The Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the United Nations International Drug Control Programme

Politics, policies and prospect for change
Cindy S.J. Fazey
International Journal of Drug Policy (Volume 14, Issue 2)
Special Issue on the UNGASS Mid-term Review
April 2003

publicationMeetings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) are no forum for debate and change. The author, a former senior officer of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), shows how CND meetings are manipulated in the interests of 17 developed countries that largely fund UNDCP – the CND’s ‘civil service’. However, these major donors are not united on policy or on how to apply the UN drug Conventions, so CND decisions reflect the lowest level of disagreement, with major splits on policy ignored.

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The USA, Japan, Sweden and most former Soviet Bloc nations want to maintain or tighten worldwide prohibition, supported by the International Narcotics Control Board, a body co-located with UNDCP. Australia, Canada and several EU states are in technical compliance with the Conventions, but their policies make parts of the Conventions ineffective. Against the wishes of the USA and UK, Latin American and Caribbean countries want stronger demand reduction policies among the main ‘drug consumer’ states.

The paper shows how this affects UNDCP, where inherent conflict between specialists and generalists, plus an eclectic mixture of nationalities and abilities have compounded problems of leadership and management. With most staff on fixed-term contracts paid for indirectly by the major donors, many fear for their jobs if they offend one of them, or make a wrong decision. Non-renewal of contract has been a weapon to stifle dissent and internal debate on policy reform. Paralysis often results.

Meanwhile, what the CND claims as success in implementing various UN action plans is often more the result of countries reporting process, not necessarily progress. This impression of successful action masks a global policy failure that is itself fuelling pressure for change. Three possible ways are suggested through which change may be effected.