Table 6: Harm Reduction and Freedom of Expression and Information

Examples of Human Rights Violations

  • Drug users are denied information about HIV prevention, harm reduction, and safer drug use.
  • Government bans publications about drug use or harm reduction, claiming they represent propaganda for illegal activity.
  • The government shuts down websites providing information about harm reduction. See, www.hrw.org/news/2012/02/08/russia-government-shuts-hiv-prevention-group-s-website.
  • Government officials harass or detain individuals who speak publicly in favor of needle exchange, methadone, or other harm reduction measures.
  • NGOs are compelled to oppose harm reduction as a condition of government funding for work on HIV prevention.
Human Rights Standards Treaty Body Interpretation
ICESCR 12(1): The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. CESCR General Comment 14: Noting that states have a responsibility, inter alia, to refrain from “applying coercive medical treatments, unless on an exceptional basis for the treatment of mental illness or the prevention and control of communicable diseases,” and to refrain from “censoring, withholding or intentionally misrepresenting health-related information, including sexual education and information, as well as from preventing people’s participation in health-related matters.”

CESRC: Recommending that Estonia “intensify its efforts with regard to preventing drug use, including through education and awareness-raising programmes, and expansion of the provision of drug substitution therapy.” E/C.12/EST/CO/2 (CESCR, 2011).

Human Rights Standards Treaty Body Interpretation
ECHR 10(1): Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

ECHR 10(2): The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society.

ECtHR: This case arises from Campbell v. MGN, in which the supermodel Naomi Campbell was awarded damages for breach of confidence (privacy) for the publication of her drug addiction and treatment. The EChtHR held that the finding in the original case that the publication was in breach of confidence did not violate the publisher’s right to freedom of expression. MGN Limited v. The United Kingdom, 39401/04 (January 18, 2011).

ECtHR: The applicant company complained about the injunction imposed on it against reporting on the arrest and conviction of a celebrity for drug use. The Court found that the injunction violated Art. 10. Axel Springer AG v. Germany, no. 39954/08 (February 7, 2012).