Report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: The implementation by Belarus of Article 12 (the right to health) with respect to people who use drugs and people living with HIV

This report is submitted by the HIV Legal Network and the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association. The report is based on official statistics, information from open sources and communications with civil society activists in Belarus.

In the country report, the Government of Belarus informed CESCR that all HIV prevention programmes recommended by WHO have been implemented in the country. They also state that the Government supports innovative approaches to communication for preventive campaigns aimed at developing tolerant social attitudes towards people living with HIV and to improve the quality of life and increase the involvement of people living with HIV in such programmes and in antiretroviral therapy adherence programmes.

We would like to commend the Government for its commitment to WHO- and UNAIDS-recommended interventions. At the same time, we would like to draw CESCR’s attention to outdated and disproportionate drug laws and policies that obstruct health intervention for people who use drugs, providing punishment instead of treatment. According to UNAIDS, “criminalization of drug use and possession for personal use significantly and negatively impact the realization of the right to health.”

Belarus is a party to the UN Drug Conventions that pursue the aim of protecting public health from the adverse consequences of illicit drugs. In the implementation of the Conventions, Belarus joins other UN member states in declaring its commitment to a comprehensive, integrated, and balanced approach through the development, adoption, and implementation of alternative or additional measures to conviction or punishment in cases of an appropriate nature, in accordance with the three international drug control conventions.

However, in practice, drug laws and policies in Belarus remain archaic and imbalanced with too much emphasis on harsh punishment for people who use drugs, including those whose drug use amounts to a chronic or temporary health condition. Draconian drug laws in Belarus do not distinguish crimes committed in the context of use from crimes committed in the context of wholesale commercial trafficking. For this reason, many people who use drugs land in jail for many years. Despite having many people who use drugs in prisons, Belarus does not provide any harm reduction measures in pre-trial detention or prisons.

In addition, Belarus undermines HIV prevention by maintaining and actively enforcing HIV criminalization laws.