“This is a chance to have your say on an important issue,” Gerry Stimson says. “Responses are invited via a questionnaire https://www.ohchr.org/en/calls-for-input/2023/drug-policies-and-responses-right-health-framework-harm-reduction which is available in English, Spanish and French. There are eight broad questions and responses to each question are limited to 500 words. Not all the questions have to be answered.”
Professor Stimson explains that the Special Rapporteur has a significant role to play within the UN human rights system and has an independent roving remit to identify human rights issues. The role is to speak up for people affected by human rights abuses and to push forward on human rights issues within the UN.
He continues: “Previous special rapporteurs helped to establish that drugs harm reduction is justified under the Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. From the early 2000s, human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Harm Reduction International), campaigned to establish that harm reduction was a fundamental aspect of the right to health. They worked with the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Health. In 2008, the then Special Rapporteur, Paul Hunt, set out the principles of Human Rights, Health and Harm Reduction. His successor, Anand Grover, set out the principles for a health-based approach to drug control in a report to the UN General Assembly in August 2010.”
Tlaleng Mofokeng, the current Special Rapporteur, “has a background in universal health access, equality, sexual health, and HIV/AIDS. There are obvious reads across to tobacco harm reduction. However, she is probably unaware of the human rights issues regarding THR and access to safer nicotine products. But there many similarities with drugs, HIV/AIDS, and sexual health harm reduction where it is crucial that people are equipped and enabled to protect themselves.”
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights enshrines the right of everyone to “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.
The Covenant says that States Parties must take steps regarding “the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases”.
Article 15 paragraph 1(b) of the Covenant also states that everyone has the right “to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress”. The pursuit of the highest standard of health and protecting public health also includes enabling people to protect themselves.
Professor Stimson says: “For people who like nicotine, this would include the freedom to choose safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes or risky oral tobacco products. Our Briefing Paper on the Right to Health and the Right to Tobacco Harm Reduction is available in 13 languages.
“It would be good if consumer groups and individual consumers could respond to the questionnaire. As I've indicated, smoking is not explicitly part of this, so it is a matter of making the case that tobacco harm reduction is underpinned by the right to health. Your answers to the questions do not need to be technical. You might make the case that your lives have been changed by having access to safer nicotine products. Personal testimony is important.”
If you want to respond, the questionnaire is available here. The deadline is 15 November 2023 18:00 CEST. The complete form should be returned to [email protected] with the email subject line “Contribution to HRC report – SR right to health”.