meetings to discuss the importance of nations having the right to determine which drug related policies to implement based on their own individual circumstances, cultures, needs, and priorities. Many noted that there is considerable flexibility within the current conventions to allow for experimentation; such as decriminalisation.

Civil Society responses initiated the following suggestions that were unprompted in the survey:

  • “Autonomy for developing countries to seek their own solution” (Policy advocacy organisation, Africa)
  • “The policies [need] to respect the traditional values and socio-economic conditions of the countries” (Treatment organisation, Asia)
  • “Allowances for experimentation by member states of new drug policies within the context of the treaties” (Policy Advocacy organisation, North America)

Some effort is needed by the UN instruments including UNODC and the INCB, operating in conjunction with/through CND to clarify the range of interpretations of the meaning of the current Conventions with regard to the opportunities for member states to trial and test responses that are consistent with their own cultures and needs; without being seen to operate outside the Conventions. Consideration should be given to developing a summary of the variations that are currently available or recently tried and the countries adopting alternative responses should be encouraged to share their experience and any research findings about the consequences of these interpretations so that this can be monitored and made available to other countries/member states.