In March 2008, a two-year long 'period of global reflection' on the 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem started. What have been the results? What space was there be for civil society to participate in the different stages of the process? What were the key issues on the table? What kind of improvements in the functioning of the UN drug control system have been achieved?
The most recent UNGASS took place in 2016. To follow the preparations and proceedings check the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) special webpage.

  • Change of Course

    An Agenda for Vienna
    Martin Jelsma
    TNI Drugs & Conflict Debate Papers 6
    March 2003

    By 1998, when the United Nations convened a special General Assembly on drugs, there was already overwhelming evidence that the current approach to global drugs control had failed miserably, given the continuing rise in consumption and production. However, the evidence was ignored and no evaluation of what was wrong with current drug policy took place. Instead, as a New York Times editorial noted, unrealistic pledges were recycled, this time aiming at eliminating all drug production by the year 2008. In mid-April this year, the mid-term review of the goals and targets set by the special session on drugs is to take place in Vienna.

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  • How can Reform be Achieved?

    Revising and Integrating Policies at National and International Level
    Martin Jelsma
    Presentation at the Wilton Park Conference: Drug Policies and Their Impact
    March 27, 2002

    Allow countries and regions more space for policy reform using and stretching the margins of the conventions. Strengthen alliances of like-minded nations to support one another and effectively coordinate efforts at the UN level through informal consultations and strategy meetings. Any crack in the global prohibition regime would not plunge the world into chaos immediately. We should not press for a new global straitjacket but for a model that respects cultural differences. We have to open up the debate about the wisdom of the conventions as they stand.


  • New Possibilities for Change in International Drug Control

    Tom Blickman
    TNI Drug Policy Briefing Nr. 1
    December 2001

    The Executive Director of the Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), Pino Arlacchi, will resign mid-2002. Mr. Arlacchi's position became untenable when the UN Inspector General's Office issued two very critical reports investigating allegations of mismanagement, nepotism and possible fraud. While press coverage focused on the scandals within ODCCP, little attention was given to the negative legacy of Mr. Arlacchi on the direction of international drug control policy itself.

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  • A Lost Opportunity

    Martin Jelsma
    TNI Briefing
    June 1998

    United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS)
    New York, 8-10 June 1998

    The "United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem" held from 8 to 10 June in New York, did not bring any surprises. The drug summit adopted a global strategy to reduce illicit drug supply and demand by 2008. In the General Assembly room, it was an uninterrupted three day sequence of political speeches. All countries could give their own emphasis to the agenda items and present in seven minutes their own more general view on the drugs issue and their policies to deal with it. But, all in all, it has been a lost opportunity, no evaluation of current drug policies took place whatsoever, it was devoted to (as a New York Times editorial phrased it) "recycling unrealistic pledges". 

  • Cheerleaders Against Drugs

    The New York Times (US)
    Tuesday, June 9, 1998

    Manhattan is filled this week with world leaders attending a well-intentioned but misdirected United Nations conference on drugs. With drugs more plentiful and cheaper than ever worldwide, the leaders are mostly extolling failed strategies to combat the problem. Pino Arlacchi, the Italian official who heads the organization's International Drug Control Program, is promising to eliminate coca leaf and opium poppies, the basis of cocaine and heroin, in 10 years. Such claims get in the way of effective programs to reduce drug use.

  • Lessons To Learn

    Ken Bluestone Tom Blickman
    The World Today (Volume 54, Issue 6)
    June 1998

    The United Nations Drugs Control Programme (UNDCP) is rallying support for the UN General Assembly Special Session to Counter the World Drug Problem Together (UNGASS). The UNDCP hopes the meeting will raise the profile of drugs issues and place the agency at the centre of a revitalised global approach to drugs. At the meeting, a series of declarations and action plans on a variety of issues will be tabled. Tackling drugs problems, however, involves more than words. What matters most is how such ideas will be put into action.

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  • Caught in the Crossfire

    Developing countries, the UNDCP, and the war on drugs
    Tom Blickman
    A Joint publication of the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR)
    June 1998

    Drugs control is one of the most controversial issues of the late twentieth century. US-led efforts to wage a ‘war on drugs' have focused on wiping out production in developing countries, rather than tackling the demand for drugs in rich countries. Over time, eradication strategies have become increasingly militarised, and have led to human rights abuses and environmental degaradation. And the war has failed. The amount of drugs produced and drugs-linked crops cultivated have not decreased.

    This briefing is published in the run-up to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, to be held in New York in June 1998. The UNGASS provides a rare opportunity to re-think current drugs efforts. Member states are being asked to endorse a plan, known as SCOPE, for the eradication of drugs-linked crops by 2008. Is SCOPE viable? And what impact would it have on poor farmers who grow drugs-linked crops to survive?

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  • Statement Andean Coca Producers

    On the occasion of the United Nations Special Session on Drugs New York, June 1998
    Andean Council of Coca Leaf Growers (CAPHC)
    May 18, 1998

    The Andean Council of Coca Leaf Growers (CAPHC), which groups together men and women coca growers from Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, met in Puno May 17-18, 1998, to analyze the situation of our people, put a distance between ourselves and the anti-drug policies currently being implemented and propose alternatives that need to be put in practice at the grassroots, demanded from the Andean governments in office today and proposed to the international community.

  • Full scope on the War on Drugs

    The United Nations wants to eliminate illicit drug cultivation by 2008
    Tom Blickman
    May 1998

    An elderly cleaning lady enters the huge empty UN aula in New York with her polishing cart, to get the venue spic-and-span for an important upcoming meeting. A voice in the background explains: "Here, in this room, on the 8, 9 and 10 of June world leaders will join forces to confront the drug problem". As the lady dusts off a globe, in the swaying movement, a roaring helicopter appears spraying herbicides, followed by a fast sequence of images like burning drug crops, heavily armed soldiers and a farmer processing coffee. The voice ends with the slogan: "A drug free world - We can do it!"

  • Background briefing on UNGASS

    Background on the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drug Control
    Martin Jelsma
    TNI Briefing, March 1998

    The "Special Session of the General Assembly to Consider the Fight Against the Illicit Production, Sale, Demand, Traffic and Distribution of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and Related Activities and to Propose New Strategies, Methods, Practical Activities and Specific Measures to Strengthen International Cooperation in Addressing the Problem of Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking" (UNGASS from now on) will take place on 8, 9 and 10 June 1998 in New York. The original impetus for such a global meeting came from Mexico, who back in 1993 proposed to hold a real Summit on the drugs issue, like the ones in Rio (on environmental issues), Kopenhagen (on social issues) and Bejing (on women's issues).


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