The declaration of the UN general assembly special session (UNgass) on drugs recently held is long on rhetoric and short on substance.
Many key issues are missing. It does not call for an end to criminalization and incarceration and capital punishment for drug-related offenses.
It fails to request the World Health Organization to review drug scheduling.
It does not explain how to ensure treatment for users and says nothing about regulation.
The UNgass declaration is out of step with mounting evidence and with public sentiment.
Rather than offer practical solutions based on science, it doubles down on the status quo.
It comprehensively fails to acknowledge harm reduction and regulatory innovations – many of them successful – taking place around the world. It does not go nearly far enough.
Part of the reason UNgass failed to deliver is because the process was fatally flawed from the beginning.
In the lead-up to UNgass in 2015, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (or CND) held preparatory meetings with its 53 members.
Many states who sit on the CND – China, Iran and Russia – favor repressive approaches to drug policy. The first mistake is that the CND should not have been allowed to “lead the process”.
The members of the CND were supposed to draft a declaration that would represent the interests and realities of all 193 member states.
But the drafting process was obscure and tightly controlled by a self-appointed UNgass board. Inputs from non-members of the CND were by and large rejected.
Substantive concerns were ignored. When the draft UNgass declaration was completed on 23 March 2016, it was far from representative.
The second mistake is that the process should have been much more inclusive and representative.
The negotiations in the lead-up to UNgass throughout 2015 and the first three months of 2016 were neither transparent nor inclusive.
The inputs of key UN agencies working on health, gender, human rights and development (along with two thirds of all UN member states) were excluded.
A third mistake is that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime was put in charge and perpetuated a hard line criminal justice approach.
During the preparations for UNgass, nearly 200 civil society organizations from around the world were literally shut out of decisive meetings.
Their views and inputs were sidelined. What is more, on the day that UNgass opened on 19 April, many NGOs were denied entry to the UN (on the grounds of security risks).
Even materials they were carrying were confiscated by UN security.
The fourth mistake is that the UNgass itself excluded the voice of civil society – it was unable to accommodate the desire for change.