Statement on human rights violations faced by people who use drugs in Southern Africa at the 62nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights

Posted by Editor on May 3, 2018

Statement on human rights violations faced by people who use drugs in Southern Africa

Aids & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa | Observer Status No. 436

62nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights

Nouakchott, Islamic Republic of Mauritania

25 April – 9 May 2018

Honourable Chair, Honourable Commissioners, State delegates, representatives of National Human Rights Institutions, members of civil society organisations and distinguished participants:

The AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), as part of the Southern African Drug Policy Reform and Harm Reduction Advocacy Network, would like to bring to your attention the severe human rights violations that are faced by people who use drugs. In particular, ARASA and its partner organisations are extremely concerned at the police violence, brutality, and victimisation that people who use drugs face.

Drug use is criminalised across the Southern African region. Combined with the continuing stigmatisation of drug users, this fuels a situation where people who use drugs are extremely vulnerable to police abuse and corruption and have little to no recourse within the justice systems when facing violence in general, let alone when committed by the police.

In recent research with people who use drugs done this year in Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Mozambique it has been documented that people who use drugs are routinely

  • stopped and searched without cause,
  • detained and searched with excessive violence,
  • beaten, threatened and intimidated,
  • stripped naked and searched in public, and
  • held until facing opiate withdrawals symptoms in order to extract a confession or a bribe,

Furthermore, women who use drugs in particular have faced severe sexual violence in dealing with the police. Cases have been reported where police officers demand sex in exchange for dropping drug charges, while in one documented case a woman was gang raped by police officers after she was detained on a drug charge.

Of particular concern are reports from drug users that the police confiscated harm reduction commodities such as needles and syringes from people who use drugs, as well as in some cases their Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART). People who use drugs are especially at risk to HIV, and harm reduction commodities are essential in keeping them healthy.

The United Nations admitted that the ‘war on drugs’ has failed to reduce drug use and has led to serious negative consequences – such as overdose deaths, HIV and hepatitis C infections among people who use drugs, prison over-crowding, severe human rights violations, and an exacerbation of stigma, marginalisation, violence and corruption.

We commend the Commission for the adoption of the HIV, The Law and Human Rights in the African Human Rights System report which includes recommendations regarding people who inject drugs, and the acknowledgement of the stigma, discrimination and violation that this population faces, as well as the recommendations that states review and amend policies and practices to be in line with human rights norms and principles. We call on the Commission to continue its work and to take leadership in protecting the rights of people who use drugs. In Particular, we request the Commission to:

  • Encourage and remind member states about their obligations under the African Charter, the Maputo Protocol, and Resolutions adopted by the Commission;
  • Remind states of their duties and mandates to protect and promote the rights of all people, including people who use drugs;
  • Encourage and monitor member states on implementation of recommendations from the HIV, the Law, and Human Rights report, specifically those pertaining to people who use drugs;
  • Call upon states to engage directly with organisations and networks of people who use drugs and ensure meaningful engagement in not only reviewing and amending, but repealing laws that unjustly criminalise people who use drugs.

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Commissioners, I thank you for your attention.



AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa

South African Network of People Who Use Drugs

Cape Town Network of People Who Use Drugs

Drug Users of Gauteng

TB/HIV Care – South Africa

Women’s Coalition Against Cancer – Malawi

Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network

UNIDOS – Mozambique


Tanzania Network of People Who Use Drugs