Punitive drug control measures discriminatory and have failed, says UN rights expert

26 October 2010

Punitive measures to combat the use of illicit drugs have failed to address the problem and are associated with the abuse of human rights and violations of the right to health, a United Nations independent expert has said.

“Both from the perspective of public health and human rights, the cost of excessive criminalization and excessive law enforcement are far too high,” Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, told the General Assembly yesterday.

“Mounting evidence suggests the failure of this approach, precisely because it disregards the realities of drug use and dependence. Human rights and the right to health approach must be brought to the centre of international drug control policy to balance the human costs of our current system and bring into focus the need to address drug-related problems in an evidence-based manner,” Mr. Grover said.

The independent expert cited the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which has stated that a person’s individual use of drugs cannot constitute grounds for the denial of rights. However, he said, people who use drugs are often prevented from accessing services through the use of the threat of criminal punishment or may be denied access to health care.

“In this case, criminalization results in a severe from of discrimination against people who use drugs,” Mr. Grover said when presenting his latest report to the Assembly.

He also faulted the current international drug control measures, which he said unnecessarily limited access to essential medicines which are considered controlled substances, resulting in violations of the right to health.

In his report, Mr. Grover suggests alternatives to narcotics control measures that focus more attention on reducing the harmful effects of drug use. “Decriminalization in certain laws governing drug control would demonstrably improve the health and welfare of people who use drugs and the general population,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York today, Mr. Grover said one of his recommendations is “a new paradigm akin to the framework convention on tobacco control,” which included health awareness of the consequences of drug use, as opposed to the current “overtly punitive” measures which drives users of narcotics underground.

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