Example 4: Harm Reduction International’s
engagement with human rights mechanisms 

Project Type: Advocacy

The Organization

Harm Reduction International
London, United Kingdom
Email: info@ihra.net
Website:  http://www.ihra.net/

Harm Reduction International (HRI) advocates for the human rights of drug users and documents the harms associated with drug use.

The Problem

The total elimination of psychoactive drug use is not a practical goal. Those who are unable or unwilling to end their use of controlled drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or pharmaceutical drugs need access to treatment to reduce harms associated with their drug use. Unfortunately, many governments do not provide the necessary harm reduction programs. A health and human rights approach is needed to leverage these governments into providing not only the necessary funding, commitment and implementation of harm reduction programs but also the appropriate legal framework in which to operate those programs.

Actions Taken

In partnership with national and international organizations, HRI submits shadow reports on various countries to various human rights treaty bodies.

What are Shadow Reports?

When a country is being reviewed by a human rights committee, civil society organizations are permitted to submit a report to supplement the obligatory state report. Often, many civil society organizations collaborate together to create one comprehensive report. These shadow reports provide valuable and independent insight to the human rights committee. The reports allow the human rights committee to determine whether a given country complies with its human rights obligations vis-à-vis its actions towards drug users within its borders. Shadow reports are encouraged by the committees because it ensures that the treaty body review mechanisms are more meaningful and the committees can engage in more robust analysis.

Listed below are some examples of shadow reports submitted by HRI.

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 

Sweden (2007/08) with Swedish Drug Users Union. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cescr/docs/info-ngos/sduu-ihra.pdf.

Poland (2009) with Open Society Institute Global Drug Policy Program

Kazakhstan (2010) with Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, The Eurasian Harm Reduction Network,
Anti-AIDS (Pavlodar), Equal to Equal (Almaty) and KREDO. (In Russian). www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cescr/docs/ngos/IHRA_Kazakhstan_44.pdf.

Mauritius (2010) with Collectif Urgence Toxida. www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cescr/docs/ngos/IHRA_CUT_Mauritius44.pdf.

Afghanistan (2010) with Transnational Institute

Colombia (2010) with Institute for Policy Studies and Witness for Peace.

Russian Federation (2010-ongoing) with Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice. www.ihra.net/human-rights-treaty-body-reporting. 

Committee on the Rights of the Child 

Ukraine (2010) with Eurasian Harm Reduction Network. www.ihra.net/files/2011/02/10/EHRN_IHRA_Ukraine_report_CRC.pdf

Committee Against Torture 

China with Human Rights Watch and Asia Catalyst (2008). http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/ngos/HRW_IHRA_AC_China_41.pdf

Results and Lessons Learned 

The submission of shadow reports to various UN human rights committees has had a positive impact on the committees’ ability to determine a country’s compliance with a human rights treaty. Frequently, shadow reports address omissions, deficiencies or inaccuracies in official government reports. Shadow reports can also influence and shape the questions asked by the committee and consequently, their concluding observations and recommendations as well. For example, by submitting a shadow report on the status of drug users in a given country, it will bring the issue to the committee’s attention and perhaps trigger the committee to pose questions to government officials on its political and financial commitment to harm reduction measures. Governments are required to answer all questions posed by the committee, and this has proven to be an effective accountability mechanism for civil society.

Resources for Engagement with UN Treaty Bodies

Below we provide one general guide that includes descriptions of the treaty bodies and what they do as well as an explanation of how NGOs can engage with the treaty bodies. The second resource provides training materials for engagement with UN mechanisms specific to harm reduction.