Health, human rights and people who use drugs

April 22, 2016

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At the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs, which took place earlier this week, UNAIDS published the report Do no harm – Health, human rights and people who use drugs. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS is one of several UN bodies that call for human rights-based drug policies.

In this report UNAIDS shows what works to reduce the impact of HIV and other harms related to drug use. Countries that have moved away from laws and policies that are harmful to people who use drugs and that have increased investment in harm reduction have reduced new HIV infections and improved health outcomes. These policies also deliver broader social benefits, such as lower levels of drug-related crime and reduced pressure on health-care and criminal justice systems.

UNAIDS recommends decriminalization and no more incarceration of people for the consumption and possession of drugs for personal use. “Countries should commit to treating people with support and care, rather than punishment.”

Do no harm – Health, human rights and people who use drugs. UNAIDS, April 2016

UN committees and Special Rapporteurs

A group of UN committees and Special Rapporteurs, including the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, have also called for the decriminalization of drug use. In an open letter addressed to the President of the UN General Assembly, they wrote: “The criminalisation of drug consumption and possession for personal use has contributed to a range of negative consequences for the health, security, and human rights of individuals and communities across the globe.  There is clear evidence that criminalisation drives those most in need away from vital health interventions or places them in prison with significant implications for public health.”


“In recent years, States have explored decriminalisation regimes as a means to improve the safety and well-being of their communities, with documented, positive outcomes for health and public safety.  In keeping with these domestic policy successes, and with the recommendations of United Nations agencies4/ and as a step towards the fulfilment of the right to health, drug use and possession should be decriminalized and depenalized.”


Joint Open Letter by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health; and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, 15 April 2016