JS 1 - Panel Discussion on Drugs and Human Rights

Mr Chairman,

I have the honour to make this statement on behalf of Albania, Australia, Colombia, Greece, Guatemala, Israel, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay and my own country Switzerland.

We have listened to the panellists' presentations with great interest and are delighted that this discussion can take place in the Council. We would like to return to the question of the right to heath, which we consider of high relevance when addressing the world drug problem.

As stated in the report of the High Commissioner, people who use drugs and people who have a drug dependency have the same right to health as everyone else, and this right cannot be curtailed even if the use of drugs constitutes a criminal offence. Special attention has to be given to vulnerable groups.  The right to health is provided for in article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. States are required to recognise everyone's right to health on a non-discriminatory basis, including therefore the right to health of drug users.

We would also like to recall the WHO Constitution, which recognizes that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one the fundamental right of every human being” and that “Governments have a responsibility for the health of their people”.

Despite these obligations, violations of the right to health continue in a significant number of countries where access to essential medicines and harm reduction measures is very limited or non-existent. This leads to the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C and creates additional health risks for drug users and the society as a whole.

The right to health should be at the centre of drug policies. This means not only taking action in the field of prevention and treatment – an approach that is widely accepted and recognised – but also taking risk reduction measures that fall within the scope and the spirit of the three international drugs conventions. 

It has been scientifically proven that countries that put in place public health strategies and risk reduction measures have registered a sustained reduction in the number of HIV infections and other blood-borne infections. We hence encourage States to implement such measures.

We should also consider at the international level the question of access to controlled medicines. As indicated in the preamble to the 1961 Convention, the medical use of narcotic drugs is indispensable for the relief of pain and suffering.  Yet millions of people, particularly in countries with inadequate health systems, are still suffering from moderate to severe pain which is not being treated. This is happening even in palliative care centres despite the fact that effective, available and inexpensive treatments exist which are, however, subject to overly restrictive regulations that prevent people suffering pain from obtaining them. This situation is no longer acceptable, and the right to health requires, among other things, better access to controlled medicines, especially in developing countries.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.