Statement by Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations Work on the World Drug Problem

New York, 20 November 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to address you today, to use this opportunity to encourage a shift of focus in tackling the world drug problem – a shift from an approach primarily based on law enforcement to one that, first and foremost, focuses on the human rights of drug users. My hope is that Member States will ensure that human rights are at the core of the outcome document of UNGASS 2016, which can provide firm guidance towards future action.

As Navi Pillay stressed, people do not lose their human rights because they use drugs. I put to you that they have the same rights as all of us: to health and to life, to non-discrimination, to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, and to freedom from torture and other forms of ill treatment. The State’s response to an individual’s drug use should always be compassionate, focus on that individual’s health and well-being, with full respect for dignity and rights. This is absolutely crucial when the drug users are children. For them, the denial of these rights can have particularly tragic, long-term consequences – both personal and for society as a whole.

Sadly, as my Office recently documented in its first-ever comprehensive report on the human rights impact of the world drug problem, people who use drugs are often denied access to healthcare or may have poorer access to healthcare. Such denial or reduced access may be based on the generalized, stigmatizing assumption that a person’s drug use would make him or her unable to adhere to treatment. This is clearly in breach of the obligation of healthcare professionals to provide treatment to all, without discrimination.

The lack of access to adequate health care is particularly dire for drug users in prisons, where there is a heightened risk of HIV infection, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis. Better health care in prisons, including harm reduction services, is urgently needed.

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