UN report urges states to stop criminalizing drug users

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A report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) calls for abandoning punitive measures to tackle the global drug problem in favor of policies based on human rights and public health , believing that the disproportionate use of criminal sanctions is harmful.

The report urges states to develop effective drug policies, including considering decriminalization of drug possession for personal use.

“If designed and implemented effectively, decriminalization can be a powerful instrument to ensure that the rights of people who use drugs are protected,” the report says.

“Laws, policies and practices implemented to combat drug use must not have the effect of exacerbating human suffering. The drug problem remains a serious concern, but treating drug users like criminals is not the solution,” said Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“States should move away from the current dominant orientation towards prohibition, repression and punishment, and instead adopt laws, policies and practices rooted in human rights and aimed at harm reduction” .

The report by the United Nations Human Rights Office, commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council, finds that the disproportionate use of criminal sanctions discourages people who use drugs from seeking treatment and fuels the stigmatization and social exclusion.

According to the latest available statistics from the World Drug Report 2023, people who use drugs are disproportionately affected by blood-borne viruses, with almost 660,000 people dying each year from drug-related causes, and 10% of all new HIV infections globally in 2021 were among people who inject drugs.

The harmful effects of these policies are profound and far-reaching, according to the report. The militarization of law enforcement in the “war on drugs” contributes to serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings. The disproportionate use of criminal sanctions contributes significantly to prison overcrowding.

The report highlights that the effects of these policies are most severe for people of African origin, women, indigenous peoples and young people from poor backgrounds.

“Current drug policies have the greatest impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people,” emphasizes Turk.

The use of the death penalty for drug-related convictions has also increased around the world, contrary to international human rights standards. The number of people executed for drug offenses more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021, accounting for 37% of all recorded executions worldwide, the report said.

“The current excessive emphasis on coercion and control in the fight against drugs is fueling increased human rights violations despite mounting evidence that decades of criminalization and the so-called war on drugs have neither protected people’s well-being nor deterred drug-related crimes,” said Mr. Türk.

The report shows that a growing number of countries in all regions are adopting policies and practices that decriminalize drug use and treat it as a public health and human rights problem, and are applying evidence-based approaches. evidence-based, gender-sensitive and risk-reducing.

The High Commissioner called on States to take advantage of this positive trend.

A group of United Nations representatives and human rights experts already called for an end to the “global war on drugs” last June.

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