2016 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS)

2016 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS)

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Problems and Purpose

Given a shift in legal reforms for access to cannabis for non-medical or non-scientific uses, UN drug treaty signors face a dilemma: how do Member States and the UN system address the tension between modernizing drug treaties and reinforcing pillars of human rights, development, peace and security, and the rule of law? As a means of braching the issue, the Mexican State, through the Foreign Affairs ministry, has convened a series of meetings with experts to gain their input in future national policy making and international proposals. 

in 2016-2017, undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Miguel Ruiz Cabañas Izquierdo, and Assistant Executive Secretary for the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) Angela Crowdy, led a gathering of national drug policy authorities, legislators, international experts, representatives from civil society and academic health and public policy experts in a series of discussions on the issue of drug policy and substance abuse; entitled "Hacia una nueva estrategia internacional sobre drogas: Instrumentación de las recomendaciones de UNGASS 2016" .

Background History and Context

Global drug policy was set in three global drug control conventions adopted in 1961, 1971 and 1988. Since the 80's, Mexico has been involved in international efforts to curb drug use and drug trafficking through UN-embedded systems, particularly the Organization of American States (OAS). In 1986 this entity set up the Inter‐American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD). The CICAD acts as the Western hemisphere's policy forum on "all aspects of the drug problem [...] to enhance the human and institutional capacities of its member states to reduce the production, trafficking and use of illegal drugs, and to address the health, social and criminal consequences of the drug trade." In 1988 the UN General Assembly adopted the Political Declaration, which called for Member States to inform the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). The CICAD acts as a policy coordinating liaison between the Member States and the CND. In 1990 and 1998 United Nations General Assembly Special Sessions (UNGASS) were convened to launch consultation groups that would maximize the impact of these special sessions. Specific committees were designated to review the drug audit systems of the UN and to propose recommendations. In 2009 another UNGASS was convened, where the CND adopted the Political Declaration and Plan of Action. 

After deliberations within the OAS a joint statement from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras was put forward calling for "consultations in order to evaluate the achievements and limitations of current policy, as well as in regards to the violence that the production, trafficking and the consumption of drugs generates throughout the world" that "should culminate in an international conference". This spurred moving forward the UNGASS meeting from 2019 to 2016. Mexican authorities came away from the meeting, held from April 19 to 21st in New York, with the intent of instrumentalizing international efforts in the domestic sphere by convening experts from different areas to debate how to deal with the continuing effects of drug trafficking in the country. 

The meetings, which began in September 2016, have gone into February 2017. The first discussion session was entitled "Prevention, drug consumption treatment, and risk reduction", where proposals were heard on how to generate a public health focus that takes into consideration vulnerable populations' needs, including enhancing availability, barriers to prevention service access, and harm reduction treatments. 

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The Foreign Affairs Ministry (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores) is a federally funded entity of the Executive branch in Mexico.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Participants were invited by Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Their method of selection is not publically disclosed. 

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

The event was open to the public but geared towards a dialogue between policy makers and experts. The event has been organized around seven axis from September 2016 to March 2017:

  1. Prevention, Treatment of Drug Consumption and Harm Reduction: Prioritizing the Public Health Focus
  2. Access to Controlled Substances for Medical and Scientific Ends
  3. Comprehensive Answers against the Illicit Drug Supply, and the Prevention of Violence and Crime
  4. New Challenges for the Global Issue of Drugs in the 21st Century
  5. International Cooperation, Common and Shared Responsibility, and Inter-Agency Collaboration
  6. Sustainable Development: Attention to Social and Economic Causes and Consequences
  7. Perspective on Human Rights and Gender: Factors in Attention to Accessibility, and Imparting Justice 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The last session was canceled and to the knowledge of invited speakers, no reports on the previous sessions have been produced.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Outreach towards the Mexican government on the event was initially welcome, but once specific questions to find out what analysis had come of the sessions and additional information on the event's budget and follow-ups to the query were ignored. One interpretation is that the change in US government from a pre-treatment/dovish to a pro-criminalization/hawkish administration has had an effect on the Mexican government's political will to present an inclusive public dialogue on drug policy, also favoring a return to more hawkish top-down policy creation.


See Also

Stakeholder Group Process









External Links




The original submitter of this entry, Isadora Borges Monroy, contacted the Mexican government multiple times for background on the organization and outcomes of UNGASS events. The initial request for information was answered, but no answers were provided once the questions were sent. After, multiple follow up attempts went unanswered. 

Lead image: "UNGASS 2016" Tim Mann/Indonesia at Melbourne https://goo.gl/5qkRJw



Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores
Av. Juarez 20 Col. Centro
Ciudad de Mexico , DIF
Distrito Federal MX
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Donnerstag, September 29, 2016
Donnerstag, März 2, 2017
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