Reinforcing Human Rights in Drug Policies

Dianova participates in the open consultation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the impact of drug policies on human rights

Ceiling of the 'Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room'

With this resolution, the Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted what is viewed by many as the most ambitious and progressive resolution on drug policy to date – Image: ceiling of the ‘Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room’ (UN in Geneva) painted by Spanish artist Miquel Barceló, photo by Maina Kiai, licence CC BY 2.0

By the editorial team – At its 52nd session, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted, on 4 April, a resolution on the impact of drug policies on human rights.

This resolution is a big step forward for drug policy. It aims to ensure that human rights are adequately address in the international commitments’ reviewing process that will take place in March 2024, at the next session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). This resolution is much more than the mere outcome of a regular procedure. We believe it reinforces the human rights perspective at the UN through progressive language and content, and a series of subsequent actions that will contribute to build momentum and rekindle interest in these matters.

UN Human rights ‘experts’ get involved in drug policies

The resolution is noteworthy for at least three reasons: firstly, it should be emphasized that within the United Nations, drug policies fell within the sole purview of such specific bodies as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). Other bodies, including the World Health Organisation, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) also deal with drug-related matters, albeit on a relatively marginal basis.

However, there is growing interaction between these different bodies, particularly at the annual sessions of the CND, and these issues are not dealt with exclusively by the dedicated bodies. Given the scope of the prospects and consequences of the global drugs phenomenon, it is important that they be addressed in other forums, including those dedicated to human rights and health.

Impact of drug use on families

In its contribution, Dianova insisted on the necessity to pay more attention to an issue that so far has received only little attention, that of children whose parents use drugs – photo: Shutterstock

Progressive content

Secondly, because the content of the resolution takes a forward and progressive approach with a holistic perspective encompassing such terms and concepts that have yet to find their way into CND resolutions. For example, this is the case of the term “harm reduction”, which does not appear in the CND lexicon, although other UN bodies, including the OHCHR and UNAIDS, have used it already. You may find an in-depth analysis of the resolution in a note prepared by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC):  UN Human Rights Council breaks new ground on drug policy.

The resolution also stresses the need to mainstream a gender perspective into programmes and policies, and scale-up the participation of women in policy-making processes. It also highlights the importance of developing quality gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data, as well as the specific needs of certain groups of women. Nothing new here, but the message is clear, well presented, and obviously worth repeating.

Further action to be closely monitored by the Human Rights Council

Thirdly, the resolution mentions a number of important actions to be taken. For example, it requests the Office of the High Commissioner to prepare a report on human rights challenges posed by the global response to the world drug phenomenon, to present this report at the Human Rights Council at its 54th session, and to share it with the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. In addition, the Council also decides to hold a panel discussion on these issues before its 55th session, in order to engage in a constructive and inclusive dialogue with relevant stakeholders. All this while fully acknowledging the role of civil society and requesting it participate fully in these various processes.

It should be noted that similar processes have already been implemented in the past. The Human Rights Council adopted its first resolution on drug policy in 2015, at the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS). In 2018, a second resolution on these themes was presented at the Council, while the Office of the High Commissioner published a report on how Member States can implement more effective drug policies, in accordance with their human rights commitments and obligations. It should be noted that various international bodies and representatives of civil society from different countries were consulted on these occasions, and Dianova took part in the 2018 consultation.

Dianova’s contribution to the OHCHR consultation

Dianova considers this resolution to be very positive and has already taken part in the open consultation launched by the Office of the High Commissioner with a view to drawing up the report to be presented at the HRC 54th session, indicating its main concerns, particularly in the field of substance dependence treatment.

Read Dianova’s contribution

Our contribution focuses on the following concerns:

  • Low availability of treatment services – significant gap between demand and available services
  • The importance of ensuring and monitoring compliance with minimum quality standards and human rights principles in treatment services,
  • Problem of reduced support for medium- and long-term biopsychosocial treatment programmes,
  • Risk of over-medicalisation of service users.
  • Lack of provision and support for reintegration services,
  • Persistence of gender barriers in accessing and adhering to treatment programmes,
  • Call to include the situation of children of drug-using parents in the agenda
  • Position in favor of decriminalizing substance use in order to promote access to services,
  • Abolition of the death penalty for drug-related crimes.

In its contribution, Dianova makes a series of recommendations on these issues, based on a human rights perspective.