The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has joined the growing list of health experts and human rights bodies urging a move long advocated by the Legal Network: the implementation of prison-based needle and syringe programs (PNSPs). In fact, we were among the invited experts at a meeting convened by the Special Rapporteur last year, to examine how to strengthen the UN's existing Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of prisoners and people in other places of detention.
Informed by that meeting, the Special Rapporteur's latest report (see "Latest reports") to the UN General Assembly highlights the particular vulnerability to abuse in detention of people living with HIV, people who use drugs, women, sex workers, and LGBT people. It reaffirms that health care in prisons should be equivalent to that in the community, going so far as to state that the new UN rules on prisons should oblige states:
"to ensure that all harm-reduction measures, including ... needle and syringe exchange programmes and evidence-based substance abuse treatment, are available to people who use drugs at all stages of their detention."
The Special Rapporteur also reiterated (from a previous report) concerns about the practice in some settings of withholding methadone or other drug dependence treatment as an interrogation technique.
This latest report represents a significant step forward in the international recognition of the rights of prisoners and people who use drugs. Nevertheless, the Canadian government continues to resist scientifically proven harm reduction services, even working to undermine them at the international level. Such recalcitrance only underscores the necessity of our ongoing court case seeking the implementation of needle and syringe programs in federal prisons, as well as the need for us to keep our engagement internationally as UN member states begin a review of global drug policy over the next two years.
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