The Fight for Accountability: Opportunities to Engage in Human Rights Advocacy for INPUD

25 November 2021

Human rights violations against people who use drugs, committed in the context of enforcing the failed 'war on drugs', have been widely documented by the community and civil society.  These include but are not limited to:

  • Arbitrary detention and arrest
  • Extrajudicial killings & capital punishment for drug offenses 
  • Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
  • Surveillance and loss of privacy
  • Discrimination in schools, employers and healthcare settings
  • Gender-based violence and discrimination
  • Loss of access to justice & defendant's rights
  • Racial discrimination

A growing number of United Nations experts, agencies and even some member states have acknowledged these harms, with consensus often beginning with reports and resolutions from UN human rights mechanisms. Engagement with the mechanisms, however, can be highly specialised and time-consuming, requiring knowledge of legal norms, bureaucracies, procedures and even personal connections. For national, regional and global networks of people who use drugs, the question is how can we effectively bring our expertise and lived experience to advocacy within UN human rights mechanisms given our limited resources?

To explore this and related questions, INPUD has published this report to introduce the different human rights mechanisms and processes and how they have weighed in on human rights issues relevant to people who use drugs. The mechanisms discussed include:

  • The International Criminal Court
  • UN Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) and Special Procedures
  • Human rights treaty bodies
  • Regional mechanisms and courts

This report was written for INPUD and all other networks of people who use drugs interested in increasing or beginning their engagement with UN human rights advocacy, particularly in the 10 countries supported through the Love Alliance project. It begins with an overview of the UN Human Rights Council and relaed bodies and procedures, as well as some critiques of the human rights system, and a brief history of the recent engagement of drug policy activists with the system. It then turns to consider each mechanism involved, and some resources available to support INPUD and its members in future engagement. Recommendations are included in each section and summarised at the end. The annexes include additional resources.

Overall, networks of people who use drugs have a specific and important opportunity to use the "show in Geneva" to catalyse meaningful change at national levels, and to ensure that 'nothing about us without us' is applied to human rights mechanisms. 

INPUD would like to thank Sara (Meg) Davis for writing this report, with guidance and input from Judy Chang, Jake Agliata and Gayane Arustamyan. The report also benefited greatly from the insights of: Inez Feria, Ann Fordham, Bishnu Fueal-Sharma, Giada Girelli, Svitlana Moroz, Johann Nadela, Anya Sarang, and Rebecca Schleifer.