This summer has seen three major reports published in the run up to the International Aids Society AIDS 2012 conference (being held in Washington DC this week) that all address the role of repressive drug enforcement policies on the HIV/AIDS epidemic - making clear recommendations that include decriminalisation of drug possession and use.
The first of these was from the Global Commission on Drug Policy; 'The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS: How the criminalisation of Drug Use Fuels the Global Pandemic' (available here as a pdf) - launched at the end of June at a press conference in London by Commission members Michel Kazatchkine (former Executive director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria) and Ruth Dreifuss (Former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs). The report, the second from the Commission, condemns the drug war as a failure and recommends immediate, major reforms of the global drug prohibition regime to halt the spread of HIV infection and other drug war harms. For more details of the launch event, including video of the press conference, see here.
The second is a report from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law; 'Risks, Rights and Health' (pdf download). This Commission was established, at the request of UNAIDS, by the UN Development Program who also published the report. And, although it does not represent an official UNDP position, its heavyweight commissioners and technical advisory group, combined with its UN provinence, will ensure it commands considerable high level attention amongst member states. The report is more wideranging than the GCDP report, considering how 'evidence and human rights based laws can end an epidemic of bad laws and transform the global AIDS response' across a range of policy arenas. The editorial independence from the official UN hierachy has also allowed a series of recommendations to be made in often highly emotive areas - that are bolder than we are used to hearing from UN agencies. On drug laws specifically the report makes a clear call for legal access to harm reduction, and decriminalisation of possession for personal use (including reviews of the drug conventions). Steve from Transform was invited to sit on the expert advisory group for the high income country dialogue, (one of seven regional events that fed into the report), which he also attended in San Francisco last September. The recommendations in full:
To ensure an effective, sustainable response to HIV that is consistent with human rights obligations:
Countries must reform their approach towards drug use. Rather than punishing people who use drugs who do no harm to others, they must offer them access to effective HIV and health services, including harm reduction and voluntary, evidence-based treatment for drug dependence. Countries must:
- Shut down all compulsory drug detention centres for people who use drugs and replace them with evidence based, voluntary services for treating drug dependence.
- Abolish national registries of drug users, mandatory and compulsory HIV testing and forced treatment for people who use drugs.
- Repeal punitive conditions such as the United States government’s federal ban on funding of needle and syringe exchange programmes that inhibit access to HIV services for people who use drugs.
- Decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use, in recognition that the net impact of such sanctions is often harmful to society.
- Take decisive action, in partnership with the UN, to review and reform relevant international laws and bodies in line with the principles outlined above, including the UN international drug control conventions: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961); Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971); the Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) and the International Narcotics Control Board.
Finally, Harm Reduction International this week launched their third 'Global State of Harm Reduction' report (available to read on line or download as pdf (14mb) here) at an event during AIDS 2012. HRI describe the report:
"The Global State of Harm Reduction 2012 presents the major developments in harm reduction policy adoption and programme implementation that have occurred since 2010, enabling some assessment of global progress. It also explores several key issues for developing an integrated harm reduction response, such as building effective harm reduction services for women who inject drugs, access to harm reduction services by young people, drug use among men who have sex with men, global progress toward drug decriminalisation and sustainability of services in challenging environments."
Chapter 3.4 is titled 'Drug Decriminalisation Policies in Practice: A Global Summary' and was co-authored by Steve from Transform and Niamh Eastwood from Release (drawing on Release's new publication: 'A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Policies in Practice Across the Globe').
It is worth flagging up the introduction to the report by Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS which contains another clearly explained and unambiguous call for less punitive approaches to drug use specifically including decriminalisation of use.
"Punitive laws and policies, whether via prohibiting the provision of sterile injecting equipment and opioid substitution therapy, criminalising drug use,possession of injecting paraphernalia, or denying HIV treatment to people who use drugs, violate people’s right to health and harm the community. Such punitive policies not only fail to reduce HIV transmission but create unintended harms – for instance, by driving people who inject drugs away from prevention and care and resulting in prison overcrowding. Responses to HIV should transcend ideology and be based on scientific evidence and sound human rights principles; they should support, not punish, those affected.
"UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that “No one should be stigmatised or discriminated against because of their dependence on drugs” and called on UN Member States to ensure that people who use drugs have equal access to health and social services. An important function of UNAIDS is to highlight the adverse human rights and public health impacts of restrictive laws and policies, and “to create protective social and legal environment that enable access to HIV programmes.” Further, in its 2011–2015 Strategy, Getting to Zero, UNAIDS is explicit about reducing by half the number of “countries with punitive laws and practices around HIV transmission, drug use or homosexuality that block effective responses”.
"The need for legal reform aligned with HIV prevention and treatment, complemented by the meaningful involvement of people who use drugs in service and policy formulation and implementation, has never been more imperative than it is now for achieving the goal of universal access."
The important message of all three of these reports is neatly captured by this campaign poster for the DC conference (hence the reference to the Presidential candidates) from the Vienna Declaration (which Transform was also involved with when it was established for the AIDS 2010 conference):