Table 8: Harm Reduction and Right
to Bodily Integrity

Examples of Human Rights Violations

  • A suspected drug user is abused by police.
  • Police fail to investigate a case of domestic violence against a drug-using woman.
  • Doctors compel a drug-using pregnant woman to undergo an abortion.
  • Police fail to investigate the assault or murder of a person suspected of using drugs, blaming it on “gang violence.”

Note: The right to bodily integrity is not specifically recognized under the ICCPR or ICESCR, but has been interpreted to be part of the right to security of the person, to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Similarly, the right to bodily integrity is not specifically recognized in CEDAW, although CEDAW has been widely interpreted to include the right to protection from violence against women.

Human Rights Standards Treaty Body Interpretation
CEDAW 2 States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women.

CEDAW 3 States Parties shall take … all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.

CEDAW: explaining to Thailand that “sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence and marital rape, whether in the family, the community or the workplace, constitute violations of women’s right to personal security and bodily integrity.” CEDAW/C/1999/I/L.1/Add.6 (1999). 

Other Interpretations

Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Has noted, “An aspect of disappearances that has been underreported in the past and continues at the present time relates to the way in which acts of disappearance are perpetrated in conjunction with other gross violations, with targets drawn from among the most vulnerable groups in society. . . . Common examples brought to our notice were: disappearances, combined with “social cleansing,” the urban poor, the unemployed, and the so-called “undesirables,” including prostitutes, petty thieves, vagabonds, gamblers and homosexuals as the victims.”

SR Violence Against Women: Recommending to Mexico to “investigate with due diligence all instances of alleged violence against women whether it occurs in home, in community, or workplace with particular emphasis on connections between violence against women and drug and human trafficking; prosecute perpetrators; grant prompt and adequate compensation and support to survivors.” E/CN.4/2006/61/Add.4 (2006)

SR Violence Against Women: Noting of Sweden that while in “recent years, the shelter movement has created specialized institutions for young women and teenage girls exposed to violence. Other groups with special needs are still underserved. For example, women with severe alcohol or drug problems are usually not given access to existing shelters if they face violence. Unless they agree to enter an addiction rehabilitation programme (and actually find a place), they face a protection gap.” A/HRC/4/34/Add.3 (2006).

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2001) stated that “every competent patient…should be given the opportunity to refuse treatment or any other medical intervention. Any derogation from this fundamental principle should be based upon law and only relate to clearly and strictly defined exceptional circumstances.

The European Charter of Patients’ Rights sets out the right to informed consent. “A patient has the right to refuse a treatment or a medical intervention and to change his or her mind during the treatment, refusing its continuation.” [Art. 4]. Moreover, a patient has “the right to freely choose from different treatment procedures and providers on the basis of adequate information.” [Art. 5].

The Declaration on the Promotion of Patients’ Rights in Europe, Art. 3.1, 3.2: “The informed consent of the patient is a prerequisite for any medical intervention,” and “[a] patient has the right to refuse or halt a medical intervention.”

European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, Art 5: An intervention in the health field may only be carried out after the person concerned has given free and informed consent to it.