Andrey Rylkov Foundation
for Health and Social Justice

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Recommends Russia to Change Their Drug Policy Approach

Original text in Russian available here. Translated by Maria Fomina

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), monitoring the implementation of the Convention by the States Parties, recommended Russia to reconsider their approach to drug policy.

The CRPD was only recently established in the UN – The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into effect in 2008. Currently, there are 147 signatories.

Russia ratified the Convention in 2012. In accordance with Article 35, the government submitted its first report on the implementation of rights expressed in the Convention, which was evaluated in 2018. At the same time, the Andrey Rylkov Foundation (ARF) as the Secretariat of the Russian Public Mechanism monitoring drug reform, submitted its shadow report, which highlighted the problems faced by persons with disabilities as a result of the repressive drug policy in the Russian Federation.

The report stated that in 2013 over a million people with mental-health related disabilities (PMHD) were living in Russia. The estimated number of people who use drugs was between two and seven million. In the absence of precise statistics, the proportion of PMHD using drugs can be inferred with data presented by the World Health Organization (WHO), which indicates that the use of drugs by PMHD is no less than in people without mental health illnesses. Looking at statistics from other countries – for example Canada, at least 20% of PMHD use psychoactive drugs. However, The WHO, the Psychiatric Association and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions underline the absence of evidence substantiating that the dual diagnosis of addiction to psychoactive drugs and a mental disorder is a consequence of drug use.

Nevertheless, in Russia, it is a widespread opinion that mental health issues amongst drug users are an effect of psychoactive substances. For this reason, instead of treating patients on general principles, they are subjected to repressive policies and unscientific methods of treatment, arrested by the police, convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. In total, 12 violations of the Convention were reported, including the general principle of non-discrimination.

Upon examination of Russia’s report on the implementation of the rights expressed in the Convention, CRPD created recommendations for Russia. The recommendations contained several suggestions based directly on the ARF shadow report. Accordingly, CRDP urged to take into consideration the recommendations for Russia put forward in October 2017 by another UN committee – the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). CESCR expressed concerns of the level of drug addition and the punitive drug policy, which prevents drug users from seeking medical assistance, entering harm reduction programs and imprisons them for drug-related crimes. Consequently, CESCR recommended Russia to reconsider imprisonment for drug possession and start combating the stigma towards drug addicts, providing them medical assistance, adopting harm reduction programs and take more effective measures to diminish the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Taking into account the above recommendations of their colleagues, CRPD expressed concerns of unequal access to quality health services and suggested Russia take the necessary measures to ensure access for people with disabilities in all regions of the Russian Federation. CRPD also proposed to “revise the current legislation and practice in terms of drug policy and preventive measures.”

As Mikhail Golichenko, a lawyer of ARF, explains – this is the first of CRPD recommendations for Russia that mentions drug policy and now they can assist with shedding light on domestic legislation while resolving international disagreements. “Addressing the recommendations of CESCR in relation to persons with disabilities, CRDP added another constitutional argument in favor of decriminalizing drug possession for personal use. Since in Russia people with a dual diagnosis will primarily be viewed as drug addicts, which prevents them from receiving adequate access to diagnostics and treatment of psychiatric disorders, the most reasonable suggestion is to limit the interactions of affected persons with law enforcement and punitive drug policies, the police, the FPS and the punitive psychiatrist-narcologists since such blunt and unsophisticated instruments do not work for addressing the sensitive and complicated issues of mental health disorders” reasons Golichenko.

From the perspective of the Convention, the main concern for Russia is that its repressive drug policies are in themselves a form of disablement of citizens. According to the Convention persons with disabilities include those who have physical, mental and other impairments “which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” “Therefore, it is not a persons health that creates disability, but rather the instruments of government – laws and their implementation. The Convention states that disability results from multiple factors. For example if in a certain country the use of glasses were banned, then a person with short sightedness would be disabled. Similarly, punitive policy on the possession of drugs represses persons with psychiatric impairments from their rights to health and disables them,” added Golichenko.

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