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‘Drug Addicts’ and the ECHR

Published on September 3, 2018        Author: 

Paul Hunt has said that drug control and human rights have operated in ‘parallel universes’. For the most part this is true and the vast majority of human rights advocacy and scholarship in this area goes to attempting to bridge that divide and hopefully mitigate some of the damage brought about by the ‘war on drugs’. Recently, however, I have become more and more interested in those areas where human rights and drugs have already converged, sometimes explicitly. This leads to the ECHR and to questions about whether such convergence is a good thing.

Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law

the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts or vagrants;

Article 5(1)(e) of the ECHR is unique in international human rights law. The formulation is absent from the American Convention on Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A first question, then, is how this fairly odd wording arrived in the ECHR? It did not feature in the UDHR or in the draft Covenant on Human Rights drafted in 1949 and from which article 5 began. The answer, it appears, is Sweden, though there is an interesting gap in the travaux in this regard.

Reference to alcoholics, drug addicts and vagrants was absent from the initial drafts of the article. At the first expert committee meeting, however, Sweden proposed the wording that ‘This provision should not exclude the right to take necessary measures to fight vagrancy and alcoholism…’ This attention to alcohol makes sense when one considers the history and influence of the temperance movement in Sweden. It was ultimately withdrawn, however, on the condition it be put on record that the text ‘covered, in particular, the right of signatory States to take the necessary measures for combating vagrancy and drunkenness …’. It is further recorded that ‘the Committee had no doubt that this could be agreed to since such restrictions were justified by the requirements of public morality and order’. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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