Photo: Martina Holmberg/TT
Photo: Martina Holmberg/TT

UN: Swedish drug rules violate human rights

"Surprised to see Sweden lags behind"
0:45 min

Sweden isn't doing enough to provide care for drug users in the country, according to the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Swedish drug policies aim at a zero tolerance for the possession and use of drugs. All use of illegal drugs are punishable by law and there is strong support from all parties in parliament for policies that aim to completely rid society from drugs.

But according to a new report from the UN commissioner for Human Rights, the country could do much more when it comes to reducing the effect of drug use.

In an interview with Swedish Television News, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said she was surprised at what they found.

"We always look at Sweden as a very advanced country with the most progressive policies, and I was surprised to see that it lags behind a number of other countries in terms of its policies on drugs," she said.

The report states that users of drugs have the right to good health, and mentions harm reduction policies such as needle exchange programmes, methadone treatment and the handing out of the nasal spray naloxon which can reverse the effects of an overdose, as well as special injection rooms where people can inject drugs in the presence of health care staff or general education for safer use of drugs. Such efforts are only partly or not at all in place in Sweden. When it comes to needle exchange programmes, only six out of the country's 290 municipalities offer that, even though it clearly limits infections such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

And this is problematic, says Flavia Pansieri, who gives a clear "no" to answer the question whether Swedish drug policies in this aspect stand up for human rights.

"I think it needs to look at the need to guarantee what is a basic responsibility for any state, which is guaranteeing all citizens the best possible attainable health, and to protect them from discrimination," she told SVT News.

If some of the harm reducing policies are seen as controversial in the past, internationally, things have moved on, according to Flavia Pansieri.

"Ten, fifteen years ago, there was a lot of criticism of harm reducing policies, but since then a large part of the international community has realised that they help, both against the spread and the seriousness of the drug abuse," she said.

The Swedish Minister for Health, Gabriel Wikström, told Swedish Television News that Sweden is changing its narcotics policies.

"I would be much more concerned about the criticism if we were not doing anything that is actually going in the direction of the report," he said, adding that more needle exchange programmes are on their way.

The government is also looking at how the number of drug addicts who die could be reduced. Because despite the zero tolerance of drug use, the rate of drug-induced deaths in Sweden is the second highest in the European Union. Last year, over 600 people died from drug overdose in Sweden.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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