Human rights challenges in addressing and countering the world drug problem

Source: International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)

In a landmark report Human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem released this month, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the failure of punitive drug policies and the global ‘WarOnDrugs’, and called for a new approach based on health and human rights, including through the responsible regulation of drugs.

The report outlines human rights challenges in addressing and countering key aspects of the world drug problem. It also offers an overview of recent positive developments to shift towards more human rights-centred drug policies, and provides recommendations on the way forward in view of the upcoming midterm review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration and to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

To implement the recommendations laid down by the High Commissioner, the civil society, on the IDPC initiative, calls on the international community to reform and rebalance the global drug control regime, and national drug laws and policies. A collective statement, signed by over 100 civil society organisations, including DPNSEE, calls on the international community to act on the UN human rights chief’s groundbreaking call for systemic drug policy reform.

Ann Fordham, Executive Director at International Drug Policy Consortium, analyses in this article key takeaways and significance of the report, noting how its call for transformative change includes an unprecedented recommendation on the responsible regulation of currently-illegal drug markets.

IDPC’s advocacy note highlights the major gains from the 2023 OHCHR report and provides recommendations to Member States and UN entities for its effective implementation.


Principles for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Criminal Law

From the UNAIDS news

The International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) along with UNAIDS and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) officially launched a new set of expert jurist legal principles to guide the application of international human rights law to criminal law.

The ‘8 March principles’ as they are called lay out a human rights-based approach to laws criminalising conduct in relation to sex, drug use, HIV, sexual and reproductive health, homelessness and poverty.

The principles are the outcome of a 2018 workshop organized by UNAIDS and OHCHR along with the ICJ to discuss the role of jurists in addressing the harmful human rights impact of criminal laws. The meeting resulted in a call for a set of jurists’ principles to assist the courts, legislatures, advocates and prosecutors to address the detrimental human rights impact of such laws.

The principles, developed over five years, are based on feedback and reviews from a range of experts and stakeholders. They were finalized in 2022. Initially, the principles focused on the impact of criminal laws proscribing sexual and reproductive health and rights, consensual sexual activity, gender identity, gender expression, HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission, drug use and the possession of drugs for personal use. Later, based on the inputs of civil society and other stakeholders, criminalization linked to homelessness and poverty were also included.

Continued overuse of criminal law by governments and in some cases arbitrary and discriminatory criminal laws have led to a number of human rights violations. They also perpetuate stigma, harmful gender stereotypes and discrimination based on such grounds as gender or sexual orientation.

In 2023, twenty countries criminalize or otherwise prosecute transgender people, 67 countries still criminalize same-sex sexual activity, 115 report criminalizing drug use, more than 130 criminalize HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission and over 150 countries criminalize some aspect of sex work.

In the world of HIV, the abuse and misuse of criminal laws not only affects the right to health, but a multitude of rights including: to be free from discrimination, to housing, security of the person, movement, family, privacy and bodily autonomy, and in extreme cases the very right to life. In countries where sex work is criminalized, for example, sex workers are seven times more likely to be living with HIV than where it is partially legalized. To be criminalized can also mean being deprived of the protection of the law and law enforcement. And yet, criminalized communities, particularly women, are often more likely to need the very protection they are denied.

The Principles are available following this link>>>.


Applications for the 2023 GI_TOC Resilience Fellowship are open

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) announced the fourth edition of the Resilience Fellowship, which for 2023 will have human rights as its theme. Fellows will use their diverse perspectives to collaborate on a range of outputs based around this theme. As Resilience Fund Ambassadors, Fellows will also raise awareness on how organized crime contributes to human rights violations and advocate for better responses to these violations.

The Fellowship builds a platform for cross-sectorial, global and interdisciplinary collaboration between civil society actors, human rights activists, journalists, artists, scholars, policymakers, grassroots community leaders and others working to counter the effects of organized crime.

For the year 2023, a total of 10 Fellows will be selected. Applicants should have a background in any of the following fields: journalism and media; activism; advocacy and community mobilization; the creative arts (artists, writers, filmmakers, and others); community leaders (religious, cultural, youth leaders); academia (researchers, consultants, and scholars), human rights practitioners working directly with affected communities, and the public sector (policymakers).

Each fellow will receive US$15 000 (divided in three payments of US$5 000) to be executed with no other limitation than the principles of professionalism, integrity and transparency.

The Fellowship is part of the GI-TOC’s flagship Resilience Fund, which provides grants and support to civil society individuals and organizations working to counter the impacts of criminal governance and violence across the world.

The Call is available following this link>>>.

End ‘war on drugs’ and promote policies rooted in human rights: UN experts

UN human rights experts have called on the international community to bring an end to the so-called “war on drugs” and promote drug policies that are firmly anchored in human rights. Ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June 2022, the experts issued the statement which indicated that “the “war on drugs” undermines health and social wellbeing and wastes public resources while failing to eradicate the demand for illegal drugs and the illegal drug market. Worse, this “war” has engendered narco-economies at the local, national and regional levels in several instances to the detriment of national development. Such policies have far-reaching negative implications for the widest range of human rights, including the right to personal liberty, freedom from forced labour, from ill-treatment and torture, fair trial rights, the rights to health, including palliative treatment and care, right to adequate housing, freedom from discrimination, right to clean and healthy environment, right to culture and freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association and the right to equal treatment before the law.”

To read the statement, please follow this link>>>.


Zero Discrimination Day

From the UNAIDS brochure

Today, on Zero Discrimination Day, 1 March, we celebrate the right of everyone to live a full and productive life – and live it with dignity. Zero Discrimination Day highlights how people can become informed about and promote tolerance, compassion, peace and, above all, a movement for change. Zero Discrimination Day is helping to create a global movement of solidarity to end all forms of discrimination.

In many countries, laws result in people being treated differently, excluded from essential services or being subject to undue restrictions on how they live their lives, simply because of who they are, what they do or who they love. Such laws are discriminatory – they deny human rights and fundamental freedoms.

People may experience more than one form of discrimination. A person may experience discrimination because of his or her health status and because of his or her race, gender identity or sexual orientation, compounding the effects on the individual and the wider community.

Laws – such as laws on sex work, same-sex sexual relations, the use or possession of drugs for personal use and the non-disclosure, exposure or transmission of HIV – may discriminate by criminalizing conduct or identity.

Other laws may prevent people from accessing benefits or services. Girls may not be allowed to go to school if they are pregnant or women may not be able to access financial services without their husband’s permission. Laws may also impose parental consent for adolescents to access health services or restrict the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV.

In 2020, 35 countries retained the death penalty for drug offences. In at least 67 countries, drug use or consumption and/or possession of drugs for personal use is a criminal offence.

States have a moral and legal obligation – under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights treaties, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other international obligations – to remove disscriminatory laws and to enact laws that protect people from discrimination.

Some of the rights that people can use to contest discriminatory laws include the following:

  • The right to equal treatment before the law.
  • The right to an education.
  • The right to economic opportunities.
  • The right to privacy.
  • The right to dignity.
  • The right to health.
  • The right to association.
  • The right to a fair trial.

Everyone has a responsibility to hold states accountable, call for change and contribute to efforts to remove discriminatory laws. The first steps to making a change are to know the law, recognize that laws can discriminate and highlight discriminatory laws to others.


Annual Enlargement Review on human hights of LGBTI people

ILGA-Europe (LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia) and our colleagues from the LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey (ERA), have published their annual Enlargement Review, which outlines the developments in recognising and respecting the human rights of LGBTI people in each enlargement country (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey) from January to December 2021.

The annual LGBTI Enlargement Review acts as an LGBTI submission to the Enlargement Progress Reports of the European Commission. These reports are a detailed annual assessment of the state of play in each candidate country and potential candidate country, outlining what has been achieved over the last year and what remains to be achieved.

This year’s Enlargement Review is published in the context of rising Euroscepticism in the enlargement countries, as well as a significant rise of anti-gender, anti-rights and far-right groups across the region. Misinformation and discriminatory speech against LGBTI people has been spread in public discourse via national broadcasting and political processes, leading to the prevention of the development of laws and policies inclusive of LGBTI people. As a result, despite some welcome significant advancements in the preparation and drafting of legislation to protect the human rights of LGBTI people this year, much of this legislation is currently stalled.

The Annual Enlargement Review recognises that the EU accession process has been a strong driving force for change in the recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people in the region, and it encourages this continued commitment by outlining the laws and policies that are still needed to ensure full and genuine protection of the human rights of LGBTI people, and by providing recommendations to each country’s authorities and to the European Union.

At ILGA-Europe, we hope to see the current legislative gaps closed, in particular regarding family rights, legal gender recognition based on self-determination, and the protection of intersex people’s human rights. With the rise in anti-gender, anti-rights and far-right groups, we renew with increased urgency our call on all countries to properly implement their anti-discrimination, hate crime and hate speech legal frameworks.

To read the report, follow this link>>>.


Reducing incarceration will reduce harm

The Harm Reduction International published the briefing The Harms of Incarceration: The evidence base and human rights framework for decarceration and harm reduction in prisons. It provides advocates with the evidence base and human rights framework for decarceration and the provision of harm reduction services in prisons.

The document provide evidence that:

  • The first step in reducing harm associated with incarceration is to reduce reliance on incarceration itself.
  • Providing harm reduction is a human rights obligation.
  • Harm reduction services in prisons are an essential, effective and safe public health measure.
  • People in prison are severely underserved by harm reduction services.

The highlights of the briefing inslude:

Over 11 million people are imprisoned worldwide today, the highest number ever recorded. One in five people in prison worldwide is held for drug offences, and 90% of people who inject drugs will be incarcerated at some point in their life. People in prison are at greater risk of HIV, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and COVID-19. When they are released from prison, their risk of overdose increases by up to 69-times.

People in prison retain their human rights, which includes their right to health. By withholding health services such as harm reduction from them, states are violating this right. In some cases, withholding essential services like opioid agonist therapy amounts to torture. The UN Special Rapporteur on Health, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Nelson Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners all oblige states to provide health services in prisons.

Harm reduction works. Robust evidence shows that harm reduction services reduce transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, reduce risk behaviours, reduce deaths from all causes, and can even reduce chances of people coming back to prison. This is why the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS and UN Office on Drugs and Crime all support harm reduction in prisons.

Even though states are obliged to provide the same standard of healthcare inside and outside prisons, when it comes to harm reduction, they do not do so. In nearly a third of countries where opioid agonist therapy is available, people in prison have no access. In 88% of countries where needle and syringe programmes operate, there are none in prisons. Even where services are available in prisons, there are frequently barriers that make them inaccessible in practice.

To read full briefing, follow this link>>>.


INCB message on Human Rights Day 2020

From the INCB press release

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has repeatedly expressed its concern over reports of grave human rights violations purportedly in furtherance of national drug control policies.

The Board reminds all States that the primary objective of the international drug control conventions is to safeguard the health and welfare of humankind, including respect for human rights.

INCB calls on States to adopt and pursue drug control policies that respect and protect human rights and that are consistent with international human rights instruments. Human rights are inherent and inalienable. The world drug problem cannot be lawfully addressed without ensuring the protection of human rights.

In addressing drug-related criminality, States must apply the principle of proportionality as a guiding principle in determining and applying criminal sanctions. The drug control conventions require governments to give special attention to the possibility of applying alternative measures to conviction, punishment and incarceration for drug-related offences, in appropriate cases of a minor nature, including education, rehabilitation or social reintegration, as well as, when the offender is affected by a drug disorder, treatment and aftercare.

Human Rights Day 2020 focuses on the need to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring that human rights are central to recovery efforts. The pandemic has affected patterns of drug use and drug trafficking, and also affected access to services for the treatment of people with drug use disorders. State parties to the drug control conventions are required to give special attention to and take all practicable measures for the prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons affected by drug use disorders. Such services should be accessible, evidence-based, free from discrimination and stigma and respect the human rights and dignity of clients.

Sustainable Development Goal 3 – to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages – entails, among other things, access to high-quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, high-quality and affordable essential medicines, including those medicines under international control, and strengthening the prevention and treatment of drug use disorders.


INCB is the independent, quasi-judicial body charged with promoting and monitoring Government compliance with the three international drug control conventions.


Open letter to UNODC Executive Director

In an open letter, with the support from more than 100 civil society organisations, the International Drug Policy Network Consortium (IDPC) invited Ms Ghada Waly, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, to mark International Human Rights Day by calling on Member States to change drug policies and practices that violate human rights, and entrench exclusion and discrimination.

My Waly was invited to issue a strong statement that underlines UNODC’s commitment to rights-based drug policies, and calls for change in the laws and practices that threaten health and human rights. The 2020 International Human Rights Day, which will be held under the title ‘Recover better: Stand Up for Human Rights’, includes a thematic focus on the need ‘to apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination’. As such, it presents a key opportunity for UNODC to highlight its commitment to the promotion of drug policies that respect, protect, and fulfil human rights, in line with the UN System Common Position.

Drug Policy Network South East Europe is one of the civil society organisations which supported the letter.

To read the letter, follow this link>>>.


Webinars on Human Rights Violations Data Gathering

The Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) planned to conduct a 2-day regional workshop for activists and professionals from South East Europe countries “Gathering data on human rights violations and reaction mechanisms” on 18 – 19 March 2020, in Belgrade, Serbia. Unfortunately, due to coronavirus pandemic, the workshop was postponed for better times.

The organiser finally decided not to wait for better times and provide the opportunity to take part in a series of 3 short webinars in a new exciting format.

The webinars will be organized in zoom on September 16, 23 and 31 and will last for 2 hours each from 14:00 till 16:00 (Central Europe time, GMT+2).

Goal of the workshop is to equip activists and professionals in South East Europe countries with knowledge on principles and mechanisms of data collection on human rights violations against key populations and follow-up reaction.

Facilitators of the workshop will be Mikhail Golichenko, International Legal Consultant, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and Maria Plotko, Program Officer, Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA).

Prior to each webinar you will be provided with 1-hour thematic videos/podcasts of experts dialogues, which you will examine beforehand, and during webinars we will jointly discuss them, answer your questions and work in interactive way.

Webinars will be open to all – number of participants is not limited!

The registration form will be published closer to the date of the first webinar. Please, follow the EHRA website for more information.