“Budapest Group” Releases Recommendations on EU Engagement at 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs

The Budapest Group is a network of European NGOs working in the field of drug policy reform, including Harm Reduction International, the Global Drug Policy Program of the Open Society Foundations (OSF), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Transform Drug Policy Foundation, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and the Transnational Institute.

The group came together at the School of Public Policy in Budapest in August 2015, to discuss influencing the EU position at the upcoming Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem which will be convened in New York in April. The key outcome of the meeting was the production of a statement which has been submitted to the government of the Netherlands (which holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union), as well member state UN missions in Vienna and New York, and relevant government ministries.

These principles, which the group and co-signatories maintain are fundamental to rights-based approaches include: drug policies based on harm reduction principles of pragmatism, dignity, evidence, public health and human rights; reform of the international conventions that frame drug control strategies as these have failed in their core mission to "protect the health and welfare of mankind;" and reorientation of spending from law enforcement and drug eradication to health, education, and development.

"The priority message of the Budapest Group is that civil society organizations must have a central role in the UNGASS deliberations, and that marginalized groups disproportionately impacted by drug policies, including women, youth, ethnic minorities and drug crop cultivators must be engaged in deliberations on, and the design, evaluation and monitoring of drug policies," explained SPP Associate Dean Julia Buxton.

Also a signatory to the statement, Ursula Sanchez (MPA '16) added, "Having seen how the war on drugs in Mexico has taken the lives of thousands of people without solving the drug trafficking problem, I feel committed to call for change in the current international drug policy framework and to engage as many policy-makers as possible in an informed debate."

One of the drafting team, Steve Rolles from Transform Drug Policy Foundation noted that,  "The EU have historically had a key role in promoting health and human right based policy making at the UN, but their engagement with the 2016 process so far has been underwhelming. It is vital that they are champions of change at the UNGASS, not just spectators, while the status quo continues to fail citizens in the EU and across the world'  

The full text is copied below - and the document is also available as a pdf here


A call for EU leadership on drug policy:
Principles and recommendationsfrom EU civil society[1]for EU engagement at the 2016 UNGASS on drugs


  • The guiding harm reduction principles of pragmatism, dignity, evidence, public health and human rights must underpin international, regional and national leveldrug policies.
  • The international drug control system framed bythe three international drug control treaties[2] has failed inits core mission to protect ‘the health and welfare of mankind’and should be modernized to reflectchanged global realities and international obligations in health, gender equality, development, human rights and protection of the environment.
  • There must be a reorientation of spending away from law enforcement, which hasnot reducedglobal drug markets, prevalence or prices,[3]toward the mainstreaming and adequate resourcing of health, education and development approaches.
  • Constituencies impacted by the cultivation, production, distribution and use of drugs as well marginalized populations disproportionately impacted by drug enforcement – including women, youth, ethnic minorities, and people who use drugs, must be engaged in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of drug policies and programs.


  • EU member states must advocate for and support meaningful and constructive engagement ofcivil societyin the UNGASS, including through:

Civil society representation on high level panels and interactive round tables at the UNGASS;
Advocating for prioritization of civil society interventions in UNGASS debates;
Encouraging civil society representation on national delegations;
Active high level participation of EU and member states inthe informal stakeholder UNGASShearing in New York;

  • Given that the UNODC aim of eliminating or significantly reducing the demand and supply of drugs by 2019 is unrealistic,and that strategies to eliminate and eradicateare expensive, unsuccessful, exacerbate violence and social harms, and divert scarce resources from health and social programs, the EU must refrainfrom reaffirming this goal;
  • The UNGASS and resulting outcome document must move beyond simple supply reduction narratives and measurements. Member states should advocate for drug policy evaluation and metrics that relate directly to the key pillars of the UN: human development, peace and security, and human rights, and recommend strategies, metrics and approaches that are informed by the five thematic areas of the UNGASS.
  • The EU must ensure that the UNGASS outcome document is structured around the five thematic areas of the UNGASS, and support the UN General Secretary’s call for the UNGASS to ‘conduct a wide-ranging and open debate that considers all options’[4]

Thematic recommendations

1. Drugs and health

The EU has highlighted that protecting public health is the key objective of the international drug control system, and that marginalisation and stigmatisation of key vulnerable populations, including people who use drugs, must be tackled. Therefore, we recommend that the EU should:

  • Acknowledge the position of the UN OHCHR[5] and UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health[6] that punishment and criminalisation of drug use represents a violation of the fundamental right to health as outlined in the UN Charter, and endorse the standpoint that people who use drugs must not be subject to punishment such as criminal penalties (and the stigma of a criminal record), police harassment, incarceration or other forms of repression;
  • Clearly state that the provision of drug treatment andharm reduction (including in prisons and places of detention) cannot be seen as a policy option at the discretion of States, but be recognized as a core obligation of States to meet their international legal obligations under the right to health[7];
  • Prioritize support for harm reduction as an evidence based, rights affirming set of interventions, including but not limited to, the package of core interventionsoutlined in the WHO/UNODC/UNAIDS ‘Technical guide for countries to set targets for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care for injecting drug users’[8];
  • Acknowledge the global deficit for sustainable fundingof harm reduction programs and support a reconfigurationof resourcing away from punitive responses towards proven harm reduction interventions – as highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health[9];
  • Improve the quality and standards of public health interventions through the promotion of the EU Council recommendations on minimum quality standards in demand reduction;
  • Advocate for the closure of compulsory drug detention centers, in line with the Joint UN statement of 2012[10]
  • Promote the development and implementation of a UN-wide (WHO, INCB, UNODC and UNDP) Action Plan to ensure adequate and equitable availability of essential medicines globally;
  • Reject activities promoted under the banner of ‘alternative development’ (AD) that have unintended adverse consequences on public health such as crop eradication(see also section 4 below).

2. Drugs and Crime

We recommend that the EU should:

  • Take advice from the EMCDDA on establishing an agreed definition of decriminalisation of drug use and the possession of drugs for personal use (as distinct from ‘depenalisation’ or ‘legalisation’), to avoid common confusions in the public and political debate;
  • Expand on its advocacy  for proportionate sentencing related to drug offenses(also advocated in the US ‘nonpaper’ on the UNGASS outcome document[11]) by developingan agreed definition of ‘proportionality’, building upon established EU jurisprudence and referencing the recommendations of the INCB;[12]
  • Call for monitoring of member state adherence to an established definition of ‘proportionality’ principles in sentencing for drugs offences according to clearly defined metrics, including key proportionality tests of fairness and efficacy – and for reporting on such metrics via an independent body;
  • Call for improved metrics for establishing the effectiveness and crime/security impacts of enforcement interventions as the basis for a more comprehensive evaluation of the global drug control system, including how these interventions differentially impact by gender, race and age.

3. Human Rights

We recommend that the EU should:

  • Reaffirm its statement for the High Level Thematic Debate (New York, May 7th, 2015) that:‘from the perspective of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the absolute priority is the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances, including for drug-related crimes as well as the abolition of other practices which are not in line with the principles of human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, solidarity, the rule of law and human rights’;[13]
  • Call for the UN Human Rights Council to request the existing Special Procedures to produceacomprehensive joint report on the human rights impacts of global drug policies;
  • Endorse a new mandate on drug policy and human rights to be established by the UN Human Rights Council, including a permanent processto monitor, assess and report on the human rights impacts of the global drug control system, including analysis of human rights impacts for people who use drugs, people involved in drug markets, and general populations/communities affected by drug policies and drug markets, with special attention to vulnerable sub-populations such as prisoners, women, minority groups, children and young people;
  • As a key donor to the UNODC, call for the full implementation of the provisions outlined in the position paper “UNODC and the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights”[14]to ensure that EU funding is not complicit in facilitating human rights abuses such as the use of the death penalty for drug offences or abusive forms of treatment and rehabilitation;
  • Acknowledge that reaffirmation of the UN drug control treaties is a violation of indigenous  rights as confirmed by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues[15] and as such, constitutes a justification for treaty review. The right of indigenous people from the Andean-Amazon to practice culture and traditions is breached by the prohibition of coca chewing in the 1961 Single Convention.
  • Request UNODC to conduct an annual review of the implementation of its human right guidance to States receiving programmatic funding, the findings of which should be published annually to the CND by the Executive Director.

4. Alternative Development

The European Common Position on Alternative Development (AD) adopted by the Council in 2006[16] has valuable recommendations. These haveinfluenced the global debate in a positive direction, steering it away from an eradication-led approach. However, operationalization of such principles into EU funded projects has been slow and neither the UN Guiding Principles on Alternative Development (2013)nor collaborative USAID projects incorporate the spirit, priorities or principles of the European position. We recommend The EU should:

  • Extend the approach followed in EU support to Bolivia[17]by promoting and pursuingAD approachesthataddress structural inequality, poverty and exclusion as a driver of engagement in drug crop cultivation, drug manufacture and trafficking[18];
  • Encourage more creative responses to the ongoing challenge of rural agricultural development and the continued illicit cultivation of coca, opium poppy, khat and cannabis, including through regulation of domestic markets and raw material exports;
  • Improve the consistency of application of the 2013 UN Guiding Principles on Alternative Development with the EU common position on AD, as well as the development principles and tenure guidelines elaborated by UNDP and the FAO to ensure UN system wide coherence to illicit cultivation;
  • Address the neglect of cannabis cultivation in AD programs(and the reality of decriminalization and quasi-legalized small scale production in some EUmember states) through pragmatic consideration of regulated domestic and export markets, and coherence between AD development initiatives and other pillars of the EU, specifically trade;
  • Promote development indicators in UNODC metrics and an enhanced role for UNDP in AD programmedesign, implementation, monitoring and evaluation;
  • Ensure the meaningful engagement within the UNGASS process of farmers of those cropsthat are used for the illicit production of narcotic drugs,and support the decriminalization of subsistence level farming to enable effective stakeholder participation in AD initiatives.


5. New challenges

We recommend the EU should:

  • Ensure that the ‘new challenges’ theme of the UNGASS outcome document (and roundtable at the event itself) remains a space for discussing political challenges and institutional tensions regarding the global dug control system, as well as discussions concerning NPS and emerging online drug markets;
  • In pursuit of ‘the health and welfare’ of citizens, growing numbers of states are calling for increased flexibility within the global drug control regime, to devise and implement experimental drug policies and programs appropriate to national and local contexts and priorities (including, but not limited to, options for legally regulated markets now being explored and implemented by multiple member states including within the EU). Whilst there is agreement that all policy should operate in compliance with established human rights obligations, opinions differ on the how requests for such legal flexibility (regarding UN drug treaties) should or could be accommodated. We propose that such critical discussions be explored within the context of an expert advisory group (see recommendation below);
  • Advocate for the creation of an expert advisory group tasked with developing recommendations for addressing new challenges within the international drug control systemthat are likely tobecome a focus of tensions or disagreement at the UNGASS – including (but not limited to) UN system wide coherence between UN agencies and treaty mechanisms; modernization of the treaty framework; UN drug control institutions and the drug scheduling system; emerging policy and practice relating to regulation of cannabis and other drugs. Such expert advisory groups have precedent within 1990 and 1998 UNGASS meetings;[19]
  • Balance its focus on the development of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) policy and legislation to ensure equal emphasis on research and promotion of best practice in reducing NPS related health and social harms;
  • Ensure that NPS monitoring and evaluation systems, regionally and globally,include metricsand monitoring systems to evaluate the impact of legislative changes and incorporate data gathered from community organisations.

Budapest Group Organisations:

International Drug Policy Consortium
Transnational Institute                                              
Harm Reduction International                       
Transform Drug Policy Foundation                              
Correlation Network             
HarmReduction International                       
Global Drug Policy and International HarmReduction Programs of the Open Society Foundations
International Network of Peoplewho Use Drugs      
International Federation of the Red Cross
Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign
Romanian Harm Reduction Network
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
Eurasian Harm Reduction Network
Diogenis Association
Initiative for Health Foundation
Polish Drug Policy Network


[1]The “Budapest group” is an informal group of Civil Society organisations convened in Budapest (August 2015) to support and inform EU engagement at the 2016 UNGASS on drugs – details of members are listed at the end of the document

[2]Single ConventiononNarcoticDrugs of 1961 as amendedbythe1972 Protocol; ConventiononPsychotropicSubstances of 1971; UnitedNationsConventionAgainstIllicitTraffic in NarcoticDrugs and PsychotropicSubstances of 1988


[13]See EU statement for the High Level Thematic Debate in New York on May 7th, 2015 http://eu-un.europa.eu/articles/en/article_16424_en.htm

[15]ECOSOC, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Report on the 8th session (18-29 May 2009),

E/2009/43 - E/C.19/2009/14, http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/E_C_19_2009_14_en.pdf

[16]Council of theEuropeanUnion, The EU ApproachonAlternativeDevelopment, 9597/06, Brussels, 18 May

[17]Linda C. Farthing and KathrynLedebur, Habeas Coca - Bolivia’sCommunity Coca Control, OSF Global DrugPolicyProgram, July 2015.