Human rights and drug policies in Nepal
Authored by Tripti Tandon, Deputy Director, Lawyers Collective (India).
With the support of Dristi Nepal, the International Drug Policy Consortium, Recovering Nepal, YKP LEAD Nepal and Youth Rise International.
This report provides a comprehensive review of the human rights situation of people who use drugs in Nepal, and examines how Nepal’s repressive and outmoded drug policies are contributing to the violation of several human rights recognised under international and domestic law.
This briefing is the result of desk research, a nation-wide consultation with 56 representatives of communities and civil society from across the country, as well as focus group discussions with women and youth-led organisations.
The main findings of the report are as follows:
- Population. According to official data, an estimated 1,300,000 people use drugs in Nepal, while approximately 70% of them, or 90,000 people, inject drugs. In 2019, HIV prevalence amongst people who inject drugs was at 8.8% – a much higher rate than that of the general population in Nepal, which was 0.2%.
- Criminalisation. The 1976 Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act, still in force, criminalises the use, possession for personal use, and ‘addiction’ to drugs. As such, Nepal criminalises drug dependence itself – a medical condition. According to a 2019 survey of people who use drugs, nearly half of the respondents, including 63% of respondents who injected drugs, had been arrested for drug use or a related offence.
- Lack of access to drug treatment. Treatment for drug dependence is available only in private facilities, and at a cost that is beyond reach for most people who use drugs. Legal provisions granting immunity from prosecution to those who enter drug treatment are denied to people who cannot afford it. Services in border areas are scarce, though the prevalence of drug use is higher near the Nepal-India border.
- Abuses in private treatment centres. Private actors operate so-called drug treatment and rehabilitation centres without training, authorisation or approval. Nearly 11% of the respondents surveyed in the 2019 Nepal Drug Users’ Survey reported experiencing violence during treatment, and cases of torture and ill-treatment. Cases of death have also been reported.
- Poor uptake of harm reduction. Although the government of Nepal supports harm reduction programmes, the police frequently harass and detain people visiting needle and syringe programmes (NSP) and opioid agonist therapy (OAT) services. This has contributed to the poor uptake of harm reduction in the country. People who use drugs are routinely stopped and searched without a warrant.
- Disproportionate impact on women who use drugs. Women who use drugs are disproportionately impacted by the stigma and criminalisation against people who use drugs, which are amplified by patriarchal norms and gender stereotypes. Drug policies and programmes are neither informed by gender-based considerations, nor do they address the concerns of women who use drugs.
Over 54% women who use drugs have faced arrest, compared to 45.2% of men. Women are often searched by male police officers, and are verbally and physically abused in detention. Women are disproportionately detained for drug offences, and are incarcerated in alarming conditions, especially in relation to nutrition and sexual and reproductive healthcare. Women who use drugs report severe forms of domestic and partner violence, but do not have access to legal remedy.
- International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)
- Recovering Nepal
- Youth RISE