StatementsOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Aligning Drug Policies with Human Rights
01 June 2022
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Second Brandenburg Forum Geneva - Château de Bossey, Geneva, Switzerland
I am pleased to address you today at this Forum. I thank Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the International Drug Policy Consortium and the Transnational Institute for organizing this event.
The intersecting challenges of rising inequalities, environmental threat, disparate economic recoveries from COVID-19, and armed conflicts are having a devastating impact on people, particularly the most marginalised and excluded.
Which is why concerted action to put human rights at the centre of all policies and decision-making processes is needed more than ever, as stressed by the UN Secretary-General in his Call to Action for Human Rights.
This includes, of course, those related to the world’s drug problems.
Since the commitments made by all Member States in 2016 to ensure conformity of drug policies with international human rights law at the UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem, I am pleased to observe progress made in some countries, in transitioning from a principally punitive approach towards human rights and public health-based drug policy.
Importantly, some countries have decriminalized various forms of drug use, aiming to ensure treatment and services without any fear and intimidation and to remove stigma.
One estimate indicates that more than 30 countries and 50 jurisdictions have adopted some form of decriminalization of drug possession for personal use.
However, challenges persist.
Some 65 countries still criminalize possession of drugs. A recent study by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention illustrates how criminalization can contribute to arbitrary detention, prison overcrowding, and hindering access to treatment.
I encourage the implementation of the Study’s recommendations, including those related to decriminalising drug use and to the closure of compulsory drug detention centres.
States can and should do more.
First, ensuring appropriate access to essential controlled medicines, is vital to the realization of the right to health. According to last year’s World Drug Report, over 80% of the world’s population, mostly from low- and middle-income countries, still lack access to controlled drugs for drug dependence, pain relief, palliative care and other treatments.
Unimpeded access to controlled medications in emergencies and conflicts globally is also crucial.
Second, despite the reported growing acceptance of harm reduction services, available funding and resources globally remains sorely lacking. They currently amount to just 5% of the US$2.7 billion that UNAIDS estimates is needed annually by 2025 for effective responses.
By contrast, far more resources are still invested in the so-called “war on drugs”, with marginalized and disadvantaged groups at particular risk of being being targeted in such campaigns.
This leads me to my third point: that drug policies should explicitly aim to combat discrimination and inequality.
My report last year to the Human Rights on systemic racism and human rights violations by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent also examined drug law enforcement practice.
Evidence shows that deaths of people of African descent repeatedly occur in contexts of police operations to fight drugs and gang-related crimes.
Racial bias and stereotypes associating these communities with criminality appear too often to influence the planning and execution of police operations.
And a common impunity for violations in these contexts continues.
In the report, I call for tackling the discriminatory application of criminal law at every step, including by bringing drug-related laws that have discriminatory outcomes into line with international human rights standards.
Finally, we continue seeing frequent resort to the death penalty for drug offences. I again urge States to review their criminal laws and abolish the death sentence for all crimes, including for drug-related offences.
The UN Common Position on drug related matters adopted in 2018 serves as a blueprint for our joint efforts. Last year, the UN Task Team on drugs prepared further guidelines to assist UN Country Teams in developing country strategies on drug policy that are in line with the Common Position.
My Office also cooperates with UN agencies and other partners to disseminate and promote the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy, which is a key tool to implement the human rights commitments of the Common Position.
In considering the way forward, I encourage further engagement by the Human Rights Council on these issues. This could involve, for example, a request for a regular periodic report on good practices and challenges in the implementation of human rights commitments of the UNGASS 2016.
Engagement could also include increased collaboration with the Commission of Narcotic Drugs and the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.
Only by putting people at the centre of our efforts in this area can effective and sustainable change occur. I am sure we can unite in this ambition, and I wish you all a successful discussion at this forum.