Statement from the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association on Ministerial Declaration

14th March 2019, VIENNA, AUSTRIA

The Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA), a regional network of more than 250 members, which strives for creation in the Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA) region of favorable environment for sustainable harm reduction programs and decent lives of people who use drugs, expresses profound concern regarding the ministerial declaration on strengthening our actions at the national, regional and international levels to accelerate the implementation of our joint commitments to address and counter the world drug problem, endorsed today in the High-level ministerial segment of the 62nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Civil society hasn’t had any hope that the 14th of March 2019 could be a day, when government authorities would end the decades-lasting wish to make a drug-free-society. When the states would start to implement approaches based on health and human rights. When the governments fully take a responsibility to ensure “that no one affected by the world drug problem is left behind”. But judging by the ministerial declaration adopted today, the governments in the next ten years will continue to confront the world drug problem, in fact throwing all their forces on the persecution of people who use drugs.

The voice of the civil society on the failure of 2009 Political Declaration was not heard. Government officials even didn’t try to organize any formal assessment to see how the Political Declaration affected people who use drugs during past 10 years.

Recent years have clearly shown that it is impossible “to promote a society free of drug abuse”, and at the same time to ensure basic human rights – the right to health and a decent standard of living, the right to liberty and the security of the person.

CEECA region proves that. In our region, human rights defenders are in prison. Women are forced to stop opioid substitution therapy under the threat of losing their parental rights. Opioid substitution therapy is either not available at all to people who use drugs (in Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), or covers only a small percentage of people in need (for example, less than 1% in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, 3% in Armenia, Latvia, Moldova and Ukraine, while the coverage recommended by the World Health Organization should be 40%). In Russia, where the government continues to ignore international guidelines on harm reduction and where opioid substitution treatment programs are still banned, the HIV epidemic is developing faster than in most countries of the world. The death rate from HIV in one of the Russian regions, the Kemerovo Region, is 65.1 cases per 100,000 inhabitants of the region – this is more than from all alcohol poisoning, suicides, murders, drowning and traffic accidents combined. “Drug registry”, which is the registration of people who use drugs who have applied for treatment or brought to the attention of police, aggravates the vulnerability to discrimination and violence against people who use drugs in CEECA countries even further. The practice of drug registry leads to systematic disclosure of medical information and restriction of rights. Drug possession in small doses (in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania), as well as the consumption of narcotic drugs (in Kazakhstan and Ukraine) are criminal offenses. Injecting drug users account for almost 50% of all prisoners in the region.

Cases from CEECA region, such as Andriy Yarovyi case, Kazakhstan case on OST,  Estonian case on women who use drugs human rights violations confirm, that governments commitment to protect and promote human rights cannot be ensured, while repressive drug policies in regard to the most vulnerable populations exist in the region.

Governments must take full responsibility for any human rights violations, committed against people who use drugs, and stop to criminalize people for the use of drugs or possession of it for personal use.

The use, possession and purchase of drugs should not be prosecuted under criminal or administrative law. This is inhumane and ineffective (as it doesn’t reduce drug use) and entails enormous social costs. Severe sanctions against some drugs have led to emergence of new, more dangerous psychoactive substances on the market (to learn more on EHRA Position Paper on Drug Policy here).

The governments “express deep concern at the high price paid by society and by individuals and their families as a result of the world drug problem”, as it is stated in the ministerial declaration. But in reality, the society pays high price for harmful and repressive drug policies targeted at people who use drugs and failures of governments to ensure full access to treatment.

And while government authorities state in the declaration, that during the last decade the understanding of the world drug problem was improved, we would like to express our deep concern regarding the ministerial declaration, which prohibitionist manner will cause devastating impact on human rights and public health and first of all on thousands lives of people who use drugs.

If governments do not begin to recognize the failure of yet another declaration, we, as a civil society, will be the driving force that will not leave anyone behind in the war on drugs – the war on people.