Opening Day in Barcelona at the 2008 Harm Reduction Conference

UN Special Rapporteur highlights the discrepancies between drug control and human rights in his keynote speech -watch our video to learn more

This year, the International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harms, supported by the Department of Health of Catalonia, is taking place in Barcelona from May 11th to the 15th. On the first day there were satellite events on various issues. Issues discussed included harm reduction in prisons, gender sensitive services, suboxone, alcohol and harm reduction, HIV prevention in Asia and drug users' activism (our report from the INPUD congress is coming soon).

Paul Hunt, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health delivered an excellent keynote speech addressing the multiple violations of the human rights of people who use drugs. Among other things, Hunt addressed ambulances that refuse to treat overdosed people, investigators who force suspects into unmedicated withdrawal to extract confessions, drug users who are imprisoned and forced into treatment, governments that ban publications on harm reduction, and police that break up peaceful demonstrations against drug laws.


Paul Hunt addresses the IHRA conference in Barcelona

This widespread, systemic abuse of human rights is especially shocking, because drug users include people who are the most vulnerable, most marginal in society,” said Hunt. “Despite the scale of the abuse, despite the vulnerability, there is no public outrage, no public outcry, no public inquiries, on the contrary: the long litany of abuse scarcely attracts disapproval. Sometimes it even receives some public support.”

According to Mr. Hunt, the promotion and protection of human rights should precede drug control objectives. He encouraged NGOs to use the procedures and possibilites provided by the independent rapporteur system. He referenced his visit to Sweden, in which he found inadequate access to harm reduction services. He urged the Swedish government to scale up needle exchange and substition treatment (read the report of IHRA and the Swedish Drug User Union).

He called it an “inexcusable situation” that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) focuses on the three international drug conventions “with scant regard for the international code of human rights that emerges from one of the Article 1 objectives of the United Nation’s charter.” As if without connection to the realities of our world, Hunt claimed that international drug control organizations operate in “parallel universes." Nevertheless, there are some signs that human rights are slowly infiltrating and cleansing the drug control system.  

Peter Sarosi


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