Hard News by Russell Brown

6

UNGASS 2016: No one believes in your consensus any more

Last night's Media Take features my report from the UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem: UNGASS 2016. It raises the question of whether the ultimate victory of this UNGASS lies in its failure.

The "outcome document" adopted by UNGASS was deficient; grievously so. A handful of hardline countries had held out a month earlier to enforce a "consensus" that failed to condemn the death penalty for drug offences, or even include the dread words "harm reduction". Even as the consensus document was adopted in the meeting's frst hour, one signatory nation after another rose to emphasise the document had been accepted only "as a start". It was the opposite of an end to the matter.

The feeling of brokenness was futher emphasised by what appeared to be a  political move at the event itself to frustrate the many NGOs present – who were supposed to have played a full and useful role this time. I got caught up in that as a journalist. By the last day of the meeting, my week-long media pass did not gain me entry to even listen to the speeches. (Tip: learn where the back stairs are.)

The victory is that reforming countries will now no longer feel bound to the idea of consensus. They will take their own paths to drug law reform, and many have already begun to do so – with the more or less explicit support of multiple UN agencies. New Zealand's associate Health minister Peter Dunne will properly come under pressure to demonstrate the "boldness" he called for in his speech to the assembly.

Dunne's speech went down well with reformers, but for me the most remarkable address was that by another New Zealander: Tuari Potiki, director of Maori development at the University of Otago, chair of the New Zealand Drug Foundation and a beneficiary of the judicial compassion that directed him to treatment for his hard drug addiction and not prison, when he was 27. In a week when a good deal of bullshit was spoken, Tuari's speech was perfectly direct.

I think you'll see a good deal happen in the next five years. Unfortunately, as Sanho Tree notes in my report, people live in the hardline countries, and those people will continue to have their human rights impaired. We shouldn't give up on them either.

You can watch Media Take here on demand.

And you can see the whole of Tuari Potiki's speech here:

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