Beyond 2008 – A Global Forum on the 1998-2008 Review of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Illicit Drugs


In June 1998, the UN General Assembly met in a Special Session to address the world drug problem. This was the first time that the General Assembly met solely to focus on drug issues. This event was also unique in that the General Assembly, for the first time, assigned the same level of importance to demand reduction as other components of drug control. The Session culminated in the adoption of a Political Declaration committing some 150 states to the achievement of significant and measurable results in reduction of illicit supply and demand for drugs by the year 2008. Two other resolutions were adopted dealing with Guiding Principles of Demand Reduction and Measures to Enhance International Cooperation to Counter the Drug Problem.

Apart from the Member States’ commitments and pledges adopted on June 10, 1998; the General Assembly, directly or indirectly, called upon NGOs to work closely with governments and others in assessing the drug problem, identifying viable solutions and implementing appropriate policies and programmes.


The Vienna NGO Committee has rich history and experience in convening major international NGO events that have contributed to global drug policy priority setting and decision making.  These include the 1st NGO Forum organized by the Vienna NGO Committee in September 1986 with the financial assistance of the Swedish government. This was a preparatory conference for the 1987 International Conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (ICDAIT).  The NGOs worked in a series of workshops to produce documents on key themes: prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, etc.

A 2nd NGO Forum took place in June of 1987 in conjunction with ICDAIT. This forum saw a representation of approximately 200 NGOs.  The organizing Committee for this event was solely composed by NGO representatives, four from the Vienna Committee and three from the New York Committee. In addition to the success of these two Forums, these events also saw an active representation from several government delegates and a direct influence by the NGO community concerning decisions being incorporated to the CMO.

A 3rd NGO Forum took place in Bangkok in December 1994, with financial assistance of the UNDCP and the Thai government. The organization for this event was carried out in joint partnership with UNDCP and the NGO Committees in Vienna and New York.

Finally, the Vienna NGO Committee organized an NGO Village in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 1998.  This resulted in an active exchange of views amongst various NGO’s along with an address to the UNGASS Plenary Session by six NGO’s representing different points of view.

Overall purpose

The upcoming target date of 2008 for the achievement of “significant and measurable results” presents an opportunity for the NGO community to reflect on its own achievements in drug control, exchange ideas on promising new approaches, reach agreements on ways to work together and make recommendations to multilateral agencies and UN member states on future directions for drug control. Moreover, this target date is a unique opportunity for NGOs to rethink current collaboration mechanisms with UN agencies with a view to establishing a more effective partnership.   Building on their past experience, the Vienna NGO Committee is hosting a 4th International NGO Forum to contribute to the 1998-2008 review and forward looking agenda setting exercise.

Working with the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and numerous governments, the 4th International NGO Forum is meant to substantively contribute the voice of civil society to the singular most important global drug policy review and priority-setting effort.  Given the scores of views on how to best address drug problems today, the Forum will strive to represent a broad range of experience and contributions.  It is also well acknowledged that drug policy spans a vast ideological continuum and this is no different when it comes to the NGO’s associated with that work.  That said, the purpose of the Forum is to focus on the valued added benefit of NGO’s themselves regardless of their ideological stripe.  As such, all efforts will be undertaken so that every stage of the Forum’s development, deliberations and follow-through, will provide a balanced representation among participating NGO’s.


The 4th International NGO Forum will focus on three keys areas.

  1. To highlight tangible NGO achievements in the field of drug control, with particular emphasis on contributions to the 1998 UNGASS Action Plan such as achievement in policy, community engagement, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and social-reintegration.
  2. To review best practices related to collaboration mechanisms among NGOs, governments and UN agencies in various fields of endeavour and propose new and/or improved ways of working with the UNODC and CND.
  3. To adopt a series of high order principles, drawn from the Conventions and their commentaries that would be tabled with the UNODC and CND for their consideration and serve as a guide for future deliberations on drug policy matters.

More specifically, this will include the development of an instrument (questionnaire) to canvass NGOs involved in drug control as a means of collecting information towards the goals identified in the 1998 UNGASS Action Plan.  A series of semi-structured interviews would also be conducted with key NGO informants to obtain more detailed insights on gaps and ideas for future direction.  In addition there would be a review of other NGO/UN consultation mechanisms with a view to recommending a new more systematic and substantive process for NGO contributions to CND and UNODC. A thorough review of the Conventions, their commentaries and other relevant document would be examined to identify a series of guiding principles for consideration and discussion by Forum participants.  Finally, a complete report would be prepared for tabling with CND, UNODC and other appropriate actors.


Forum participants will be invited to attend and will represent a balanced cadre of ideological interests.  More specific participant admission guidelines will be developed as part of the next steps. Anticipating approximately 300 participants, funding is being sought to underwrite the participation of 150 individuals.  While most representatives will be from the health, treatment and prevention sectors the Forum will also include those from the other relevant sectors, such as alternative development and criminal justice.  The International Steering Committee will work with the NGO Crime Alliance Committee among others on this matter.


The timing of the Forum has been contingent on the deliberations of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs which will select the date for the 1998-2008 review.  This has now been set as a two stage process, with the review of progress in achieving the 1998 targets set for the Commission meeting in March 2008 and a high level segment of the Commission in March 2009 to consider future directions for international drug control policy.  This process will require a series of preparatory meetings on behalf of the Commission and others and these are likely to take place during 2008.  The Forum has, therefore, been timed to obtain the maximum and most timely impact on that process and has been set for early July 2008.


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has offered its facilities in Vienna, Austria which has capacity for 300 people.

Governance and management

The forum is an initiative of the Vienna NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs in association with its sister  New York NGO committee.  The Vienna NGO Committee 2nd Vice Chair, Michel Perron, has been appointed Chair of the Steering Committee. Individuals from both committees have been nominated to serve on the International Steering Committee(ISC) and UNODC is also represented on this Committee.  Every attempt has been made to ensure that the Committee represents a broad yet, ideologically balanced membership.  The role of the Committee is to provide general direction to Forum organizers, approve a detailed Forum work plan, monitor progress and maintain stewardship over Forum finances. The task ahead is to secure sufficient financial support and monitor the progress in implementing this project.  The responsibility for executing the project is led by the Programme Committee, chaired by David Turner of CeIS in Rome, and is shared with UNODC which has provided technical support to the project.


A series of sponsors are currently being contacted by the Steering Committee. These include national governments, the European Commission, international organizations and the like.  The UNODC has confirmed is formal support for this event and will provide access to their venue in Vienna at no cost.