Statement of Intervention on Thematic Session from INPUD

Addressed by Eliot Albers – Executive Director of International Network of People Who Use Drugs [INPUD]

Speaking on behalf of the International Network of People who Use Drugs, and looking at the UN system, it is clear that there is a chasm running through it, there are some serious discrepancies between the top lines taken by UNAIDS Secretariat and that taken by some co-sponsors. The rich discussion of the disastrous impacts of stigma and discrimination at the last thematic session seems to expose a lack of coherence in the UN system when it comes to addressing the epidemic amongst the injecting community. This chasm runs between, and separates Geneva where the PCB and the UNAIDS Secretariat sits, and Vienna, where the Commission on Narcotic Drugs is held. Ensuring system wide coherence when it comes to the health and human rights of people who use drugs is one potential side effect of the successes thus far of the HIV response.

In this PCB we hear from most member states albeit with some notable exceptions clear, very welcome commitments to human rights, to breaking down the barriers of stigma, discrimination and marginalization to which key affected populations are subject, we hear too of the need to address the legal impediments and structural barriers that drive the epidemic amongst our communities. In Geneva it is widely recognised that criminalising sex workers, people who use drugs, and LGBT communities directly contributes to their elevated vulnerability to HIV infection, and that these structural barriers and impediments need to be torn down if we are to make meaningful progress towards achieving the three zeros.
Last year the Global Commission on HIV and the Law convened by UNDP made a series of far reaching recommendations, most of which are largely accepted here, on the legal reforms that are needed if we are to restore dignity, human rights, and health to multiply marginalised, heavily criminalised communities.
In Vienna, at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the same member states who here speak in defense of human rights, enabling legal environments, the removal of structural barriers, the strengthening of community systems, and the need for universal access to health care, in Vienna are bound by a series of conventions that systematically drive atrocious widespread human rights abuses against people who use drugs, that systematically subject us to police abuse, criminalisation, and in many countries to detention centres in which torture and exploitation are commonplace. The atmospheres in the two different UN bodies couldn’t be more discordant. The very health services that people who use drugs need in order to minimise their exposure to HIV infection, not to mention, viral hepatitis, and bacterial infections struggle to be mentioned by name in Vienna. Harm reduction, the evidence based, human rights informed, unequivocally efficacious response to protecting people who use, and specifically, inject drugs from infection still needs to fight for investment and support and is all too often stymied by a distinct lack of political will or outright opposition. Its core interventions, needle and syringe exchange, and opiate substitution programmes are not only left unimplemented in countless states in which people who inject drugs live, but are also under attack in many states whose representatives here speak in their defence. In some states these basic interventions are explicitly criminalised, in others they receive begrudging or no government support, a lack of political will and recalcitrance that is proving deadly, driving HIV rates for example in the Russian Federation amongst people who inject drugs of 40% and upwards.
The GCHL explicitly recommends that “decisive action [be taken] in partnership with the UN, to review and reform relevant international laws and bodies 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.” I would call on member states delegates in Geneva to ensure that they work to ensure greater coherence with their counterparts in Vienna in order to begin to systematically dismantle the global legal architecture of punitive prohibition that is wreaking such sustained harm to communities of people who use drugs. Finally, without the dismantling of punitive approaches to drug use we will not reach the target of reducing HIV infections amongst people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015.
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