The International Narcotics Control Board has, over the past month, been primarily occupied with its activities at the 61st CND.

INCB President Dr Viroj Sumyai spoke in the opening session at the plenary. He referred to the importance of Member States’ compliance with the international drug control treaties (ensuring compliance is the primary mandate of the Board). This, he argued, is essential for enabling access to controlled drugs for medical and scientific purposes, while helping to prevent the diversion of drugs onto the illicit market. On behalf of the INCB, Dr Sumyai called on states ‘to adopt drug policies that respect the rule of law, the principle of proportionality and human rights’.

Human rights was a prominent theme in the Board’s contributions to the CND, a fact that illustrates how far the Board has come since the days when it insisted that human rights were outside the mandates of the international drug control bodies.

The Board presented its Annual Report at the CND. Dr Sumyai reported that it contains a focus on the linkage of drug control with human rights, marking the date of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which falls in 2018. He stated that –

‘INCB continues to emphasize that for drug control action to be successful and sustainable, it must be consistent with international human rights standards.’

The Annual Report also features a thematic chapter entitled Treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration for drug use disorders:  essential components of drug demand reduction.

The Board contends that drug treatment is a ‘highly cost-effective’ response, and should be seen as part of ‘the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health’.

INCB also held a special side event in collaboration with UNODC and WHO; entitled ‘Countries at the Centre’, the session’s objective was to assist countries in implementing the operational recommendations of UNGASS 2016. Drawing on the UNGASS Outcome Document, discussions focused on demand reduction and access to controlled medicines.

Other special sessions held by the Board dealt with what it described as ‘new tools’ to help ensure access to and availability of controlled substances. The INCB President launched three new e-learning courses at the event, for the use of national authorities responsible for reporting on licit trade in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursors. The event also saw the launch of electronic templates for reporting to INCB on narcotic drugs and  psychotropic substances. Further sessions provided the context for further discussion of the Board’s 12ES international import/export system.

Many of the important themes discussed by the Board at the 61st CND also appeared in the informal dialogue with civil society held on March 16th. Some interesting question were posed to Dr Sumyai, who represented the INCB. A delegate from the International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education,  Research and Service (ICEERS) asked why the drug control conventions classify cannabis as a dangerous substance, when such a description is based upon prejudice rather than scientific evidence. The Board, despite describing this as an ‘interesting question’, effectively side-stepped it, and neglected to provide an answer, instead referring to the technical processes of the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) at WHO.

Overall, however, the INCB was a positive presence at this year’s CND, and its contributions were by and large progressive, re-stating opposition to the use of the death penalty, advocating access to medicines, strongly supportive of human rights, and making itself available to civil society for discussions.