"It is essential that civil society organizations be heard and involved in the development of public policies"
On the occasion of the XVII Seminar on Drugs and Cooperation of the RIOD (Ibero American Network of NGOs working in the Field of Substance Abuse) which began on April 13 in Cordoba (Spain), we release the first part of an interview with Ms. Margarita Sánchez, President of RIOD. Ms. Sanchez explains the purpose of RIOD and its engagement in the context of the preparation of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, to be held in 2016
What is RIOD, how has it emerged and how did it organize?
Margarita Sánchez: The RIOD is the Ibero American Network of NGOs working in the Field of Substance Abuse. it was created back in 1998, after a meeting in Cartagena (Colombia) between the Spanish Cooperation and a delegation of Spain’s Drug Plan, with the participation of several civil society organizations. At that time, an initiative to establish cooperation between Spain and Latin America was taken. Another essential mechanism to this cooperation was to create a network of NGOs representing all countries. As a result, a coordination process begun and the network has now been operational for over 16 years.
However, the focus of our work has evolved, for example we now have a strategic working plan whose lines are aligned with the changes in drug policies that occur nowadays. In addition, we have an institution-building line dedicated to promote exchanges, debates and research opportunities – we expect this strategic line to enable us to assess organizations in various countries and evaluate their ability to provide efficient responses to drug-related problems in the field of addiction.
One of the strategic priorities of our work plan, and the very meaning of networking, is to speak with one voice and express the reality of specific contexts, as well as the importance that organized civil society not only be heard, but also be involved in the development of public policies.
What does RIOD do as regards the preparation of the UNGASS?
We are very excited to participate in the Task Force (the Civil Society Task Force, in preparation for the UNGASS – editor's note), I think it is an important opportunity and a challenge for the NGOs. The RIOD has a huge potential for participation because we are represented in almost all Latin American countries. Furthermore, within our network we are affiliated with other networks such as the Latin American Federation of Therapeutic Communities (FLACT) or the Conference of NGOs (CoNGO).
Each country has its own organizations; this gives us the opportunity not only to disseminate our knowledge but also to capture information useful to the process that is being developed, so that, through the Civil Society Task Force, Latin America and the Caribbean be able to pass on information on their own reality and experiences, and contribute to the evolution of drug policies.
It is necessary to consider the critical issue of reducing drug demand, to improve access to treatment, it is important for countries to consider having efficient and balanced policies between supply control and demand reduction, and to develop effective reintegration measures for all those who are now suffering, who need to be considered and have their fundamental rights respected.
The second part of the interview will be dedicated to Colombian NGO 'SURGIR', of which Ms. Sanchez is director general