Fifty-five years since the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was adopted, creating the framework for the global drug control system, there is now mounting evidence that the “war on drugs” approach has led to serious negative consequences. In response, the international drug policy debate has increasingly embraced the idea of more balanced, health- and human rights-based approach.
At the regional level, the African Union’s Plan of Action on Drug Control 2013-2017 includes health and social services as one of the four key priority outcomes. Most recently, the Common African Position for the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem stated that “a more balanced approach is needed to focus on the health and human rights of people who use drugs”. This narrative is also increasingly being used by a number of member states themselves.
At the same time, the predominant drug control approach used around the world remains rooted in criminal justice, often at the expense of human rights and public health. Current drug policies in Africa continue to be very repressive, with the widespread marginalisation and treatment of people who use drugs as criminals, morally weak ‘addicts’ and/or social outcasts. This approach has often exacerbated human rights violations directly related to the criminalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs.
To address these issues, the first advocacy note in this series seeks to elaborate what a health-based approach looks like in practice in Africa, and explores five specific areas that need to be urgently addressed by governments. The second advocacy note attempts to provide an overview of how current drug policies violate universal human rights, and what a rights-based approach to drug policy looks like in practice.