Table 9: Harm Reduction and the Right to Non-discrimination 

Examples of Human Rights Violations

  • A person is denied work, housing, health care, education, or access to goods and services due to actual or suspected drug use.
  • Police disproportionately arrest migrants and racial minorities for drug offenses, such as in the United States. See Bryan Stevenson, “Testimony on Criminal Justice for the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism” (2008), www.eji.org/files/05.28.08%20UNtestimonyonRace.pdf. 
  • People who use drugs are underrepresented in HIV treatment programs despite constituting a majority of people living with HIV, especially women.
Human Rights Standards Treaty Body Interpretation
ICERD 2(1): States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races.

ICERD 2(2): States Parties shall, when the circumstances so warrant, take, in the social, economic, cultural and other fields, special and concrete measures to ensure the adequate development and protection of certain racial groups or individuals belonging to them, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

CERD: has recommended that governments “should pay the greatest attention to the following possible indicators of racial discrimination: . . . The proportionately higher crime rates attributed to persons belonging to those groups, particularly as regards petty street crime and offences related to drugs and prostitution, as indicators of the exclusion or the non-integration of such persons into society” (2005).

Other Interpretations

SR Health: Expressed concern that in Romania “the stigma associated with commercial sex work and injecting drug use, for example, affects how people engaged in these activities are often treated by health-care workers, especially when requesting services such as tests for sexually transmitted infections” and encouraged the government to combat discrimination that creates barrier to services (2005).

SR Adequate Housing: Recommended that the United States “federally prohibit the use of criteria such as drug tests and criminal records, for gaining access to subsidized housing.” A/HRC/13/20/Add.4 (2010).

SR Violence Against Women: Expressing concern that in the United States, “[r]acial profiling by law enforcement in the ‘war on drugs’ is a prominent issue for African-American women” and recommending that the government “[e]xplore and address the root causes, including the multiple and intersectional challenges, which lead to the increasing number of immigrant and African-American women in prisons and detention facilities.” A/HRC/17/26/Add.5 (2011).

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message for the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (June 23, 2008): “No one should be stigmatized or discriminated against because of their dependence on drugs.” www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2008/sgsm11652.doc.htm

European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine 3: Parties, taking into account health needs and available resources, shall take appropriate measures with a view to providing, within their jurisdiction, equitable access to health care of appropriate quality.

Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam, as adopted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) 15: The child is entitled to physical and psychological care and lists a number of concrete features of this entitlement, including: the right to necessary measures to reduce infant and child mortality rates; to preventive medical care; to the control of disease and malnutrition; and to protection from narcotics, intoxicants and other harmful substances.

Report of the Working Group of experts on people of African descent: noting that in the United States, “Whereas the available evidence shows that people of African descent use illegal drugs at approximately the same rate as white people, they are 10 times more likely, on a per capita basis, to go to prison for drug-related offences.” A/HRC/15/18 (2010).