Lebanon – The rights of drug users: Between the text of the law and its implementation

20 July 2011

Skoun, Lebanese Addictions Center

Countries from around the world have developed different policies and methods to limit the spread of drugs. To each country its policy, which can range from strictness - as is the case for Singapore, which still applies the death sentence on the drug use accusation - and a more tolerant policy - as is the case for the Netherlands, which was one of the first countries to tolerate marijuana use and later created regulations as to the use and possession of the drug.

Some policies are still leaning towards considering the drug user a criminal, which contradicts basic human rights principles especially with regards to the right to a “standard of living adequate to the health and well being of himself” as proclaimed in the human rights declaration.

Along with Singapore, twenty nine other UN member states and territories are still applying the death penalty towards drug-related offenders. Those drug users who are "accused" and then “convicted” as "criminals " in most of these countries constitute a big percentage of the individuals upon which the penalty is applied.

In Lebanon, the Narcotics law of 1998 states that the prosecution of a person who uses drugs is suspended in case they enter a treatment programme and commit to it until recovery. However, twelve years after the issue of the law, and according to the study conducted by Skoun (Lebanese addictions center), entitled “Needs assessment for drug users and treatment centers in Lebanon” in 2010, results show that 33% of drug users who were accessed through outreach had been incarcerated on average twice for an average period of 60 days. The study also included statistics collected by the Drug Enforcement Bureau, which show that 2,228 individuals had been arrested for drug use while not having committed any other crime in 2009, half of which were aged between 18 and 34. In addition, 40% of the judges interviewed, indicated that they never issued a primary or final verdict requiring the individual to commit to treatment as an alternative to incarceration, whereas only 4% indicated that they had issued similar verdicts regularly.

These numbers is an indication that the law is only scarely applied, since people who use drugs are still criminalised. There might be several reasons as to why the law is not applied as it should be; for example, the judicial system, which advocates for the precise application of the law, is not aware of appropriate alternatives to incarceration. Furthermore, the 1998 law provides for the establishment of a Government Treatment Centre which provides medical and psychological support to people who use drugs; however, this center is yet to be set up. In addition, the Addiction Committee mentioned in the article 199 of the law has not yet been activated, although its role is essential to assess the individuals after their arrest and refer them to treatment by specifying the centre and duration of treatment.

The non-activation of the Addiction Committee and the failure to set up a Governmental Treatment Center to treat individuals with drug addiction problems reveal the absence of a national strategy to deal with the drugs problem. The matter has not yet been added to the agenda of the Ministerial meeting sessions, which demonstrates the failure to consider the issue of drugs a priority by the Lebanese government.

Considering the increasing needs and recommendations highligted in its study, Skoun proposes that a few articles in the 1998 addiction law be modified, and that a pilot system of referral between the judicial system and existing treatment centres be created in Lebanon, in order to assess the efficiency of the court system and the cost-effectiveness of drug treatment, in hope that the Addiction Committee will soon be activated and will accept this system.

The Arabic version of this article is available below.

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