In March 2017, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) adopted Resolution 60/1 in which it called on the UNODC to ‘strengthen and streamline its existing data-collection and analysis tools’. The key tool for collecting data on drug control is the Annual Report Questionnaire (ARQ), a long set of questions sent to all countries so that they can report back on progress made in addressing the illicit drug market. The responses received form the basis of the UNODC’s annual flagship publication – the World Drug Report.

This begs the question – what data is UNODC actually collecting? The latest iteration of the ARQ dates back to 2010, when it was amended to reflect the contents of the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action on drugs. The 2009 Political Declaration had set 2019 as the target date to eradicate or reduce measurably the scale of the illicit drug market. Unsurprisingly, the current ARQ focuses mainly on measuring progress made towards the eradication of illicit drug cultivation, production, manufacture, trafficking, sale and use – with little to no attention given to the consequences of such a strategy on affected communities.

The 2016 UNGASS has been a key opportunity to reshape the debate around drug control at the UN – enabling space for discussions on the severe impacts of repressive drug policies on health, human rights and development. As the UNODC is embarked in reviewing the ARQ, it is therefore vital that all the key aspects of the UNGASS Outcome Document are adequately reflected in the new data-reporting mechanism provided to UN member states. This is all the more important as governments will soon be meeting in March 2019 to discuss their drug control strategy for the next decade.

The UNODC will hold an expert consultation to review the ARQ in late January. Although IDPC can only welcome the process of updating the ARQ, there are some critical issues that the Consortium wished to highlight ahead of the meeting (to which civil society was unfortunately not invited). In particular, the UNODC should provide sufficient space for experts to discuss the inclusion of human rights indicators in an updated ARQ, as well as consider other critical issues, such as gender, alternatives to coercive sanctions, harm reduction, and access to controlled medicines to name a few – all of which are incorporated in the UNGASS Outcome Document. Ito highlight these concerns, IDPC drafted a letter to the UNODC on behalf of our 176 members and Harm Reduction International. The letter also called for better synergy in data collection across all relevant UN agencies, as well as improved civil society participation in the ARQ review process. The letter was accompanied by an Annex with detailed recommendations on how to improve the current ARQ.

IDPC was delighted to receive a response from the UNODC Research and Trends Analysis Branch, in which UNODC welcomed the letter, and offered to share it, along with its Annex, to the participants of their January meeting. The UNODC response ends with a commitment from UNODC to request for additional consultations to the CND Chair so that ‘further opportunities may be identified to ensure involvement of civil society in the technical process to review the ARQ’. The Consortium stands ready to further support the UNODC on this complex but much needed endeavour.