Home » Side event: From abstract principles to concrete guidance: International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

Side event: From abstract principles to concrete guidance: International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

Organized by the Governments of Canada, Germany, Mexico and Switzerland, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.

The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy can be accessed online here.

H.E. Ambassador Claude Wild, Switzerland: Celebration of a milestone. Today we launch the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. Fruitful collaboration between International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy and concerned entities in the UN family including WHO, UNAIDS, and UNDP.

H.E. Ambassador Alicia Buenrostro Massieu, Mexico: Addressing one of the most urgent tasks, which is having human rights upheld in all activities including drug control. Time has come to move from words to concrete action. In 2015, HRC adopted first resolution on this topic. In 2016, UNGA also supported this. Main reason why 2016 will be remembered as a milestone. UNGASS redefined the terms of the international debate by broadening the scope of drug policy as reflected in the seven themes. Recognized importance of mainstreaming a human rights approach and bringing this to the centre of all our responses. Drugs and human rights, with a focus on youth, women, and communities. UNGASS outcome document highlights that drug policies have to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as health, safety, and wellbeing. Pushing for non-discriminatory access to health and treatment purposes, including in prisons. Ensure that women have access. Outcome document welcomes 2030 agenda, including pledge to leave no one behind. Efforts to achieve SDGs and combat world drug problem are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Several SDGs reflected in international drug strategy. INCB emphasized importance of fulfilling human rights and that drug control must be consistent with health standards. CND is increasingly favoring development of more fair and humane drug policies. UNGASS 2016 represented an invaluable opportunity for Mexico to address the world drug problem in a more comprehensive manner. Complying with obligations to protect human rights to progress toward effective implementation of the UNGASS outcome document. Mexico supports generation of synergies between specialized UN agencies. Play an important role and invite them to keep doing so.

H.E. Ambassador Claude Wild, Switzerland: Long track record of promoting human rights in drug policy. Presented first ever resolution on this topic to HRC in 2015. OHCHR required to provide an input to the UNGASS, closing the knowledge gap on the impact of drug policies on human rights. When the idea of elaborating guidelines was presented, they had our attention. Switzerland proud to support. Expand a global network of states to increase political support for the guidelines to advance their implementation. In Vienna we discuss harm reduction, in New York we discuss the right to health. Challenge to bring these universes together is huge. Common aspiration where states design and implement effective drug policies while respecting human rights. Joining forces with civil society. Guidelines provide solid advice. Assist in policy review, negotiations, and advocacy. Relationship between world drug problem and sustainable development and human rights is complex. Second resolution at HRC in 2018. Focus has to be implementation of UNGASS outcome document. Bring guidelines to life. Convinced they will be instrumental on the road towards evidence-based drug policies compliant with human rights obligations.

Dr. Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director, HIV, Health and Development Group, UNDP: We are in the fourth year of implementing SDGs. Landmark commitment to work together. UNDP understands inclusive and sustainable development requires putting human rights at the core of our work. Applicable to drug policy, which cuts across many aspects of sustainable development. Ensuring that drug policy and SDGs are coherent is both essential and mutually reinforcing. Focus on marginalized communities. Intention to mainstream gender and drug control policy. Proud to support SG efforts for system wide coherence. Gender equality. Poor and marginalized women can become involved in the drug trade because gender discrimination limits employment opportunities. While at the lowest levels, subject to severe penalties. Factors impede access of women who use drugs to health services, such as sexual health care and childcare. In some countries, drug use triggers reporting to childcare services and terminates parental rights. Treatment gap between men and women. Most people who are sanctioned are users or low in the supply chain. More women than men are imprisoned. Criminal record negatively affects employment, housing, child custody, and voting. Prisons can fuel bloodborne diseases for people who use drugs. Important to better integrate drug policy and human rights. Guidelines are the product of research, expert review, and inclusive multi-stakeholder consultations. Specific efforts made to engage communities affected. Reaching those furthest behind first. Do this by looking at systemic barriers. Guidelines provide concrete way to support member states to better align sustainable development, human rights, and drug control commitments in a way that puts people at the centre.

Ms. Annette Verster, Department of HIV and Viral Hepatitis, WHO: Guidelines provide one stop review about human rights overlap with drug policy. Focus is to maximize human rights protections. Drug issue cuts across multiple SDGs, including ending poverty, reducing inequality, and improving health. SDG 3 includes targets on drug use, tuberculosis, HIV, and access to medicines. Dichotomy as on one hand people are dying from harmful use of drugs while on the other hand people suffer from lack of access. Critical to balance health and human rights. Driven by marginalization, stigma, and restrictive social norms. Responding to harms of drug use has human rights implications. Deaths could be prevented as could many health and societal burdens of drug use. ¾ world population do not have access to opioid analgesics. Contribute to avoidable suffering. Need to work together to address challenges in a balanced way. WHO was founded on health to be enjoyed by all people. Health of all people is fundamental to peace and security. Principles remain relevant today as then. International efforts should align to achieve SDGs including 3.8. Making universal drug coverage a reality. Harm reduction interventions are fully integrated into country health interventions. Triple billion targets. One billion more benefiting from universal health care, one billion more protected from health emergencies, one billion more benefiting from better health and wellbeing. No addressing of decriminalization or harm reduction in the UNGASS outcome document, but better than 2009. Gives prominence to place of human rights. We know what works but often this limited by political opposition. WHO recommends comprehensive approach of health and social structures. Supportive legal and political environment needed. WHO advocates for promotion of use of our guidance. Use universal healthcare as a platform to include access to health interventions and propose indicators to measure progress. Participation of civil society should be facilitated in all aspects of design, implementation, evaluation, and monitoring of drug policy. Countries commit to SDGs and ensure that everyone can access quality care.

Mr. Tim Martineau, Acting Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS: Drug problem has led to unintended but perhaps expected harms. Biggest casualties are people who use drugs. Harm reduction, decriminalization, and zero discrimination needed. HIV infection among people who inject drugs is rising. People who inject drugs account for approximately ¼ of new infections outside sub-Saharan Africa. Drug policy increases vulnerability to harm too often. Human rights are paid lip service, but need to be upheld. Guidelines begin with the right to health. Clear that under this right there is access to harm reduction services. Emphasize that services should be adequately funded, comply with human rights, and be tailored for vulnerable groups. Limited access to harm reduction globally. Guidelines make clear that there is a human rights basis for decriminalization of drugs for personal use. Harms to health that criminalization can have. Intersecting forms of discrimination can have compounded effects. Women who inject drugs are more likely to have HIV. Separate guidance on women and children in guidelines. For young people, guidelines point to need to remove age restriction barriers to treatment and provision of harm reduction services. Guidelines will be a critical resource as we push forward at the country level.

Justice Edwin Cameron, Constitutional Court, South Africa: Panel represents pinnacle of “nothing about us without us.” Constitutional commitment my country represents reflected in guidelines. Inspiring document. At their core lies the concept of rights and human dignity. South Africa able to turn to constitutionalism and human rights because for prior years had been used to opposite effect. We turned away from that during constitutional negotiations and resolved ourselves to find a better way. Poignant parallel in disaster of last hundred years of drug policy. These guidelines are turning away from subordination of human rights. Stigma is at the heart of why criminalization is so vicious. International policy on drug use is catastrophic rejection of evidence and logic. Harsh drug laws are justified as furthering health and welfare of human beings, but criminalizing personal use heightens risky use. Drives people away from treatment and other services. Criminalization of drug use pushes people to the margins and strips them of dignity. Affects the most marginalized, poor, women (including transgender women and sex workers), and ethnic minorities. People who use drugs face exclusion, marginalization, and stigma.  Denial of harm reduction services has fueled the opioid overdose crisis. High rate of incarceration has health and social consequences. Crisis is made by us and our human institutions. We are at a tender time of challenge to international institutions and solidarity. Important to strengthen international institutions. Commit ourselves to development of international norms. Important for lawyers and judges to know international norms can be developed to inspire, lead, and guide practically. Global commission on HIV has played an important role. In 2012, commission launched a report on how punitive laws and practices fueled HIV epidemic. Since 2012, more than 89 countries have taken action to repeal or reform laws in this field. Human right principles are therefore of great practical importance. Guide abolition of destructive laws. In South Africa, viciously harsh laws against tiny amounts of dagga (cannabis). Prison full of black women for use of dagga. Dagga has harms, but the question is why did we single it out to punish people and fill prisons? Irrational. Struck down unanimously. Hope there will be more changes and commitment to rationality. These guidelines will play a key part in that.

Professor Rodrigo Uprimny, Researcher, DeJusticia; Member, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Speaking in personal capacity. Guidelines have three important qualities: a) timely, b) well-crafted, and c) practical. Drugs policies are a major factor in human rights violations (e.g., death penalty for non-violent drug offences, mass incarceration). Prohibition has created a very powerful illegal market associated with corruption and violence that affects democratic processes. Strong separation between human rights discussion and drug policy. Didn’t talk to each other. Berlin wall between Geneva and Vienna. Has been very problematic. Wall has fallen at least in the last five to six years. Strong statements that drug policy has to respect human rights. Another way is treaty bodies and OHCHR have been more involved. Other committees have done the same. UN common position adopted in November 2018 says clearly that we must build a bridge between human rights and drug policy. States ask themselves how to do that. Guidelines arrived at a good time. Well-crafted because they are careful. They took a minimalistic approach. Only obligations that are based on existing law. Make clear distinctions between hard law and authoritative interpretation of existing law, more soft law, other cases more authorization. Goes into the case of different rights, including beyond right to health and right to life. Right to privacy, right to due process, and right to adequate standard of living also included. Links to rights not commonly linked. Focuses on specific populations including children, women, Indigenous peoples, and persons deprived of liberty. Included methods of implementation. Practical because enables member states to consider implications of policies. For example, if Colombia is considering re-establishing aerial spraying, must account for environmental impact and principle of precaution (i.e., aerial spraying can have negative impact on environment and health), as well as provide people with alternative adequate standard of living. Another example is issue of harm reduction and opioid substitution treatment. Some states say we don’t provide opioid substitution treatment because it violates conventions (replacing one drug of dependence with another). These are treatments that are evidence-based. Have to develop policies according to evidence base. Guidelines stress these points.

Ms. Judy Chang, Executive Director, International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD): INPUD is a global peer-based organization that works to defend rights of people who use drugs and to address stigma and criminalization. Guidelines are of huge significance for our community. Prohibition has left many of us fighting for survival. Drug control and human rights system must cease to behave as if they are in parallel universes. Right to health. More than 200,000 drug-related deaths a year. 1/3 to 1/2 of those are overdoses. Since 2008, 4000 people executed for so-called drug offences. 27 extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. Reports of more of these across the region. HCV and HIV prevalence high among people who inject drugs. Lack of access to harm reduction programs due to moral judgements. 450,000 people illegally detained in compulsory drug detention centres. Laws are discriminatory in application and intent. First laws targeting drug use were used against Chinese migrant populations. Criminal justice system continues to discriminate against people of colour, women, and other minorities. Majority face stigma and are traumatized by this. Guidelines are significant for people who use drugs because we have been advocating for a rights-based approach for years. Instead of needing rescue, recognizes us as citizens deserving of fundamental freedoms and liberty. We have the right to self-determination. Do not need more people working for or on our behalf, but with us. In 2015, INPUD produced a consensus statement declaring inherent rights of people who use drugs. Integrated and shared consensus statement with guidelines. In 2018, consultation on human rights and drug policy guidelines held with 20 drug user representatives from around the world and provided input on last iteration. Made recommendations on content, style, and format. Community excited about these guidelines. Universal declaration of human rights to mitigate human designed disasters. War on drugs has cost millions of lives and impacted families and future generations. Decriminalization is the first critical step. Reminding us that human rights takes precedence to drug control. We will work towards implementation of guidelines. Hope that those with decision making power see these guidelines as a blueprint for change.

Ms. Marlene Mortler, Federal Drug Commissioner, Germany: Thanks to all those involved. Dimensions and quality of guidelines are a clear testimony to their work. Express respect for excellent work. Respect for human rights is a precondition to drug policy. Destruction of drug fields can devastate livelihood of affected rural populations. Have to reduce amount of land used for drug cultivation, while at the same time the livelihoods of the population have to be protected. Global partnership on drug policy and development made a decisive contribution to guidelines. Funding for another three years. Not only in drug producing countries that human rights must be respected. Ongoing task in Germany. Need to consider how to improve access to treatment for incarcerated people. Importance of respecting human rights in all regions of the world when dealing with narcotic drugs. Hope the future sees the guidelines spread and find practical implementation in many cases.

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