Rome Consensus Luncheon Briefing

From: “Rome Consensus Luncheon Briefing”- United Nations Vienna International Centre 14 March 2006
Speech by Dr. Massimo Barra, President, Italian Red Cross

It is a true pleasure to address representatives from country delegations and international organisations on the occasion of the 49th Session of the Commission of Narcotic Drugs. The Commission does an important work; too often underestimated. For the Commission shape policies that affect the most vulnerable groups and communities throughout the world. Those very groups affected by the drug problems, ranging from the poor farmers in the South of Afghanistan, the injection drug users in our city streets to their communities at large.

And the Red Cross cares about vulnerable people. This is in fact one of the fundamental missions of The Red Cross: to advocate for the most vulnerable people. The ones who lack a voice. The Red Cross has shown a commitment throughout its history to address drug problems. Before the current drug conventions were even written, in 1922 at the Bangkok Conference, the Red Cross was calling for sensible, humanitarian action to tackle drug use. Through this historic progress, renewed in 1976 and 1985, the highest governance of the Red Cross Movement systematically called on the governments to bring their moral and material support to actions fighting vulnerability. Our National Societies have a unique position.

A bridge between society and governments. As auxiliary to public authorities we make an important difference, first and foremost by being able to reach all groups and levels of society. Since founding one of the first drug user care centres in Italy thirty years ago, I have met more than 30,000 users. If I have learned anything, it is that stigmatisation and lack of care for drug victims is unwise and destructive, not only for the users themselves but for the communities in which they live. Stigmatisation kills. A drug user is already dangerous to himself. But a drug user who is not known and taken care of in a human way is twice more dangerous. With its universal neutrality and activities on the ground, allows the Red Cross to reach all groups.

This is what we call the power of humanity of our Movement. And I believe that in drug policy as in any other complex policy, this power of humanity can help avoiding producing the wrong actions that stigmatise and ultimately kill. It is in this spirit that 20 National Societies from Central Asian and Eastern Europe met in Rome last December under the auspice of the Italian Red Cross and The Senlis Council to discuss further actions to bridge the gap between public health and drug policy. Drug control should not rely only a narrow responses. It is the policy of and for the most vulnerable.

The principles of harm reduction are important steps in the right direction. But harm reduction is a fire-fighting strategy, a desperate attempt to limit the damage within an overall dysfunctional approach. This is why those 20 National Societies have signed a common declaration – the ‘Rome Consensus for a Humanitarian Drug Policy’. The Consensus calls for putting drug policy at the forefront of social concerns. Any individual has the right to health – drug users too. This historic document is reminding governments of this fundamental right. Obviously the Red Cross is still learning, sometimes hesitating, but its fundamental mission of ‘Spreading the light of science and the warmth of human sympathy’ always shows us the way forward.

To conclude, the Red Cross, but also civil society always go where human progress and sympathy calls them. When governments fail to follow such path, we will keep on going forward, bringing the warmth of human sympathy to the most vulnerable. Drug policy has lacked for too long this warmth. National governments and the international community must catch up with this progress at the grass root level and acknowledge that time for a humanitarian drug policy has come.

Thank you very much.