Human rights and drugs at the UN have been described as ’parallel universes’. Despite the documented negative human rights impacts of the current approach to drug policies, human rights have received little attention in UN drug control system. The international drug control conventions, which form the legal basis for current international drug policies, were developed and have been interpreted in a vacuum from international human rights law, and the principal organs of drug control have carried out their mandates with little reference to human rights norms, and little regard for their own human rights obligations. Meanwhile, the human rights machinery within the UN has traditionally paid scant attention to drug policies. The result is an international legal and political environment within which human rights violations connected to drug policies are less likely to be raised and addressed, and within which human rights progress through international drug policy is not pursued.
Harm Reduction International’s human rights team works with civil society partners to address this situation through international advocacy at political fora such as the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the UN Human Rights Council, with agencies such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and with independent human rights mechanisms.
In recent years Harm Reduction International has influenced a greater focus on drug policies by UN human rights mechanisms and has contributed to improved human rights discourse within the UN drug control system. In 2008, Harm Reduction International was closely involved, as a civil society member of the UK delegation, in arguing through the first ever human rights resolution adopted at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. In 2009, Harm Reduction International worked with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture on his report to the Human Rights Council calling for a human rights-based approach to drug policies.