By the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF)

The criminalisation of drug use and possession for personal use is a major driver of policing and incarceration across the world. In all countries, it is used to target people who live in poverty, as well people who are marginalised on the basis of their ethnicity, race, or gender identity or sexual orientation.

While criminalisation is still prevalent across Africa, in recent years several initiatives in countries like South Africa or Ghana have emerged to depenalise or decriminalise people who use drugs – and more are poised to follow. At the same time, international and African human rights standards such as the 2021 study on drug policies by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, or the 2017 Principles on the Decriminalisation of Petty Offences in Africa developed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, are paving the way for meaningful criminal justice reform.

Against this background, in September 2021 IDPC and the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF) co-hosted a virtual expert meeting on arbitrary detention and the criminalisation of people who use drugs in Africa, which brought together African and international human rights experts, UN officials, African government officials, and civil society and communities from across the continent.

This short meeting report summarises the main interventions that took place during the event, covering four key topics:

  • Presentation of key International and African human rights standards, and their connection to the criminalisation of people who use drugs.
  • The impact of criminalisation on the human rights of people who use drugs.
  • African experiences of drug decriminalisation: current and upcoming examples
  • Recommendations for the way forward