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UN expert calls for end to the ‘war on drugs’

24 June 2024

GENEVA (24 June 2024) – A UN independent expert today called for an end to the ‘war on drugs’, asking States to move towards harm reduction in drug policies.

In her fourth report to the Human Rights Council, Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, focused on drug use, harm reduction and the right to health. The report explores how harm reduction relates to both drug use and drug use disorders, as well as to drug laws and policies, aiming to analyse and address the related outcomes that adversely impact the enjoyment of the right to health.

“The enforcement of drug laws and policies compounds other forms of discrimination and disproportionately affects certain individuals, such as persons in situations of homelessness or poverty, persons with mental health issues, sex workers, women, children, LGBTIQA+ persons, Black persons, Indigenous Peoples, migrants, persons who are incarcerated or detained, persons with disabilities, persons living with HIV, tuberculosis or hepatitis, and persons living in rural areas,” Mofokeng told the Council. “International drug control conventions have negatively affected the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of certain drugs used as medicines.”

The report indicates that the concept of harm reduction has been primarily developed in the context of drug use and refers to policies, programmes and practices that are aimed at minimising negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws. It also stresses that States have an obligation to implement evidence-based interventions to minimise the adverse health and risks and harms associated with drug use.

In her report, the Special Rapporteur seeks to provide recommendations on how, at the domestic level, States should be centred on dignity, public health and human rights, as well as ground interventions in the best available evidence, free from conflicts of interest.

Mofokeng highlights that ending criminalisation, stigmatisation and discrimination which represent structural barriers to accessing services will improve access to information, goods, services and facilities.

“Global advocacy and high-level statements of intent must be put into action to uphold the right to dignity,” she said, adding that “civil society participation is key”.

“All stakeholders must respect people who use drugs, people with drug use disorders and people whose health and well-being is affected by drug laws and policies,” the Special Rapporteur said.

She also noted the importance of moving towards substantive equality by paying particular attention to the disproportionate impact of drug laws, policies and policing.

Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng (South Africa) is the Special Rapporteur on the right to health since August 2020. She is a medical doctor and Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown Law centre and is distinguished lecturer at O’Neil Institute for National & Global health law. She has expertise in advocating for sexual and reproductive health rights and providing care for adolescent health, transgender affirming health, abortions. She has experience with providing health and human rights training for healthcare and legal professionals and her areas of focus have been on legislative reform and policy, gender equality, maternal and neonatal health, universal health access, post violence care, menstrual health, HIV management and health communication.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Ms Karin Hechenleitner Schacht (+41 22 917 8458 / [email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]) or John Newland ([email protected])

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