Round Table on Alternative Development

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The last of the four ‘round tables’ of the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs was devoted to the broad issue of Countering illicit drug traffic and supply, and alternative development. TNI had been nominated by the Vienna NGO Committee to give a statement on the issue of Alternative Development (AD), being one of the few member NGOs with a track record on this issue and having actively participated in the Beyond 2008 initiative, including the negotiations at the July NGO forum to reach consensus on the text of a paragraph on AD in the final declaration. This is our impression of the event.

Commission on Narcotic Drugs 52nd Session, High-level Segment Round Table D
Thusrday, 12 March 2009, 2.30-5.30 pm

Countering illicit drug traffic and supply, and alternative development

CND 52 – High Level Segment
Impressions from Round Table D

‘Round tables’ sound more interactive than they are in practice. Indeed the setting is a square table and participation is limited to 34 Member States, two international agencies and two NGOs. No discussion takes place, however, it is simply a series of prepared statements without anyone responding to what anyone else has said. In this case the statements addressed a variety of subjects, some focussing on ‘achievements’ in supply reduction in general or law enforcement efforts of their countries, others talking more specifically about AD.

The Russian Federation mainly talked about the dramatic situation in Afghanistan where obviously the UNGASS target of eliminating or significantly reducing opium poppy cultivation had not been met. He made the controversial call to expand the role of the international military forces present in the country and give them a legal mandate to also combat the drugs problem in the country (see also: Russia says Afghan heroin habit threatens security, Reuters, March 6, 2009). Pakistan joined the call for urgent attention to Afghanistan, stressing that also neighbouring countries could not afford to wait for long-term effects of the traditional approaches and that ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions may have to be considered, without specifying what they had in mind. Both the US and the UK called on donors to contribute to the ‘good performance initiative’ through which governors are rewarded with development aid if they manage to eliminate or reduce poppy cultivation in their province. The UK saw that as one of the measures of a ‘risk and reward approach’ and that the full range of possible incentive instruments needed to be explored. To make the reductions sustainable, however, he said that a clear link needed to be made with the national poverty eradication strategy.

The US acknowledged that there were no easy solutions but stressed that the combined approach of eradication efforts, law enforcement and AD needs to continue. Similarly, Morocco said that eradication measures needed to be ‘complemented’ with AD. This has been a particularly difficult point in the negotiations about the text of the Political Declaration and the annexed Plan of Action, and differences on the ‘proper sequence’ of interventions came clearly to the table again. Germany strongly worded its defence of ‘proper sequencing’ and ‘non-conditionality’ in AD, meaning that alternative livelihoods need to be firmly in place before eradication might begin and that the provision of development aid should not be made conditional on prior reductions in illicit cultivation.

Thailand also emphasized the need for ‘proper sequencing’, a term that led to an impasse in the negotiations over the Political Declaration where it was vetoed by the US, Pakistan and Colombia, in spite of the fact that it had already been approved in the Annex. The Thai representative, working for the famous Doi Tung royal AD projects in Thailand, Indonesia and recently also Burma and Afghanistan, further highlighted the issue of poverty as one of the driving causes behind illicit cultivation and hence the need for a developmental approach which would take time. He spelled out that “eradication should not take place when alternatives are not in place”. Human development indicators need to become part of the evaluation tools for AD projects, instead of only looking at reductions of poppy hectares, a specific call mentioned also in the statements of Germany and Ecuador.

Ecuador further explained their concept of ‘integral, sustainable and preventive’ AD and stressed the importance of a strict respect for human rights. Peru also referred to an ‘integral approach’ and that important steps forward had been made with regard to the concept and operational practices of AD on which they have tabled a draft resolution for the regular session of the CND following this high-level segment, co-sponsored by Thailand. Also Paraguay talked about such an ‘integral and sustainable’ approach to AD, referring to the underlying causes of poverty and social exclusion. They expressed their support for the Peruvian resolution and called on donors to also consider cannabis cultivation –widely practiced in Paraguay- as eligible for AD funding. Bolivia in its statement gave a very clear message that they wanted to improve collaboration with the US again, after relations worsened past months over the expulsion of US personnel from the country. Bolivia explicitly thanked the US for its support and expressed their willingness to improve cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking.

Some other interventions made at the Round Table are worthwhile to mention. Israel asked the question whether law enforcement had not failed to curb this market and whether options of legalisation or decriminalisation should be more seriously considered. He cautioned that without law enforcement there would be ‘many more drug abusers’ so he was not inclined to support such positions, but still made clear that this problem had no perfect solution and that the world will have to live with it for a long, long time to come. Therefore, Israel had made needle exchange, methadone and burprenorphine available and instead of imprisonment offered drug users the possibility to reintegrate into society. Ukraine had a very strong statement in defence of harm reduction which now had become embedded in national legislation. He also called for ‘decriminalisation of drug users’, specifying that this was not the same as ‘decriminalisation of drugs’, but that it made no sense to put people in prison for possession of small amounts for personal consumption, a practice he noted had happened far too much in his country in the past. He further stressed the need for full respect for human rights as a priority before anything else.

There were some references made to the scheduling of specific substances. Mexico announced its decision to ‘reduce to zero’ imports of ephedrine, including cancelling import licenses of the national pharmaceutical industry, because too much was diverted to illicit production of methamphetamines. A very drastic measure given the inclusion of ephedrine on the WHO List of Essential Medicines and the fairly widespread medicinal uses including in Mexico itself. Egypt called for the scheduling of Tramadol (a synthetic opioid similar to codeine) and requested –erroneously- the INCB to put it under international control, apparently not aware that making such recommendations is mandated under the treaties to the WHO instead of the INCB. Interestingly, Ukraine had raised doubts about this in their statement, when they mentioned the experience of placing Tramadol on their national schedule of controlled substances. Indeed abuse of Tramadol had decreased tenfold according to their consumption figures, but many users had instead shifted to other, more dangerous substances, calling into doubt the wisdom of such policy decisions.

Finally, at the very end of the afternoon session, when time had run out already and everyone was eager to go to the ‘grand finale’ in the plenary, TNI was allowed to present a summary of our statement that can be read here in full. Last, but hopefully not least, we summarised the lessons learned past decade about AD, expressed our disappointment about the consensus language on this issue in the Political Declaration and its annex, and referred to the conclusions of both the Beyond 2008 NGO Forum and the Barcelona forum at the end of January where representatives of farmers and indigenous groups from coca, opium poppy and cannabis producing areas from around the world came together for the first time to agree on their recommendations for the UNGASS review.