On Wednesday, 26 October 2016, HRAPF released a research report on the legal regulation of drug use in Uganda.
HRAPF has undertaken this detailed study on the legal and policy framework relating to PWUDs in Uganda in collaboration with the Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN).
The study analyses the newly enacted Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Subtances (Control) Act 2015 as well as other laws regulating drug use in Uganda in light of relevant domestic, regional and international human rights standards. The study also considers the impact of this regime upon the rights and welfare of PWUDs. The study was executed using largely qualitative methods, involving both a review of secondary literature but also in-depth interviews with critical actors such as PWUDs, organisations working on issues which affect PWUD, law enforcement agencies and officials, public and private health care providers as well as officials representing the Ministry of Health. A case-study research design, focusing on Kampala, was adopted.
The study finds that while the NDPSA is yet to come into force, the main operative law dealing with drug regulation and prohibition in Uganda is the National Drug Policy and Authority Act, Cap 206 (NDPA). The study finds that NDPA is viewed by law enforcement officials and a number of other stakeholders as largely inadequate in responding to issues of large scale drug trafficking in Uganda. The perceived weaknesses of the NDPA prompted the enactment of the NDPSA, which, has a decided penal focus and does not prioritise the welfare of persons who use drugs. The NDPSA criminalises both trafficking and individual possession of narcotics drugs and psychotropic substances, and imposes heavy penalties. The Act makes a measure of provision for the welfare of PWUD, but these measures are tied up in the criminal justice process which defeats their purpose.
The study finds that PWUDs suffer multiple human rights violations due to the criminalisation of drug use. There is no comprehensive facility for the provision of public health services to PWUD. Furthermore, the police and other law enforcement agencies make use of a whole range of legal provisions, even beyond those provisions which have a direct link to drug prohibition, to harass, intimidate, blackmail and extort money from PWUD. Laws most frequently used in this respect are the ‘Idle and disorderly’ laws. Criminalisation of drug use is found to cause social stigma and related socio-economic consequences for PWUD who have been convicted and imprisoned or who have even just been arrested and detained. The laws are furthermore discriminatory in effect, since lower income individuals disproportionately face arrests, prosecution and conviction when compared to upper or middle class persons who use drugs.
In considering the overall effect of criminalisation of drug use, it is suggested that the principle of ‘harm reduction’ should be embraced in order to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use. The study recommends that Uganda adopts a nation-wide harm reduction policy which would create an enabling legal environment for PWUDs to access health services relevant for them to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
The report is entitled ‘The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act 2015 and the Legal Regulation of Drug Use in Uganda: Analysing the tension between criminal law, public health and human rights’ and was launched by Mr. Christopher Baguma, the Director of Programmes of UHRN.