Home » Informal Civil Society Dialogue with OHCHR, UNAIDS & UNDP

Informal Civil Society Dialogue with OHCHR, UNAIDS & UNDP

Augusto, VNGOC. Thank you very much for being here today in the room and online. We have 18 questions so let’s start the process now.

For ALL: Eurasian harm reduction association / Eurazijos žalos mažinimo asociacija. My question is about planned coordinated actions to get governmental commitments to decriminalize drug use and possession for personal use in the framework of achieving Global AIDS 10-10-10 targets: are there any plans to organize global coordinated actions with civil society and community joint task force, strategic initiative or working group to track the progress and to coordinate advocacy effort on decriminalization specifically?

Emily Christie, UNAIDS. Yes, there are plans to pull together an initiative on decrim. We have a programme on stigma and discrimination but we also need specific actions on decrim. We are in the early stages of this and will do consultations this year on this initiative.

Boyan Constantino, UNDP. When it comes to the 10-10-10, UNDP is partnering in implementing a global project with all PEPFAR countries to help deliver the 10-10-10 better. We work with community organisations on this. The 10-10-10 scale project is in its 2nd year of implementation and we support 45 community organisations globally. We focus on Malawi, Togo, Ukraine. We collect evidence on the first 10 (removing punitive laws, policies and practices). We have done a global discussion with you on the pathways to achieve 10-10-10 which is available on the UNDP website.

Zaved Mahmood, OHCHR. On this question, I want to say that the HRC adopted a resolution on human rights and HIV. The colleague who work son this issue is not here but the inputs were provided for coordination on this issue. In June, member states will negotiate a new resolution on HIV and human rights so there is another opportunity to coordinate work with civil society and other partners to ensure that this resolution includes harm reduction and decriminalisation so that we can get more guidance on that. OHCHR will also produce another report on HIV and human rights with inputs from civil society. This report can be another tool.

Karin office of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health. Our work is complementary to OHCHR. The UNSR will present a report on harm reduction from a health perspective, and a report to the UN General Assembly on harm reduction in humanitarian settings and crisis. We hope that the call for submissions will be released next week, stay ready, you have 4 weeks to send information.

For UNAIDS: Southeast Asia Harm Reduction Association (AHRA), Murdo Bijl (Thailand). Given the role stigma plays in perpetuating punitive drug policies and its profound epidemiological impact on HIV, TB and HCV transmission in Southeast Asia, how does the UNAIDS see harm reduction and public health being part of a more compassionate responses?

For OHCHR: International Drug Policy Consortium, Ann Fordham (global). What recommendations do you have for the human rights impacts of drug policy to take the centre stage at the CND in Vienna?

Zaved. For almost 7 years we’ve been involved at CND and since 2015 the HRC has released 3 resolutions and OHCHR released 3 reports ewhich we shared with the CND. We are connecting the dots between Geneva and Vienna and we see member states welcoming our role and that of human rights. We also need to reach out to national, regional and other international contexts, not just Vienna. Human rights should be at the centre. In Vienna, at the CND, recommendations for member states would be to take our report recommendations and reflect on that in your resolutions. Use the human rights principles, treaty body conclusions. Last year, the AD resolution used stronger human rights language on the rights of indigenous people, the Canadian resolution on stigma included strong language, as did mentions on children’s rights in the Belgian resolution this year. During the discussion, we have noticed that member states and civil society have taken note of our report. We welcome the statement by the 62 countries at the HRC referring to the report for further discussion, in addition to the large number of countries having done so in their individual capacity calling for a human rights based approach to drug policy. I think many of you were here in 2017 when I first came to CND. At the time it was not easy to talk about human rights. Now it’s part of the discussion. I’m personally pleased that we had last week the High Commissioner speaking at the CND for the first time ever.

Karin. I also want to add the fact that the UNSR is committed to bring the discussion to Vienna and hopes that her concluding observations can be further amplified here and she looks forward to bringing Geneva and New York closer to the discussion.

For UNAIDS: Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN), Wamala Twaibu (Uganda). Uganda had achieved substantial progress in harm reduction programs, including the establishment of the MAT/OST, the dispensing of buprenorphine through the drop-in centre, the formulation of harm reduction guidelines, and the implementation of the NSP, among others. However, Uganda has implemented severe laws that aims to dissuade drug misuse by inflicting inhumanely long jail sentences; a conviction for mere possession may land a person in a cell for more than 15 years. This law threatens harm reduction initiatives, especially NSP. So, as UNAIDS, what strategies do you have to help the country reduce HIV now that this law has criminalized some harm reduction initiatives, such as NSP?

For OHCHR: No Borders Humanity Organization (NBH), Ammar Muslim Salih Alghurabi (Iraq). How is OHCHR collaborating with governments and civil society to address human rights violations faced by individuals involved in drug use, trafficking, and related activities, particularly in regions with heightened vulnerabilities?


For UNAIDS: Veterans Action Council, Etienne Fontane (United States). Cannabis has shown potential therapeutic benefits for AIDS patients as an appetite stimulant as well as providing relief from nausea and helping with pain management.  What is being done to ensure access to this essential medicine for AIDS patients?

Emily. We don’t do anything specifically on access to cannabis medicines. We promote decrim and call for access to all essential medicines so that they are also affordable. On cannabis rescheduling we follow WHO and its recommendations, and we look forward to supporting the WHO in implementing these recommendations. On another related issue, we work to implement the Global AIDS Strategy. Around 10,000 people provided inputs into the strategy. If there are issues where you believe we should be doing more of, please do let us know.

For OHCHR: Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Magdalena Dąbkowska (Poland) & European Coalition for just and effective drug policies (ENCOD), Farid GHEHIOUECHE (Austria). We welcomed last year’s report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the impact of the world drug situation on the enjoyment of human rights. What are your next initiatives to highlight the findings contained in the report and will these include regional activities particularly in the Central and Easter Europe and Central Asia region?

Zaved. I answered already on the report dissemination. But on regional activities. I presented the report in Ghana. Yesterday I received an invite from the Pompidou Group to present the report at the Council of Europe. I encourage civil society to take the report and use it wherever you can and let us know if you’re doing it as I am keeping a record of what is being done. In addition, I want to mention that within the human rights structure we are briefing different treaty bodies and special procedure mechanisms (e.g. CESCR, Human Rights Committee – we have a member present here). Use the report also when you reach out to treaty bodies.

For OHCHR: Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Elli Schwarz (United States). Following up on the question above: Are there any youth-specific activities planned around the dissemination of the report, and what are some ways the human rights impact of drug policies on young people can be centred in UN discussions, particularly at the CND?

Zaved. We received great quality information and contributions from all of you, so that’s why the report is of good quality. I want to congratulate you for your successful event this morning. Coming back to your point on how to engage with youth on drug policy issues: we have a youth section in our office and we are working with them on how to bring the discussion on youth and drug policy issues, especially with regards to children and how this relates to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The report highlights the impacts of drug policy on children and how punitive approaches harm the rights of children. I want to mention that within the UN system, there is an Advisor on Youth which I encourage you to reach out to.

Karin. The UNSR is very engaged and keen to receive information. Sometimes, we hold briefings with specific groups on how to engage with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

For OHCHR: Youth RISE (Resources, Information, Support and Education), Ruby Lawlor (global). Further to the report: As the report has also highlighted, young people’s ability to exercise our right to independent and informed decision-making on our health is limited by age of consent laws. What would OHCHR recommend to ensure age-appropriate treatment and harm reduction policies for young people and minors and to prevent subjecting them to compulsory treatment and medical interventions?

Zaved. Thank you and congrats on the successful event your organized at the CEU right before the high level segment. We approach the issue of age of consent and age-appropriate treatment and harm reduction. We are reaching out to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on this issue. We want to further engage with the Committee. Another body we engage with which you should reach out to is UNICEF. It is involved in some countries, but harm reduction education is not included much in their work. I reiterate our International guidelines on human rights and drug policy which include a specific part on children.

For OHCHR: Instituto RIA, AC , Zara Snapp (Mexico). Thank you for the publication of your report. Can you expand on how legal regulation might contribute to guaranteeing human rights?

[No response]

For ALL: Local Education and Economic Development Organization, Forhad Hossain-LEEDO (Bangladesh). What opportunities exist for NGOs to strengthen partnerships with OHCHR, UNAIDS and UNDP in advocating for comprehensive HIV prevention and treatment among drug-using populations and to ensure that drug policies uphold human rights standards and protect the dignity of affected individuals?

[No response]

For OHCHR Washington Office on Latin America, John Walsh (United States). What measures is OHCHR taking or considering pursuant to operative paragraph 12 of Resolution 52/24 of the Human Rights Council?

Zaved. When the resolution was adopted and we negotiated this language, I was really pleased to see this as it gives us a mandate to come here to Vienna and elsewhere at the UN. The two colleagues we have here: special procedure mechanism and treaty body. We are trying to expand the human rights mechanisms’ presence here. At this CND session we have 7 human rights bodies present and another 5 colleagues engaging: SR on toxics and human rights, and Chair of working group on discrimination against women and girls. We are trying to facilitate this participation and I congratulate CSOs for reaching out to them on this issue. After the report, we need to see how we can further contribute to the CND’s work. We want to submit the summary of our 7 side events as a Conference Room Paper and want to find other ways to contribute to CND discussions.

For UNAIDS: No Borders Humanity Organization (NBH), Ammar Muslim Salih Alghurabi (Iraq). In light of the evolving landscape of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, how is UNAIDS adapting its strategies to address emerging challenges and ensure equitable access to services for marginalized communities?

Augusto. Nobody is there so let’s move on.

Zaved. Why don’t you read the question? This is a very important one. I can read it!

Emily. We’e trying to make sure services are available, and that there are a range of interventions available. But we also see massive push back on human rights. We are working with civil society and communities on how to dispense key services, especially during and after COVID-19. I don’t know if that’s anwering the question but that’s how we continue to adapt in partnership with community led organisations.

Boyan. There is a shrinking civic space, it’s well organized and well funded and finds fertile soil in populist and authoritarian contexts. We must counter balance these processes of shrinking civic space. We’ll have specific information on this coming out in our annual report which will be released at the end of this month. This is related to several other questions: we must act together in the UN system to counteract HIV-related human rights crises and push backa aginst women, key populations and civil society in general. I also wanted to discuss access to new technologies that are already being rolled out but not available to everyone, including PrEP. We have a regional update on access to PrEP but more needs to be done for it to be available to those who need it the most. We also need to make available long-acting injectables. It requires law reforms, competition laws, treatment access laws, regulations, funding and civil society work. In the UNAIDS universe, there is a reference group on HIV and human rights. We’ve established a working group on access to new technologies and we scale up access to prevention and newest treatment technologies so that no one is left behind.

For OHCHR: International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS), Constanza Sánchez Avilés (Spain) & Fields of Green for ALL, NPC, Myrtle Clarke (South Africa). In our work supporting the legal defense of indigenous people who travel with their traditional medicines, we have observed how there is a great imbalance between drug control measures and respect for their ancestral healing practices when these involved psychoactive plants.   What recommendations do you have to ensure that drug policies are designed and implemented in a way that respect and preserve access to traditional indigenous medicines for indigenous communities, safeguarding their cultural heritage and economic, social and cultural rights?

Zaved. I congratulate the International Alliance for Indigenous Peoples working on Drugs, they have organized side events looking at this issue specifically. On your question, yes, the rights of indigenous people have been recognized in Chapter 4 of the UNGASS outcome document. Before coming here, I consulted with my colleague working on this issue and asked me to refer to articles of the UN Declaration: art 24.1 (right to traditional medicines), 25 (spiritual relations and cultural heritage and knowledge), 41 (obligation of UN agencies to establish ways and means of ensuring the participation of civil society in the issues that affect them). I refer to the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy which also addresses this. Now, how is this incorporated in drug policy? There is a need for member states to take a position on this issue. The declaration also mentions full participation.

Karin. The UNSR has an anti-racism approach. She presented a report on racism and the impact of colonialism on policies and practices and I call your attention on that specific section. There is also a recommendation in the report in para 91 where she echoes the UNSR on the rights of Indigenous peoples on traditional medicines and the need to ensure their participation in policy making processes. She also conducts country visits, she will present 2 reports from last year’s visits soon, I encourage you to review these reports.

For UNAIDS: International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, Katherine Pettus (global). Why doesn’t UNAIDS take the floor at CND or WHO meetings to advocate for improved availability of palliative care and controlled medicines when so many people living with HIV will need them?

Emily. We do a lot of work on access to opioids especially for PWUD and around overdoses. Our director is also very vocal on access. When it comes to palliative care and access to controlled substances, it’s about prioritization. We have limited time in these spheres to discuss a lot of issues related to HIV. So far we have focused on decriminalisation and other key issues. We have also highlighted issues related to the lack of access to controlled medicines for people living with HIV in terms of pain relief and palliative care.

For OHCHR Southeast Asia Harm Reduction Association (AHRA), Mudo Bijl (Thailand). In light of the mass incarceration and its impact on social constructs of families and communities, how does OHCHR foresee the implementation of measures to ensure policymakers are mindful of the unintended outcomes of their drug policy decisions on individuals and communities impacted by drug use and dependence?

Zaved. The OHCHR report does highlight the issue of overincarceration. 20% of the world prison population is incarcerated for drug related offences. Among these, 61% are there for drug possession. This goes against the SDG goal 16 target 16.1.2 on reducing the number of the prison population. So we have recommended in the report decriminalization first. I again want to refer back to the International Guidelines and the UN Common Position on drugs and on incarceration. Both documents have recommended decrim. I want to refer to the 8th March Principles developed by the International Centre of Jurists which OHCHR and UNDP contributed to. In that document we also refer to drug use, cultivation and trade for personal use. Alternatives to conviction and punishment for minor drug offences are also important as a lot of people are in prison for minor drug offences, and here I want to mention the Mandela Principles. They are not used often here, while they have been mentioned by the Human Rights Committee and others. I want to add the Bangkok Rules focusing on women in prison, which are not used enough. We can see the increase in the women prison population which is faster than that of men. UNDP has done work on this specific issue. The last one is the Judicial Sentencing Policy. Yesterday, a colleague from Malaysia was discussing the Judicial Sentencing Policy in a side event. It’s also related to treatment sometimes since there are links between these issues.

Boyan. After we achieve law change, we need to influence its application. That’s why the International Guidelines are important. There are also other opportunities. We partner in developing prosecutorial guidelines. We do judges forums. They don’t like to be sensitized but they like to meet one another to use the legal opportunities not to enforce the law while implementing court decisions.

Karin. There are so many people incarcerated and they are entitled to health services. The ICESCR includes an article on this. There is also General Comment 14 of the CESCR which calls for non discrimination for access to healthcare for people incarcerated.

For ALL: International Drug Policy Consortium, Ann Fordham (global). What can UN agencies, including UNAIDS, do to provide evidence-based guidance to Member States on human rights-centred models of decriminalisation?

Emily. We are looking at developing guidance on good practice models of decrim from a human rights and public health perspective. We are looking at what models support public health and HIV outcomes: stigma, discrimination, access, non-discriminatory practices, etc. The question is usually what we would ask you. We’re looking to you for the evidence from organisations led by PWUD on what works for you and what your experiences have been.

UNDP. It’s important to provide evidence based guidance which what is more compelling than ideological arguments. We have been working with the Global Commission on HIV and the Law which compares evidence regarding human rights centred models of decrim. We partnered to follow up on the recommendations of the Commission. We’re also looking at decrim of HIV, and the needle is not moving fast enough here. In this project to implement the guidelines we partner with OHCHR and UNAIDS with support from OSF to prepare a background document of good practices on rights based approaches, including decrim.

Zaved. I want to mention the International Guidelines. We are planning on supporting member states on their implementation, including on decrim. In the 8th March Principles, we elaborate further on what the components of decrim would entail. We ask you to look at the document and we will be sharing it with the VNGOC so that it can be disseminated.

For OHCHR: International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, Katherine Pettus (global). How can OHCHR give more visibility and get more airtime for the issue of protecting, respecting, and fulfilling the right to access to controlled medicines?

Zaved. Thanks to IAHPC for your contribution to the report. On that basis and other contributions, we have incorporated the issue. One thing is very clear: 80% of the world population doesn’t have access to controlled medicines, including in humanitarian settings. We have here our colleagues from Lebanon who has highlighted this issue. In the report, we highlighted clear recommendations on affordable access. There is one mechanism we have in the UN human rights structure: the Special Rapporteur for Older Persons. She has addressed this issue already but we should reach out to her more. I know that IAHPC is already in touch but we should bring her here at the next CND.

Karin. This is also an issue that will be addressed by the UNSR and that should be reflected in the report.

Augusto. Thanks to all for asking the questions. For those not here who could not ask their questions, all responses will be posted online.

Zaved. Thanks so much to the VNGOC, we will continue the discussion.

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