What is Human Rights & who are these rights for?
ANPUD statement at the OHCHR Consultation on Human Rights in the HIV Response.
On 12 & 13 February 2019, Mr. Bikas Gurung – Program and Communication Manager of the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs (ANPUD) represented the Asian communities at the Consultation on Human Rights in the HIV Response “Promoting human rights in HIV response: Regional and subregional strategies and best practices”.
This consultation was mandated by Human Rights Council resolution 38/8 and organized by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights or OHCHR) in coordination with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
On ANPUD’s behalf, Mr. Gurung delivered the statement which is published below. ANPUD was invited to speak about ‘Regional accountability mechanisms to uphold human rights to and through health’.
Hello everyone. Thank you for having me here as one of the speakers. I am the last speaker today. Let me begin with one positive note first and then continue to share many issues that our communities have been facing.
We recognize and welcome the level of progress that have been made with respect to the commitments and advancements regarding the response to the epidemic of HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Tuberculosis through endorsement and implementation of evidence-based harm reduction policies and programs respectively. However, I am afraid this is the extent to which we can recognize and appreciate about present harm reduction efforts in the 7 minutes I have been given to speak.
As a speaker today, I think my role is to be honest with all of you – even if that would mean to become brutally honest.
First,let me begin by being honest about the fact that I have never studied human rights (formal education). I may have little or some expertise in few things but I am not an expert of human rights. I don’t know how everyone in this room ended up here today and maybe some of us share similar stories behind our participation. So, even though I have been invited to become one of the speakers, I am here to learn from all of you and I might be the only speaker in this consultation with many questions to raise.
I am here on behalf of the Asian Network of People who use drugs, the only drug users-led network that has been around for the last 10 years working for community empowerment and network building; drug laws and policy reform and equal rights and opportunities and quality of life of people who use drugs..
I am here because I am a drug user. I know about human rights because my rights and the rights of many of my friends are violated on a regular basis.
I am here –
- because tens of thousands of our friends and family members who could have been here were murdered in just 2 years of timespan in the name of the so called war on drugs, which is ongoing in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and continuing to spread.
- because in just a handful of countries of Asia, almost a million are arbitrarily detained inside the so called compulsory detention centers – massive/mega factories for rights violations of people who use drugs.
- because our communities have either been subject to high application of capital punishment OR been disproportionately sentenced to prison as a result of which in many countries, at present, more than 50% and up to 90% of prison population are low level drug use cases – not to mention the high incarceration rate of women who use drugs and a long list of horrible situations they are compelled to endure.
- because millions are forced to hide due to fear of arrest and harassment and many unknown numbers are dying prematurely due to the highly contaminated drugs supplied through the illegal markets.
Whenever there is a meeting focused on HIV, more often the extent to which such discussion touches issues of human rights and legal barriers has been to address the stigma and discrimination in healthcare setting. This morning I was hearing a lot of stigma, stigma, stigma from one of the speakers and how people who use drugs and sex workers do not have much data available on stigma and how these are one of the main causes of the problem. Well how do you even reduce stigma when we are being stigmatized and discriminated as criminals.
Do you know how it feels like being chased or harassed by police in front of your family? Do you have any idea how we feel when during our withdrawals inside custody instead of healthcare we are beaten badly all night? I am not saying that stigma is not important but “Do not tell us right on our face that stigma and discrimination are the roots and thus the ultimate solution moving forward”. NO! they are not. They are simply the most convenient and politically correct option to go forward with.
The whole world including many countries at present infamous by their murderous leaders have witnessed that nothing will happen when a mass murderer government openly threatens lives of media, human rights defenders, UN special rapporteur and even the UN high commissioner for human rights. Our last resort and hope was the International Criminal court when after almost 2 years of petitions and submissions finally in February 2018, the Prosecutor of the ICC opened a preliminary investigation in the Philippines and she has been threated too.
Over 13,000 people were reported murdered when ICC investigation was opened and now we are already at 27000.
Honestly, we are not sure what is human rights and who are these rights for? What happens when someone or some entity violates someone’s rights? Or more accurate question would be – what happens when a leader of the nation openly declares a war and provides license for authorities and public to kill people who use drugs? If something will happen then when will it happen?
The SILENCE from agencies who could do something has encouraged more governments to implement war on drugs. In some ways the value of international treaties have diminished. In the past country governments used to violating any international treaties is highly serious matter and now they have grown confident. We need to stop being silent and politically correct is it is human rights that we are sitting here today.
Let me shift my focus a bit on what can be done now:
We are not indicating severe punishment to be introduced for the perpetrators of rights. No we are not the believers of prohibition, criminalization and any form of punishments. Our demand is a future where such situation does not arise in the first place, when if my child or your child uses drugs then they are not killed, they are not bitten badly and locked up without any information. People have used drugs for centuries and will always use drugs regardless of punitive laws. So lets at least ensure that when someone decides to use drugs then they get a good quality one from a legal market and that they are loved, cared, supported and offered range of health services.
This is not a World Drug Problem. This is a World Drug Policy Problem. The 3 UN drug control conventions that has normalized human rights violations need to be totally abolished and started afresh. We cannot keep on advocating for amendments on top of the same foundations built on set of demonizing principles and prejudices. Every year at the sessions of the Convention on Narcotics Drugs (CND), member states convene to hold deliberations and come to consensus, which in this planet is the most perfect example of RE-DIS-ORGANIZATION. We will see how the upcoming CND and the High level Ministerial Segment in March 2019 will unfold. Nevertheless, the current state of drug laws and policies have resulted in a world where violations of human rights have become UNIVERSAL.
Therefore, we need to increase the investment on community-led advocacy networks, human rights programs and drug policy reform advocacy. Not just stigma and discrimination but purely focused at achieving decriminalization of drug use and possession for personal use. This is important especially to Global Fund because almost 20 years of investments on harm reduction and the lives it has saved are at high risk due to the wide-spead war on drugs approaches in the countries with high burden of HIV in the Asian context.
Human Rights mechanisms are not very easy to access and avail. They need to be simplified a lot more. We do not feel safe to go to the National, regional or sub regional mechanisms because they are more inclined towards the general perception towards drug users or towards the government policies. International mechanisms are too technical to access and the process seems to never conclude – at least not on time that could save lives of thousands. We are talking about human rights and mechanisms to complain or redress. Don’t you think that these systems should be like posting a photo on Facebook or twitter. As simple as social media and as and when someone knows about rights being violated with a single click the action begins (not the lengthy “nobody knows” type of processes).
All of these should be initiated by keeping communities at the heart of the movement. Communities have expertise gained from lived experiences and recognizing people who use drugs for their expertise and leadership on their issues would mean radical changes such as a paradigm shift on drug laws and policies, highest level of public receptivity and reduction of stigma and harms associated with drug use as a result of prohibition and criminalization. And please do not undermine our communities by recognizing expertise on the grounds of peer to peer model, we are well educated too. All we need is a an open mind that is able to see through more perspectives.
In the last two years SILENCE is what’s happening. Our people have not only been killed by bullets, they have been killed by the wrong drug laws and policies, and they continue to be killed by the SILENCE of those who could have influenced to end these atrocities.
I will close by quoting Martin Luther King who had said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.