The following blog was originally posted on the website of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy.
For the sixth consecutive year, a side event was held at the 61st Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to continue the global discussion on reprioritizing the objectives and indicators used to evaluate drug policies. Recent years have seen a growing appreciation for the intersections between drug policy and the sustainable development agenda, particularly in relation to human rights. Against this backdrop, and as preparations for the High-Level Ministerial Segment of the CND in 2019 continue, the Government of Switzerland, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), Centro De Estudios Legales Y Sociales, Social Science Research Council (SSRC), Global Drug Policy Observatory, and the ICSDP held a side event to examine how the sustainable development agenda might offer opportunities for more effectively measuring the impact of drugs and drug policies, including on human rights.
With the event expertly moderated by Mr. Adrian Franco, National Institute of Statistics and Geography, Mexico, Ms. Cleia Noia, Programme Manager for the Drugs, Security and Democracy Programme at SSRC, began the session by sharing recommendations from a new publication by the International Expert Group on Drug Policy Metrics. Titled, “Aligning Agendas: Drugs, Sustainable Development, and the Drive for Policy Coherence,” the discussion paper argues that aligning the way we measure and evaluate drug policies with the 2030 sustainable development agenda would have two clear benefits; first, such harmonization would help to overcome many of the limitations of drug policies resulting from suboptimal metrics for measuring their impact, and second, help to ensure drug policies enhance, rather than hinder, efforts to achieve the SDGs. Ms. Noia stressed that drug policies must be designed in coordination with other relevant policy agendas to guarantee that achievements in one are not undermined by those in another. A recognition of the interconnectedness of policy agendas is reflected in SDG 17, specifically target 17.14 to “enhance policy coherence for sustainable development.” A key recommendation from the International Expert Group on Drug Policy Metrics is therefore for the UN Deputy Secretary-General to establish a process for developing adequate indicators for target 17.14, including a framework for coherence between drug policy and sustainable development. System-wide coherence would be further reinforced by another recommendation shared by Ms. Noia, which called for the UN Statistical Commission to consider the addition of further SDG indicators related to drugs and drug policies. While only SDG 3 on health and wellbeing includes an explicit indicator in this area, there are at least four other SDGs, as outlined in the discussion paper, that are well positioned for the addition of indicators related to drugs and drug policies. Noting that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing, Ms. Noia concluded by asking Member States to consider how the procedures in place for the sustainable development agenda could be expanded to include their interactions with drug policies, in order to avoid embedding blind spots that would undermine achievement of the SDGs.
Offering concrete examples of drug policy indicators that could be incorporated into the SDG framework, Ms. Marie Nougier, Head of Research and Communications at IDPC, focused on the interactions between drug policy and SDG 5 on gender equality. Beginning with target 5.1 for the end of all forms of discrimination against women, Ms. Nougier stressed that this could be supported through the addition of an indicator measuring cases of discrimination faced by women who use drugs accessing health and social services, given the heightened stigma experienced by this key population. For target 5.2 on the elimination of violence against women, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation, Ms. Nougier emphasized that the SDG indicators framework must track the number of women coerced into the illegal drug market, but also cases of violence by law enforcement officials against women who use drugs, as well as measuring rates of impunity for such cases.
Beyond SDG 5, many other goals and targets could be used to address the issues affecting women and drugs, including Target 1.4 on equal rights to economic resources, or Target 3.3 on ending AIDS by 2030. These represent just a few examples of the many indicators that could be incorporated into the SDG indicator framework, as well as into other international and national evaluation mechanisms on drug policy impacts, such as the Annual Report Questionnaire (ARQ) – the principal mechanism through which Member States report on the impacts of their drug policies to the UN. Ms. Nougier cautioned that without deliberate efforts to apply a gender perspective to the evaluation of drug policies, this will remain a blind spot and certainly hinder the achievement of SDG 5. This will also require that key aspects of the UNGASS Outcome Document be incorporated into the ARQ to ensure that more opportunities are offered for Member States to report back on gender-disaggregated data.
Christian Schneider, Drug Markets and Drug Policy Analyst at the Swiss Federal Office of Police, built upon the discussion by noting that even if indicators are in place, the limitations of the mechanisms used to gather data must also be taken into account. As a contributor to the ARQ, Mr. Schneider has seen firsthand the limitations and challenges posed by self-reported data. Mr. Schneider suggested that the sustainable development agenda and the UNGASS Outcome Document provide an impetus to address gaps in drug policy evaluation by supplementing self-reported ARQs with data sources from other actors, such as civil society organizations. The UNGASS Outcome Document presents several opportunities for improving the evaluation of drug policies, including paragraph 4(h), which suggests the inclusion of human rights information in Member States’ reporting on the implementation of the three drug control conventions, and paragraph 7(g) on improving impact assessments by employing relevant human development indicators and other measurements in line with the SDGs. Mr. Zaved Mahmood, Human Rights Officer at the OHCHR, further emphasized that these can serve as entry points for human rights data collection. Mr. Mahmood shared a recent publication from the OHCHR, titled, “Human Rights Indicators: A Guide to Measurement and Implementation,” which contains relevant guidance for the incorporation of human rights indicators into the evaluations of drug policies. As the review process for the consideration of improvements to the quality and effectiveness of the ARQ continues, Mr. Mahmood encouraged Member States to use this opportunity to consider a more holistic approach to the evaluation of drug policies and ensure the inclusion of indicators pertaining to human rights.Referring to CND Resolution 60/1 (paragraph 6), Mr. Mahmood also urged Member States to explore possibilities to strengthen existing data collection and analysis tools at the national level by using human rights indicators.