50th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

For half a century, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND)-UNODC's governing body in the drugs field-has been a cornerstone of the international legal framework for drug prevention and control. Established in 1946 as one of the first functional commissions of the newly created United Nations, it is the legislative authority on substances under international control.

The Chairman of this year's 50th session of the CND, Ambassador Hans Lundborg of Sweden, urged Member States in his opening address to keep abreast of the evolving drug situation.

"The Commission continues to tackle matters of serious international concern that affect the health, welfare and security of our communities," Ambassador Lundborg said. "We are looking at a moving target. But we must be looking at it to take preventive action, and not from behind, in a reactive fashion."

Three main drug control treaties

CND Chairman,
Ambassador Hans Lundborg of Sweden

Key CND achievements include the three major international drug control treaties: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) and the Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988). These treaties form the backbone of the international drug control system.

The three treaties are mutually supportive and complementary. The 1961 Single Convention extended drug control, which had previously only covered opium and coca, to cannabis and any substance with similar effects to those specified in the treaty.

The Single Convention aims to limit the possession, use, trade, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes. It also urges international cooperation to deter and discourage potential drug traffickers. 

In the late 1960s, the world witnessed increased abuse of hallucinogens, such as LSD, which were not covered by the Single Convention. In response, the CND agreed the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which was worded to include almost any conceivable mind-altering drug.

"With drug control, we are looking at a moving target. We must look at it to take preventive action."

CND Chairman
Ambassador Hans Lundborg of Sweden

"Global controls have stabilized the supply of illicit drugs as well as demand. The world drug problem is being contained."

UNODC Executive Director
Antonio Maria Costa

Neither of these treaties dealt with trafficking in drugs. The 1988 Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, however, provides comprehensive measures against drug trafficking, including provisions against money-laundering and the diversion of precursor chemicals. It provides for international cooperation in areas such as extraditing drug traffickers.

Is drug control working?

Eva Tongue, Chair of the Vienna NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs, Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC Executive Director.

"Global controls have stabilized the supply of illicit drugs as well as demand," said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa at the opening session of the CND. "The world drug problem is being contained."

He acknowledged that there are specific areas where containment is not working, such as with cannabis or in specific countries. These vast and complex areas demand a more comprehensive approach than that provided by aggressive counter-narcotic measures alone, he said.

As Member States have developed a broader view of the drug problem over time, taking into account health, socio-economic and law enforcement concerns, the CND has been an important forum for debate. It has provided participants with an opportunity to exchange lessons learned and a framework to disseminate early warning about dangerous trends.

1998 General Assembly special session and beyond

In 1998, the United Nations General Assembly held a special session known as UNGASS devoted to countering the world drug problem. Member States agreed a political declaration that set out a number of drug control targets to be achieved by 2008. These targets include eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit manufacture, marketing and trafficking of psychotropic substances as well as the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, cannabis plant and opium poppy. Furthermore, the declaration called for significant and measurable results to reduce the demand for drugs.

CND delegates at work

Recognizing the crucial role of the CND in coping with these complex challenges, the General Assembly asked the Commission to monitor and report on the progress made towards meeting these targets.

Speaking at the CND on behalf of the Asian Group, Ambassador Shahbaz, the representative of Pakistan, said it supported the review of implementation and follow-up of the UNGASS political declaration. The group urged the CND to build on the momentum gained so far to engage in a more productive discussion on how to eradicate the production, trafficking and demand for illicit drugs.

Michel Perron
First Vice-Chairman of the Vienna NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs

In recent years, the Commission has promoted the notion of shared responsibility. Executive Director Costa argued that there has been a "Copernican revolution in drug control which has ditched the woefully wrong notion that the world drug problem could be solved by disciplining a few thugs (in drug producing countries) while ignoring the responsibility of rich, consuming nations and the drama of their addicts."

Ambassador Lundborg agreed, noting that UNGASS was the first time the international community had looked at drugs as a problem affecting everyone, not just individual countries. Member States adopted a package of comprehensive and concrete measures covering all aspects of drug control. They emphasized the need for international cooperation and having concrete targets over time, with due prominence to drug abuse prevention.

Looking ahead, UNODC will continue to do its best to support the work of the Commission, to build on a successful half-century tradition of making the world safer from illicit drugs. "Our common efforts are not over, not for a long time, but progress is undeniable," Mr. Costa said.