The Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) will conduct a 2-day regional workshop for activists and professionals from South East Europe countries “Gathering data on human rights violations and reaction mechanisms” on March 18-19*, 2020, in Belgrade, Serbia.
The aim of the Conference is to show the overall drug policy situation in the international context and how it affects people, who use drugs; to provide to the audience the historical context that led Czech Republic and Norway to the decision of decriminalizing drug use and possession for use; to teach and share with Lithuanian legislators best practices of the drug policy reforms, by giving more international expertise.
On 24 July, 2018, EHRA and Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network conducted a workshop “Handle with Care: How to Document Human Rights Violations among the Most Vulnerable Groups of Key Populations”.
On 26 July, 2018, at the 22 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, EHRA hold a consultation on the areas of drug policy reform in the Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA) region.
Dear colleagues, dear EHRA members!
Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) is launching a regional online consultation to define its priorities in the area of drug policy and human rights of people who use drugs in CEECA that would guide our future activities in 2018 – 2020. The strategic framework of our organization contains the following objective: advocacy of non-repressive drug policy in CEECA, based on public health and human rights. We need a more detailed general position of the organization with a clear vision of expected outcomes supported by the majority of EHRA members for policy and advocacy work.
We expect that this consultation will result in a joint position of EHRA on drug policy, which will reflect our common vision of drug policy in the countries of our region in the future and will identify key approaches to achieve that objective with the help of EHRA members at the national level and by our common efforts at the regional and global level.
This consultation is intended to help us to:
– Jointly explore trends in drug policy in our countries and sub-regions, the impact of political, economic, cultural and religious factors on possible drug policy reforms and understand what should be changed in order to achieve our goals.
– Share the views among EHRA members on drug policy reform and define common regional priorities in drug policy. To achieve this, we need to understand if the Association is ready to set ambitious goals for drug policy reform such as legalization/regulation of drugs – or if we should focus on promoting alternatives to punishment at this stage, without changing the existing legal prohibition framework.
– Discuss if it is realistic for EHRA to engage in “drugeconomics“: the analysis of the economic impact of repressive drug policy and the effectiveness of funding law enforcement approaches to “combat drug abuse”, discussing advocacy issues of redistribution of public funding from law enforcement to social support, harm reduction and re-socialization programs.
– Explore the initiatives and projects of the community aimed at decriminalization, protecting social and economic rights of people who use drugs and OST clients, and document the approaches that have shown positive results in drug policy reform in our region.
The consultation will also help EHRA improve its expert knowledge of drug policy and develop a regional expert database.
The consultation will be held in several stages:
Step 1: Analysis of human rights violations
EHRA will continue to collect information on systematic violations of human rights, achievements and issues faced of people who use drugs, best practices and the results of community-led projects in the field of drug policy and advocacy, in order to develop a regional review. The consequent working stage of this activity took place in May 2018 when the Global Commission on HIV and the Law announced its call for submissions of complaints and best practices . If you did not have the opportunity to do this before May 15, you still may send a short description of violations of the rights of people who use drugs or a description of the results of advocacy and drug policy projects.
Timeline: until September 1, 2018
Please send your submissions or to Dasha Matyushina-Ocheret, email@example.com
Step 2: Webinars “Drug Policy: threats and opportunities”
We will conduct a series of webinars that will allow you to learn more about drug policy and voice your questions and opinions. It will also help us to ensure that EHRA position is based on scientific evidence and analysis of the consequences of repressive drug policy as well as the experience of countries with progressive drug policy.
EHRA will conduct a series of webinars on drug policy, to introduce the members of the Association to the key international and regional trends:
- July 17: Alternatives to punishment for drug use and possession of drugs
- July 31: Decriminalization, depenalization, legalization – what does it all mean in practice?
- August 14: The rights of people who use drugs, or the right to use drugs: what do the international law and common sense tell us?
- August 28: International drug policy: the preparation to the HLM on Drugs 2019
All webinars will be conducted and recorded in Russian and English. We will develop a series of information materials in Russian and English to distribute before the webinars start.
Step 3: Face-to-face consultation during the AIDS Conference in Amsterdam: “How does the repression of people who use drugs interfere with the response to HIV, TB and viral hepatitis in EECA? Are we ready to change the situation? “
The discussion on priorities of drug policy in CEECA will take place in the Regional EECA Space of the Global Village on July 26, 2018. Members of EHRA as well as other activists will take part in the debate. The objective of the consultation is to develop a common vision of the drug policy reform in CEECA and determine the priorities for advocacy at the regional and national levels during a live discussion.
Main issues to discuss:
– Overview of the data on impact of current drug policies on access of PWID to prevention, testing and treatment of HIV, hepatitis and TB. Country cases demonstrating the barriers created by criminalization;
-The wording of key regional priorities to counter repressive drug policies at the national and regional levels;
– Discussion of opportunities associated with the implementation of alternatives to punishment, focusing on sustainability of harm reduction services in CEECA;
– Creating partnerships and finding allies for effective advocacy for drug policy reforms at the national and regional level.
The discussion is open to all EHRA members involved in AIDS2018, as well as to partner NGOs and community networks.
The discussion will be broadcast online to ensure that the maximum number of EHRA members and partners could take part in the consultation.
We will develop a draft position of EHRA on drug policy based on the results of the consultation.
Step 4: Online discussion of the draft drug policy position
A draft of EHRA drug policy position develop in August 2018 and will be shared online for review by the members of the association and partner organizations. Several calls will be held to discuss the wording of the position, there will be an opportunity to make edits and suggestions in writing as well.
Timeline: 1-31 August 2018
Step 5: Approval of EHRA Drug Policy Position by the Steering Committee.
Timeline: September 2018
We are going to use the following communication platforms to ensure that the maximum number of EHRA members can take part in the discussion:
– the EHRA members list-serve
– a Facebook group
Representing different political, cultural and socio-economist contexts, CEECA countries continue to apply prohibition approach and punitive sanctions for drug possession for personal use.
Massive incarceration of people who use drugs is the most obvious, but not the only negative consequence of criminalisation of drug use or possession for personal use. Criminalisation affects health – the fear of police prosecution increases the use of unsterile syringes and thus fuels HIV and viral hepatitis epidemics; overdose mortality rates are also, to a big extend, driven by harsh drug policies. Punitive sanctions for drugs create barriers to social reintegration of people who use drugs decreasing their chance for employment, education and vocational training and, most importantly, building social and family relations.
Punitive sanctions for drug use and possession exit in various forms – it can be years of prison sentences, or arrest for several days, fines or correctional works. While an arrest or a fine cause less harm to health and social wellbeing of an individual than a longterm imprisonment, the substance remains the same – it is a sanction, a punishment, which is aim is to cause suffering, but not to help. Thus real alternatives to criminal sanctions for drugs are not administrative fines but programs that refer people who use drugs to health or social service that they need.
Such referral can be made at the point of arrest and include access to harm reduction programs, opioid substitution and other drug treatment, HIV testing and treatment, mental health programs, vocational training, employment, housing etc. There is growing evidence that diversion from arrest programs cost less and are more effective in terms of decreasing the criminal behaviour (for more information see https://www.leadbureau.org/).
In CEECA diversion from arrest programs only start to be implemented. Pilot programs are run in Estonia and Lithuania, while in a number of countries – Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – their initiation is discussed by national stakeholders. However, the region will go a long way to reorient its drug policies to humanistic and right-based approach.
In fact, any social belief or stereotype built on the thesis that people who use drugs are less worthy of social benefits than those who do not use drugs is a form of violence in itself. Social stigma associated with drugs and criminalisation lead to systematic discrimination of people who use drugs in the healthcare system: they are often denied effective drug treatment such as opioid substitution treatment, HIV and viral hepatitis prevention and treatment, access to pain management, etc. In particular, women who use drugs suffer from disproportional damage: they are deprived of parental rights, they have limited access to sexual and reproductive health care services (especially during pregnancy), they are subjected to brutal police and domestic violence. Their stigmatisation is complex and multifaceted, which makes them much more susceptible and vulnerable to HIV and other infections.
In CEECA, in general, the institutes of the protection of human rights of vulnerable populations are underdeveloped, while there are significant differences in factors that explain low access to and limited efficiency in using human rights instruments. In addition to that, extremely low interest to human rights violations experienced by people who use drugs among ‘mainstream’ human rights and gender rights movements can be explained by extremely high stigma around drug-related issues. In this context, the central role in documenting human rights violation and analysing them through the prism of international and national legislation has to be given to people who use drugs and their ‘traditional allies’ – harm reduction programs.
Author: Eliza Kurcevic
„After the New Year, for the smallest amount of marijuana – criminal liability and immense fines, „In one of Vilnius bars, police made a raid: Some of the bar visitors were scared, some were laughing“, „A young man was sentenced for the distribution of drugs, committed a suicide in the Lukiškės Remand Prison“, „Penalties in Lithuania: for one shared joint – imprisonment from 2 up to 8 years“ – those are just a few titles of the headlines in the news portals, during this year (2017). This is definitely a year of failures and regress in the terms of drug policy, where policy makers started to treat people in Lithuania, as drugs itself: isolating, controlling and containing. And while some of the European Union countries already have a great experience in the process of the drug liberalization by creating tolerant, human rights based approach of the psychoactive substances possession for the personal use (such as Czech Republic, Portugal, The Netherlands), opening drug consumption rooms (The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Luxembourg) or prescribing heroin-assisted treatment (Denmark, Germany, UK, Spain, The Netherlands), Lithuania is coming back to the rotten roots of old laws, where punitive and prohibitionist policies were worshiped. And here I speak about Soviet Union times, when for the possession of drugs you could get up to 15 years imprisonment. So what‘s happened in Lithuania (or should I say WITH Lithuania?)?
A GLANCE INTO THE DRUG POLICY SITUATION IN LITHUANIA, IN 2017
I can’t call the beginning of 2017 as a great start of the New Year in the context of the drug policy. Before 1st January, 2017 provision on the possession of the small amounts of the psychoactive substances was considered as a matter of the administrative liability by the Administrative Offences Code. But starting from the 1st of January, 2017 possession of the psychoactive substances (any amount of it) is regulated by the Criminal Code and considered as a crime or misdemeanour. Unfortunately, I can’t get in the heads of our policy makers and rational explain what kind of blackout they had so they decided to move these provisions from administrative to criminal liability. But seems they got confused about separation of criminal and administrative liabilities and just moved all that kind of provisions to the Criminal Code. And this is the best example of the punitive mentality: if you don’t know how to treat a person – give him/her the worst penalty. So, Lithuanian policy makers did it and the bedlam started in the heads of the Lithuanian citizens.
When the first cases, related to the possession and distribution of the small amounts of the psychoactive substances in 2017 appeared in the courts, judges didn’t feel like they want to punish young Lithuanian citizens with the custodial sentence for a term of up to two years (in case of the possession) and custodial sentence for a term of two up to eight years (in case of distribution). Special attention during investigations was taken in the cases where famous Lithuanian person’s children were caught or children from “good families”. So what courts did in the most of the cases – they gave a fines or based on the principle of justice gave a suspended sentence (when imposition of the penalty provided for in the sanction of an article is evidently in contravention to the principle of justice, judge can impose a commuted penalty subject to a reasoned decision). But these decisions actually didn’t help young persons, as they got criminal convictions for several years. Just to imagine, how messed up we are: approx. 800 pre-trial investigations on the possession of the psychoactive substances have already started this year. 537 suspended sentences were imposed in pre-trial investigations. But let’s move on, as there were more consequences of these harsh laws.
One May evening, popular bar in Vilnius „Peronas“ was „visited“ by the police. It lasted about 15 minutes. All this time police were distracted by not knowing what to do, were running around the bar. Please, check video (really worth to see this ridiculous raid). „Some of the bar visitors were scared, some were laughing“, says the owner of the bar. After raid there was no more information from the police, no warnings. So what was the point of this raid? What the police wanted to show by organizing it? Instead of concentrating on the catching up large-scale dealers, police started to organize bars visitors frightening actions. But…that’s only one example from dozens, which happened this year.
Situation started to get worse in autumn. One morning I woke up with a new “A young man sentenced for the distribution of drugs, committed a suicide in the Lukiškės Remand Prison“. I couldn‘t believe that this is real, that this is happening in the XXI century in Lithuania. He was only 21-year-old. After the decision (custodial sentence) was made, the young man was found dead in the camera. He made a suicide. NOT drugs killed him, but draconic and disproportionate laws, which take off any hope! The fear of cruel, brutal, inhuman conditions in the prison made a young person to make a suicide.
And for the end I left the newest updates, which made a lot of families, lawyers, judges, members of the society to rethink towards where we are moving on. Starting from the 6th October 2017 Criminal Code was „patched“/amended. The policy makers decided that it‘s time to fight with corruption. How it is related with the possession of the psychoactive substances? These amendments prohibited to suspend a sentences for a serious crime. But as judge A. Cininas commented „The motives were beautiful: the fight against corruption, fraud. But serious crimes also include activities such as sharing joints of cannabis between the teenagers”. So basically, if one day I will be smoking joint and my friend will ask to share it with him/her, and we will be caught by police, this will be interpreted as a possession of a psychoactive substance with the purpose to distribute it. And by amended laws judge will be obligated to give me a custodial sentence for a term of two up to eight years (no suspension, as this crime is included into the „serious crimes“ category). Which as you already understood, means, that I will go to the prison from two to eight years. Does it make sense? Well, in the country where drugs are criminalized and punitive mentality can‘t leave it roots – probably it does.
Until now, Lithuania has done little to reduce crime or to take attention on the large-scale dealers. Starting with the new law (amendment of the Criminal Code from 6th October, 2017) we will have prisons filled in with young, low-level, non-violent individuals.
So maybe instead of putting low-level „criminals“ into the jail, let‘s take a look to the progressive approaches, let‘s check how other European Union countries deal with the issue. A variety researches showed that treatment-based, education and simply human rights based approaches are the most effective and giving the results.
Next month I will update you with the situation in Lithuania and using the Portuguese model of decriminalization, will show what changes we can make in our system.
TO BE CONTINUED…