Human rights, harm reduction key to drug policy, UN rights chief says

10 March 2009

Human rights and harm reduction should play a key role in the international response to drug use, a top United Nations official said today.

“Individuals who use drugs do not forfeit their human rights,” Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in the run-up to an international meeting later this week that will take stock of progress in international drug control over the past decade.

“All too often, drug users suffer discrimination, are forced to accept treatment, marginalized and often harmed by approaches that over-emphasize criminalization and punishment while under-emphasizing harm reduction and respect for human rights,” Ms. Pillay added.

Speaking prior to the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which is being held in Vienna on 11 and 12 March, she said she was particularly concerned that drug users, including those held in detention, should be given appropriate health treatment and services.

The High Commissioner also stressed the relevance of the absolute prohibition on torture in the context of drug control, noting that those charged with drug offences must not be transferred to countries where they will face such techniques.

She urged those currently setting the course for drug policy over the next decade to take on board lessons learned from the past, including the imperative to use treatment that is soundly rooted in medical science. “It is too late for us to return to earlier, outdated approaches to drug use” she said.

 

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