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Cannabis amnesia – Indian hemp parley at the Office International d’Hygiène Publique in 1935


Background: In 2016-2019, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence scientifically reviewed cannabis products. In that context, multiple references to a previous and similar assessment dating back to 1935 were made; but the content, outcome, and stakeholders involved in the 1935 review were unclear.

Method: Transnational historiography of the international conversation on cannabis control in and around 1935, based on previously-unavailable primary material from international organisations, archives, and literature searches.

Results: Two evaluations were undertaken in 1935 and 1938 by the “Comité des Experts Pharmacologistes” convened under the “Office International d’Hygiène Publique” (OIHP), predecessor of the WHO. Five specific medicines marketed by Parke-Davis were briefly reviewed, based on which the Experts recommended placing under international control all cannabis medicines –prior to that, only pure extracts were under control. The measure was confusing; few State Parties to the 1925 Convention implemented it; the second World War precipitated its oblivion. The international community resumed work on cannabis under the WHO in 1952; that same year, the OIHP was definitely closing its doors. No trace of the 1935 events appeared in any post-war proceeding.

Conclusion: Political biasses and numerous methodological and ethical issues surround the 1935 episode: it cannot legitimately be called a “scientific assessment.” The role of stakeholders like Egypt and the OIHP in norm entrepreneurship and advocacy for multilateral controls over cannabis have been largely forgotten; that of the USA somewhat exaggerated. There might be other forgotten pieces of History: predecessor of WHO, the under-documented OIHP had mandates on other important fields, be it drug or epidemics control. Much knowledge on the History of humankind lays in unexplored archival records; errors made and lessons learnt from the past could inform our management of the conflict between public health and politics today. 



WHO’s first scientific review of medicinal Cannabis: from global struggle to patient implications


Background – ‘‘Cannabis’’ and ‘‘cannabis resin’’ are derived from the Cannabis plant, used as herbal medications, in traditional medicine and as active pharmaceutical ingredients. Since 1961, they have been listed in Schedule IV, the most restrictive category of the single convention on narcotic drugs. The process to scientifically review and reschedule them was launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 2 December 2016; it survived a number of hindrances until finally being submitted to a delayed and sui generis vote by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs on 2 December 2020, withdrawing ‘‘cannabis’’ and ‘‘cannabis resin’’ from Schedule IV.

Design/methodology/approach – To evaluate WHO’s scheduling recommendations, the process leading to the Commission vote and subsequent implications at global, national and patient/clinician levels. Narrative account of the four-year proceedings; review of the practical implications of both rejected and accepted recommendations.

Findings – The process was historically unprecedented, of political relevance to both medical Cannabis and evidence-based scheduling generally. Procedural barriers hampered the appropriate involvement of civil society stakeholders. The landscape resulting from accepted and rejected recommendations allow countries to continue creating decentralised, non-uniform systems for access to and availability of ‘‘cannabis’’ and ‘‘cannabis resin’’ for medical purposes.

Originality/value – Perspective of accredited observers; highlight of institutional issues and the lay of the land; contrast of stakeholders’ interpretations and engagement.


Reading Room: Eric Drummond and his Legacies


This is a review of the book: David Macfadyen, Michael D V Davies, Marilyn Norah Carr, John Burley, “Eric Drummond and his Legacies: The League of Nations and the Beginnings of Global Governance” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

The review, by Professor James Cotton, is published in Australian Outlook in the 'Reading Room' section, which provides online Book Reviews from the Australian Journal of International Affairs.

The Institution of International Order: From the League of Nations to the United Nations


This volume delivers a history of internationalism at the League of Nations and the United Nations (UN), with a focus on the period from the 1920s to the 1970s, when the nation-state ascended to global hegemony as a political formation. Combining global, regional and local scaes of analysis, the essays presented here provide an interpretation of the two institutions — and their complex interrelationship — that is planetary in scale but also pioneeringly multi-local. Our central argument is that although the League and the UN shaped internationalism from the centre, they were themselves moulded just as powerfully by internationalisms that welled up globally, far beyond Geneva and New York City. The contributions are organised into three broad thematic sections, the first focused on the production of norms, the second on the development of expertise and the third on the global re-ordering of empire. By showing how the ruptures and continuities between the two international organisations have shaped the content and format of what we now refer to as ‘global governance’, the collection determinedly sets the Cold War and the emergence of the Third World into a single analytical frame alongside the crisis of empire after World War One and the geopolitics of the Great Depression. Each of these essays reveals how the League of Nations and the United Nations provided a global platform for formalising and proliferating political ideas and how the two institutions generated new spectrums of negotiation and dissidence and re-codified norms. As an ensemble, the book shows how the League of Nations and the United Nations constructed and progressively re-fashioned the basic building blocks of international society right across the twentieth century. Developing the new international history’s view of the League and UN as dynamic, complex forces, the book demonstrates that both organisations should be understood to have played an active role, not just in mediating a world of empires and then one of nation-states, but in forging the many principles and tenets by which international society is structured.

Challenges Confronting Whistleblowing and the International Civil Servant


More than 800 international governmental organizations employ thousands of civil servants. Whistleblowers in them confront problems that are both common and uncommon compared with their nation-state counterparts. Drawing upon the relevant literature, as well as stakeholder interview data, a research framework is developed identifying whistle-blower challenges. These dilemmas focus on loyalty, impartiality, and immunity, as well as the desire to hold organizations accountable in a governance system lacking in sufficient checks and balances. In addition, significant hurdles confronting whistleblowers include definitions and policies, retaliation and restitution concerns, visa and short-contract constraints, and a resource gap along with judicial composition issues. Future research is needed because international public servants play a significant role in ensuring a transparent and accountable global system.

United Nations Library Geneva

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Founded in 1919 as the Library of the League of Nations, the Library became the UN Library at Geneva when the League’s assets were transferred to the United Nations in 1946.

The Library serves as a central Library for: the United Nations Office at Geneva; the specialized agencies and other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations headquartered in Geneva; the Permanent Missions in Geneva; interested external students and researchers.

UNOG Library specializes in two major areas:

  • It is a complete depository for United Nations documents and publications and it maintains a comprehensive collection of materials of the specialized agencies and the United Nations affiliated bodies.
  • It collects books, periodicals and electronic resources to support the programmes and activities of the Organization: international law, international relations, political science, humanitarian affairs, human rights, refugees, disarmament, economic and social development, etc.
  • As the former library of the League of Nations, the collections also include some rare materials from the pre-League period.

Highlights of the UNOG Library Collections:

United Nations and Specialized Agencies - The Library houses all United Nations documents and it maintains a comprehensive collection of materials of the specialized agencies and the United Nations affiliated bodies.

Legal and Political Collections - The collections contain books and publications covering international relations and national and international law (dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies, yearbooks, law digests, treaty series, law codes, and monographs).

Economic, Social and Statistical Collections - The collections holds books and publications on economic and social topics such as business, finance, trade, transnational corporations, transport, energy, environment, population, status of women, etc. The collections also contain the latest official statistical publications from most countries of the world and from many intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

UNHCR/Refugee Studies Collection - In 2008 the UNHCR Library was closed and its entire collection was transferred to UNOG Library. UNOG now offers access to all of these materials and continues to build on this collection, regularly purchasing books and electronic subscriptions that support refugee studies research and the work of UNHCR staff.