Side Event: Human Rights in Action: Implementing the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

Organized by the Office of the High-Commissioner for Human Rights with the support of Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Malta, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Uruguay, and the Council of Europe, the European Union, the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organization

Zaved Mahmood (OHCHR). ‘The OHCHR is very pleased to co-organise this event, which demonstrates the every-growwing support that the International Guidelines are receiving. This year is the 5th anniversary of the UNGASS Outcome Document, where Member States reiterated their commitment to uphold human rights in drug policies. In 2018 31 agencies of the United Nations adopted a common position on drug matters, which is a great great guideline for our work’.

Federal Drug Commissioner of Germany. ‘The World Drug Problem remains unsolved, and it itself seems to be deteriorating. UNGASS 2016 has been a milestone in our joint efforts – we must persevere our work towards the implementation of this document. It also emphasises the rights of all people, not only drug users, but drug smullgers and growers of illegal crops. This includes fair trail, proportionate punishment, access to education.

The International Guidelines were presented 2 years ago. They have already been proven to be instrumental, as they have been cited in several international documents. They were referenced in the EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025, most recently.

Germany has been supporting the development and implementation of the Guidelines through regional dialogues, programmes in countries like Albania, and through the recent Brandenbourg Forum on establishing a linkeage between drug policies and and human rights. Let’s keep working on this path.’

Juli Hannah (University of Essex). The Guidelines provide us with a shared language, and shared principles for promoting human rights in drug policies. In two years, the Guidelines have been used by communities, governments, national courts, and advocates.

We have also convened two regional dialogues – for Latin America and the Caribbean, and for South East Asia, bringing together civil society, communities, governments. We have aimed to ensure that all actors can sit together to organically develop policies on the basis of human rights.

A video on the International Guidelines is played. Excerpt from this video: ‘To drive further progress on drug polciies, UNDP and the University of Essex, in partnership with other countries and UN agencies, developed the Guidelines. The Guidelines are based on three pillars: health, development, and criminal justice. They have been cited by the Constitutional Court in Colombia, and by UN expert group on women. In line with the SDGs, governments have the responsibility to place human rights at the heart of responses to drugs.’

Rodrigo Uprimny (Dejusticia & member of CESCR). ‘I am speaking in my personal capacity, not as member of CESCR. Having said that, I will develop four points.

1/ The importance of the Guidelines. They contribute to create a bridge between human rights law and the drug policy regime, which were for a long time separated. The Gudelines are very concrete. They provide detailed guidance to Member States. They are very weil grounded on sound law. They are useful for advocates, monitoring bodies, and public officials.

2/ The Committee has used the guidelines in an implicit and an explicit form. Implicitly, you will see that the findings of the committee are very closely aligned with the guidelines in aspects such as the decriminalisation of drug use, the understading that harm reduction is part of the right to health, and at least in regards to South Africa and Colombia the Committee has found that herbicides cannot be used to spray illicit crops unless you follow the principle of precaution, and without providing alternative income to producers. We have also mentioned them explicitly in the concluding observations on Benin.

3/ The use of the Guidelines by the Colombian judiciary. The Guidelines have been cited explicitly in 3 important rulings. Two rulings by the Constitutional Court – in 2018 they were cited as providing an auhtoritative summary of international standards on drug policy, in a ruling that resulted in declaring inconstitutional the criminalisation of any drug use in any space. In another ruling, the Constitutional Court stated that any spraying should incorporating the principles established in the Guidelines, particularly the principle of precaution.

4/ How can the Guidelines be used. In many ways – as a supportive document, i.e. not as a legal document that provides the key ratio decidendi, but as an add-on to the reading of the law; and in itself as an authortative documen.  As years go by the value of the Guidelines as a normative document will increase’.

Teresa Caeiro (Portugal).  ‘For many years, it has been agreed at European and UN level that the response to drug trade must be implemented in compliance with human rights. However, the focus has been mostly directed to state obligations, with some limitations on practical use. There has been an increasing discussion on creating human rights indicators for drug policies, and the Guidelines are major step in that direction.

The Pompidou Group, which is part of the Council of Europe, is in a unique position to make a contribution to this issue. We created an expert group that should develop a self-assessment tool to let each country understand the human rights situation related to drugs. We have started working since June 2020. The tool is not intended to compare countries or to identify violations, but to provide an assessment of law, practices, etc., to make concrete human rights progress. The Pompidou Group will publish the tool, but will not compile information on how it is implemented.

We are conscious of the existing reporting obligations and the high workloads for public officials. So we did not create more obligations or standardised indicators. The application of the tool will make it easier to understand how drug policies impact human rights, and will provide guidelines on the implications of human rights in the development of drug policies. With this tool, we want to complement the Guidelines .

Karen Dumpit. (Human Rights Commission PH). ‘Looking forward to work with the UN in the context of the UN joint programme on capacity-building on human rights to the Philippines. We have plans to bring home the International Guidelines.’

Boyan Konstantinov (UNDP). ‘The International Guidelines are important to UNDP because we are one of the co-sponsors of UNAIDS, as well as for UNDP’s broader development mandate. Drug policies have huge implications on development’.

Benny Muller (Switzerland). ‘For me the two main issues for traditional drug policies and practices are (1) the destructive impact of punitive lwas, and (2) the failure of these policies at their own goals. This is why we are co-sponsoring the Guidelines, and are encouraged that they are being successful.

Emily Christie (UNAIDS). ‘UNAIDS just released a new strategy that highlights the role of human rights HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care. We will continue to support the development of the Guidelines in the coming years’.

Alberta Borg (Malta). ‘The Guidelines are particualrly important for people belonging to marginalised groups. They are not a theoretical document, but provide practical guidance. They have been successfully implemented by courts, practitioners, and adovcates, from development to criminal justice and health. These are tools to place people at the centre of drug policies. So let’s keep promoting the use of these Guidelines across the world’.

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