By Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
I support the Vienna Declaration because, in most countries, approaches to drug use focus overwhelmingly on criminalization and the imposition of harsh penalties rather than public health measures. As a result, people who use illegal drugs worldwide continue being denied harm reduction services, have poor and inequitable access to antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection, suffer abuse and sometimes torture at the hand of law enforcement officials, and are often incarcerated for lengthy periods of time simply for using or possessing drugs.
These human rights abuses are reported from all regions of the world. They are abhorrent in themselves and we must fight them for this reason alone. Furthermore, they increase people’s vulnerability to HIV and negatively affect the delivery of HIV programmes. Much more needs to happen to fight these abuses.
As the Vienna Declaration highlights, one of the priorities is to stop wasting resources on the failed “war on drugs” that has turned into a war against people and communities. This war must end. Resources should instead be devoted to providing, to everyone who needs them, evidence-based and human rights–based interventions that prevent problematic drug use, treat drug dependence and ensure harm reduction services for people who use drugs.
Another urgent priority is to close all compulsory drug detention centres. In a number of countries, a growing number of people who use drugs are detained, without due process, in such centres. They face what is called “treatment” or “rehabilitation”, but in reality are coercion, forced labour and human rights abuses, including torture. In many of the centres, the services provided are of poor quality and do not accord with either human rights or evidence. Not surprisingly, relapse rates are very high. We need to do everything we can to ensure such centres are closed as soon as possible and replaced by drug treatment facilities that work and that conform to ethical standards and human rights norms.
For all these reasons, I support the Vienna Declaration. I urge you to do the same.
Michel Kazachkine is the Executive Director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He is also a member of the Scientific Board of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and the Governing Council of the International AIDS Society.