The predominant drug control approach used around the world has been rooted in punitive criminal justice responses, at the expense of human rights and public health – with more resources being spent on police, judges, prosecutors and prisons now than ever before. Today, more people than ever are being imprisoned for producing, trafficking, selling or using drugs, and yet the problems remain unsolved: in the world today, there are more producers and consumers of drugs than ever before. The UNODC has openly identified a number of ‘unintended negative consequences’ of the so-called ‘war on drugs’, including severe human rights violations directly related to the criminalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs and vulnerable people involved in illicit drug production and trafficking.

Current drug policies in Africa continue to be very repressive, with the widespread marginalisation and treatment of people who use drugs as criminals, morally weak ‘addicts’ and/or social outcasts; while non-violent lowlevel drug offenders generally make up the largest share of those sent to the criminal justice system. This approach has often exacerbated human rights abuses, such as ill-treatment and extortion by police, mass incarceration and arbitrary detention, in many cases without trial or due process. In recent years, the media in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone have documented incidents of people who use drugs being killed or injured by police officers during raids.

These issues require urgent redress across Africa. Both ECOWAS and the African Union have developed action plans on drugs which highlight the need to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. This IDPC advocacy note attempts to provide a non-exhaustive overview of how current drug policies violate universal human rights, and what a rights-based approach to drug policy looks like in practice, based on the Banjul Charter. 

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