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Panel: Drugs and Human Rights

“Less words and more actions that respect human rights”

In countries all over the world, people that use illicit drugs often confront  situations of discrimination, rejection and violence that lead to violation of their rights. In this round table, the aim was to determine what policies and actions should be taken to prevent this from keeping occurring.

(Bogotá, 5/12/12, 18:00 hs) “Less words and more actions, that include respect for human rights, but not as an interesting rhetoric but as an effective application”, reclaimed Pablo Abarca, Consultant on the Area of Gender, Rights, Cultural diversity and Bioethic of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). The specialist was one of the participants of the round table on Drugs and Human Rights in the framework of the IV Latin American Conference on Drug Policies that is taken place in Bogotá.

“The right to health exists and is established, but ¿how do we make it operative? ¿What is the use of saying that users with a problematic consumption have a right to be well received and attended, if we do not have the means to make it operative, if there is no places where this attention can be carried out?”, he expressed.

Abarca explained that, when the objectives of the drug inquiry organizations come into conflict with human rights, it is these last that should prevail. “But this is something that is written in paper but not applied”, he maintained.

To sum up, he pointed out that “unfortunately, the international community determines that drugs are a burden that must be fought, and in doing so human rights are being violated, like for example the right to health. All of this with the aggravating factor that the resulting aim of ending drugs is not being achieved”.

¿What happens with drug users?
“The rights and dignity of users are being violated by the war on drugs” maintained Wagner Coutinho Alves, member of the Latin American Network of People who Use Drugs (LANPUD) and secretary of the Association of Social Studies on the use of Psychoactive Substances (ABESUP) in Brazil.

“We need to have effective participation in the drawing up of policies directed towards persons that use drugs. When there is an awareness of what drugs mean to people, policies could be adapted to respect our dignity”, he assured.

Regarding the reunion on which LANPUD was constituted, he mentioned that “comparing the problems that users face in Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and Bolivia, we came to the conclusion that they are quite similar”.

Drugs, criminality and public health
Another of the participants of this round table was Daniel Wolfe, director of the Open Society Institution International Harm Reduction Development (OSI / IHRD), who questioned “the convenient myth that a lot of us tell ourselves: that it is sufficient to treat drugs like a problem of public health and not as a problem of criminality. We repeat this like if it was enough. We say that people need treatment, but avoid the question of what treatment really means”.

Wolfe reminded the audience that this means not only accessibility or availability, but also not to be tortured or humiliated, have the right to privacy and confidentiality, the right to life. “Many people die in centres that operate under the flag of treatment, compassion and a better approach towards drug policies”, he warned.

To sum up, he affirmed “it is important for professionals and civil society organizations that work in this topic to question the model that says that the only way to keep a person in a centre is by putting a padlock or a barbwire. If this is what it takes, it is because the approach is misguided”.

Recover harm reduction
The practice of harm reduction begun in Europe more than 30 years ago, in the aftermath of the 70.000 that died because of the intravenous consumption of drugs. “In the mid-90s the discussion begun to take place on what it meant to think about harm reduction, and it is a topic that is still open for debate”, reminded Oscar Parés Franquero, collaborator of the General Subdirection on Drogodependency of the Agency of Public Health of the Generalitat of Catalunya, Spain as he began his exposition.

“The reflection –he explained- started when problematizing what was risk and the causes of risk. The vulnerability goes much further than risk and it is not given by consumption but because of situations of consumption. The structural factors like gender or poverty generate vulnerability”.

Parés recovered the paradigm of vulnerability, in the sense that “it allows us not to assume the harms of consumption as inevitable. In unifying vulnerability with human rights we are motivating not only professionals that work with certain groups but the involvement of society as a whole”.

Finally, he pointed out that the current drug policies have a series of grave effects: 1) punishment of consumers, 2) increase in the price of drugs, 3) favorability of marginalization, 4) give space to the production of harder drugs, 5) generation of deaths and delinquency, 6) squandering of public resources, 7) leave minors in a state of helplessness and 7) make inoperable the judicial system.

“This hundred years of prohibitionist policies have created a regime that not only threatens the human rights of consumers, but also of those displaced  or victims of violence and, if we put ourselves in a more extreme perspective, they affect the whole of society because public resources are squandered”, he concluded.

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