26 October 2010
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Right to Highest


Attainable Standard of Physical, Mental Health


Speaking at a Headquarters press conference today, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, promoting the right to physical and mental health, said that the so called “campaign for a drug free world” could actually result in violations of the right to health, as people who used drugs might not come forward to get the care they needed for fear of being arrested, or could be denied health care if they sought help.

Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health made that argument as he highlighted the findings from his fourth report, on criminalization of drug use and the right to health, which he had presented on Monday 25 October to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). (Please See Press Release GA/SHC/3987).

He emphasized that the current approach to drug use was “overly punitive with the costs “much more deleterious” than the advantages and, in fact, human rights had been ignored, resulting in the denial of access to health care facilities, products and services.  Moreover, criminalization of drug use perpetuated the stigma against persons who use drugs or were dependent on them, driving them underground. 

Perhaps even more disconcerting was the imposition of mandatory and compulsory treatment.  Such treatment, he said, was administered without informed consent.  Furthermore, it was not evidence based but rather based on the violation of the dignity of most people.  “At end of the day, you have a situation where large numbers of people have their rights violated - a lot of them end up dying,” he stated.

The other impact of the criminalization of drug use, he noted, was that what was known as “controlled medicines” - basically pain killers - required by people suffering from cancer or HIV were not accessible, particularly in the developing world.  Also impacted were interventions - including needle and syringe programmes - necessary for the prevention of disease, such as HIV.

Suggestions made in the report are based on actual working practices around the world to decriminalize drug use and take-up practices of harm reduction.  That included, he said, the setting up of a commission to address a lack of discussion on how to centralize human rights within the framework of drug conventions.  “In the long run, there needs to be a completely new paradigm, not a punitive one,” he said.  One that was not punitive but akin to the framework convention on tobacco control - a regulatory regime with education - he elaborated.

Responding to a question from the floor on the involvement of United Nations agencies on reports of involuntary drug treatment being carried out by some countries, and whether such treatment was a violation of human rights, he said he believed there was a debate within the Organization about whether such treatment methods were valid.  While there was agreement that those methods were not the proper ones, there was not a lot of talk as to whether they violated human rights.  The idea of the report, he underlined, was to tell Governments that - apart from being in violation of human rights norms - there were more evidence-based methods that worked.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record