As the world observes International Human Rights Day in December, global drug policies continue to result in widespread human rights abuses, including the devastation of families and communities as a result of harsh prison sentencing, inhuman treatment by police, and other policies that increase suffering. Fortunately, there are initiatives that promote a more effective and humane approach.
In the latest of a series of case studies examining alternative approaches to punitive drug policies and incarceration, a new briefing paper highlights a harm reduction program in Spain, known as the Metzineres project, which seeks to protect human rights-oriented services to women and gender non-conforming drug users who have survived violence.
The series of case studies, produced by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and Dejusticia, are aimed at highlighting innovative approaches to drug policy and criminal justice reform worldwide. Previous briefings have looked at measures such as the decriminalization of drug use and possession in Portugal, the pardoning of low-level drug offenders in Ecuador, and sentencing reforms in the United Kingdom (See the 14 innovative approaches here).
The latest report examines how the Metzineres initiative, launched in 2017 in Barcelona, represents a promising model for how harm-reduction programs can provide essential services and support to women and gender non-conforming drug users who have survived situations of violence. Because access barriers and other institutional gaps mean that women and gender non-conforming people who use drugs often do not enter the local health or social services system, the Metzineres project aims to provide services such as shelter, food, counseling, and a needle exchange program. The project has been recognized as a model for harm-reduction practices both within Spain and internationally.
The month during which Human Rights Day is recognized provides an opportunity for reflection on the devastating harm that results from the so-called “war on drugs”, as well as gender disparities and violence against women and gender non-conforming people worldwide. From Costa Rica to Ecuador, from Spain to Argentina, there are encouraging examples of initiatives and legal reforms that are far more consistent with human rights and public health than the current punitive approach to criminal justice. Projects like Metzineres show that it is possible for governments at the state and national levels to develop effective responses to drug use that are grounded in respect for human rights and a commitment to public health.