What is UNGASS?
UNGASS is an abbreviation for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session. Special Sessions are called by the UN General Assembly for issues requiring special attention. The upcoming session, which will be held on April 19-21, 2016, will be focused on assessing the UN member states progress in implementing the two 2009 documents: the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation toward an Integrated Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem.
UN members states and the civil society are suggesting a variety of issues to include on the Session's agenda. State leaders and non-governmental organizations clearly understand the extent to which UNGASS will impact the current drug policy framework. This is exactly why the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged member states to conduct an open debate.
The debates regarding the setting of the agenda will take another few months, after which it will be approved by the UN political and drug policy bodies.
Relevance of EECA issues for UNGASS
In Eastern European and Central Asian countries (EECA), the HIV and Hepatitis C epidemics are primarily driven by injection drug use. In this context, the repressive drug policies exacerbate, rather than prevent, the spread of these diseases. These policies also result in meaningless incarceration of people who use drugs, prevent their access to care, engender violence, discrimination, and stigmatization, and become a source of major violations of human rights.
For more information regarding specific EECA issues please see the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network's Submission to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
UNGASS for EECA
We trust that UNGASS will be helpful in promoting the issues of great importance for the region. It is clear that post-UNGASS the situation will not change instantly or everywhere. But it will attract the attention of mass media and international community, which can become a solid foundation for the dialogue between the government, civil society, health professionals and researches regarding drug policies and their impact on public health.
How can EECA civil society organizations contribute to UNGASS preparation?
Participation in UNGASS provides an opportunity to meet with national leaders. Speaking at sessions, they will be speaking on behalf of their people, on our behalf. And if this is so, we must insist on holding preliminary meetings to work out our common position.
These meetings are important not only for UNGASS but also for our future collaboration on implementing the outcome documents.
These meetings can take the form of, for instance, roundtable discussions. Governmental officials could also be sent letters requesting them to clarify their intentions regarding the UNGASS. Similar letters could be sent to the officials at the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Justice, and to drug control agencies and parliamentary committees for legal affairs.
EHRN is willing to provide any help necessary in preparation of these letters and organizing meetings with state officials and other stakeholders.