Russian State authorities are intentionally causing a large group of people (about 1.7 million) severe physical pain, suffering and humiliation with the purpose of punishing them for using drugs, and to intimidate and coerce them into withdrawal.
This is in complete disregard of the chronic nature of dependency and of the scientific evidence pointing to the total ineffectiveness of punitive measures in achieving the purposes for which such measures are officially used (i.e., protection of public safety and public health).
Concurrently, at the legislative level and at the highest political levels, the State impedes the implementation of those measures that would eliminate the pain and suffering of drug dependent people, help to prevent the spread of dangerous infectious diseases and reduce mortality, and significantly reduce Government spending and ensure compliance with their international obligations to protect the rights and freedoms.
1. Focus of the Report and its justification
This Report concerns facts, reasons for and conditions for mistreatment of drug users in Russia. Often, these people, especially those who inject drugs, have developed a certain degree of drug dependency and are at high risk for adverse consequences of illicit drug use, such as overdoses, HIV infection and other viral and bacterial infections. For the sake of brevity, we will call these people “drug users”.
When preparing the Report we took into account that the Committee Against Torture recognizes the importance of work of non-governmental organizations and invites them to submit information related to reviews of periodic reports of the parties to the Convention. The report takes into account the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee Against Torture following its review of the fourth report of the Russian Federation. In particular, we refer to the Committee’s concern at numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations of acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment committed by law enforcement personnel, including in police custody (Para. 9a); inadequate health care provided to persons in pre-trial detention centres and prison colonies (Para. 17c) and at inadequate living conditions in psychiatric hospitals for patients and also overcrowding in such institutions, which may be tantamount to inhuman or degrading treatment (Para. 18). It also reflects that the issue of drug control and related negative consequences were not highlighted in the fifth periodic report of the Russian Federation to the Committee Against Torture.
Russian State authorities, officials or other persons acting with consent, at the direction or with the acquiescence of the State, are intentionally causing a large group of people (about 1.7 million) severe physical pain, suffering and humiliation with the purpose of punishing them for using drugs, to intimidate and coerce them into withdrawal, completely disregarding the chronic nature of dependency and the scientific evidence of a total lack of effectiveness of punitive measures in achieving the purposes for which such measures are used officially (protection of public safety and public health). At the same time, at the legislative level and at the highest political level, the State impedes the implementation of measures that would eliminate the pain and suffering of drug dependent people, would help to prevent the spread of dangerous infectious diseases and reduce mortality, and would significantly reduce Government spending and ensure compliance with their international obligations to protect the rights and freedoms.
Recommendations to the Government
The government’s current policy of heavy-handed enforcement against drug users must be revised immediately and must fall in line with internationally recognized human rights principles, including the right to liberty and security of person, the right to health, the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to freedom from discrimination. Drug control should not be synonymous with punishment, humiliation and repressions towards drug users. For drug dependent people, respect for their rights and dignity is just as important for their recovery as is their access to effective treatment. It is necessary and urgent to develop and adopt a federal law regulating drug demand reduction and drug-related harm reduction through social and medical measures, rather than through law enforcement; that law should protect drug users from discrimination and ill treatment.
Aside from the principle of non-discrimination and respect for the rights of drug users, the law must contain the following principles:
1. The principle of non-punishment for drug use and related actions including procurement and possession of drugs with no intent to supply;
2. The principle of priority of socio-medical interventions over punishment, retribution and imprisonment, in case of non-violent offenses (in particular acquisitive crimes or low scale drug trafficking) where the drug dependence is the underlying cause.
3. The principle of ensuring access to evidence based drug treatment programs such as opioid substitution therapy with methadone and buprenorphine, including in the criminal justice system.
4. The principle of harm reduction as the basis for work with drug users, including the political, financial and legal support for needle and syringe programs, overdose prevention programs, and effective outreach work among drug users, including in the criminal justice system.
5. The principle of drug users’ participation in the development, adoption, implementation and assessment of the policy, programs and activities related to drugs and any other programs that concern their rights and freedoms.
6. The principle of unacceptability of restrictions on scientific and public discussions of any issues related to drugs and drug policy.
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