From 11th to 15th March 2013, Vienna hosted the 56th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) – the United Nation’s annual forum on the issue of drugs, which is attended by 53 Member States. This year, IDPC was among the number of civil society groups in attendance and the IDPC Secretariat worked hard to deliver its established coordination and advocacy functions at the event. These annual meetings have long provided frustration for civil society, which has fought hard to have a voice in the debates. Broadly speaking, however, this year represented an improvement on previous events – a further sign that things are slowly changing within the United Nations drug control structures. IDPC will publish a more detailed account of the meeting in its annual CND Report on Proceedings in the coming weeks (click here to view the report from 2012). In the meantime, below is a brief summary of some of the main developments from Vienna.



As is customary at the CND, Member States spent most of the week agreeing a series of resolutions through negotiations in the ‘Committee of the Whole’, in closed meetings and through corridor conversations. The amended resolutions cover topics as broad as HIV, new psychoactive substances, alternative development, supply reduction in Afghanistan, GHB, and even the return of unused pain medications. There was notably less controversy than in previous years. Member States passed a strong resolution on HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis which endorses the UN Technical Guidance on HIV and the WHO Guidance on Hepatitis Prevention for people who inject drugs. Resolution 13 also recommended that CND should “play its leading role in the preparatory process” for the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, while also “Welcoming the important role played by civil society… and stressing the relevance of the contributions of civil society”.

NGO statements in the Plenary Session

During the Plenary Sessions, IDPC and a number of our partners also made formal and powerful statements:

  • Ann Fordham (IDPC Executive Director) spoke about the 2016 UNGASS and reminded Member States that “We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to take stock of the negative consequences of the current system and to ensure that the drug control treaties remain ‘fit-for-purpose’ in the coming decades”.
  • Mike Trace (Chair of the IDPC Steering Group) spoke about the scheduling process and the blurred roles of WHO and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).
  • Eliot Albers (Director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs) endorsed the new ‘Support. Don't Punish.’ campaign – calling for all Member States to implement harm reduction measures rather than treating people who use drugs as criminals.
  • Maria Phelan (Harm Reduction International) spoke about the need for more harm reduction funding and for more supportive legal and policy environments (again, endorsing the ‘Support. Don't Punish.’ campaign).

For a full list of NGO statements at CND, please click here.

Bilateral Meetings

During the week, the IDPC Secretariat worked hard to organise private meetings with a host of government delegations to discuss specific issues and future partnerships. These included meetings with officials from Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, China, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Uruguay, USA, Viet Nam and the African Union – as well as conversations with numerous other country delegations.

Side Events

As in previous years, IDPC coordinated a series of official side-events and lunchtime events for Member States and civil society partners. These were all well attended – with between 50 and 90 participants at each one – and allowed for further engagement of government officials. The topic covered included cannabis regulation, modernising drug law enforcement, drug policy in Africa, drug policy in Latin America, and decriminalisation. These sessions were organised alongside a number of IDPC’s partners and included speakers from government and civil society. There was also a full programme of other side events organised by member states, international organisations, IDPC members and others – including the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) and the Harm Reduction Coalition. For a fuller account of these events, please click here.

Civil Society

The overall participation of civil society at this year’s CND was very strong, with around 160 representatives present. On Sunday 10th March, IDPC hosted a strategic meeting for members, followed by an open CND orientation meeting and reception – at which around 40 participants strategized for the week ahead. At the same time, the Vienna NGO Committee produced their annual Guide to CND, and coordinated a briefing on Monday morning and an ‘Informal Civil Society Hearing’ (click here for more information).

The UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, held a constructive dialogue with civil society groups, answering questions from IDPC among others. He reiterated that the UN drug conventions support the provision of measures of treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration as alternatives to punishment, and explicitly supported human rights and harm reduction as core parts of UNODC’s work.

By contrast, the dialogue with Raymond Yans, President of the INCB, was much less constructive. In an often derogatory tone, Mr Yans stated that “harm reduction hasn’t been accepted by the CND”, argued that “the INCB doesn’t have a mandate to give advice on human rights”, and repeated the Board’s questioning of cannabis policy in the Netherlands and safe drug consumption facilities in Canada.

CND Blog

IDPC and Youth RISE ran the CND Blog throughout the meeting in both English and Spanish – providing a thorough account of each speech, intervention and session. The Blog was viewed by more than 1,100 people every day from 77 countries around the world – including government officials inside of the building, and civil society partners who were unable to attend.