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About HRI

HRI is a leading non-governmental organisation working to reduce the negative health, social and human rights impacts of drug use and drug policy by promoting evidence-based public health policies and practices, and human rights based approaches to drugs. Read more about HRI’s history.

Vision and Mission

Our vision is a world in which individuals and communities benefit from drug laws, policies and practices that promote health, dignity and human rights.


Meet our staff at HRI


HRI is governed by a nine person Board of Directors, elected for three-year terms.

What is harm reduction?

Harm reduction refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of psychoactive drugs in people unable or unwilling to stop. The defining features are the focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself, and the focus on people who continue to use drugs.

Harm reduction definition and principles in 12 languages

Contact Us

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or queries about our website, our work, membership or the international harm reduction conference.


HRI benefits from the generous support of the Open Society Foundations, the European Commission, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the MAC AIDS Fund, UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank, The Robert Carr Networks Fund and the Swiss Government.

Harm Reduction International Awards

HRI presents a number of awards at outr international conference to acknowledge the contributions of outstanding groups or individuals in the field.

Strategic Plan

Our vision is a world in which individuals and communities benefit from drug policies, laws and practices that promote health, dignity and human rights

Our Work

Evidence for advocacy

HRI produces groundbreaking research and policy analysis informing advocacy across our sector.

Spending where it matters

Funding for harm reduction services is dangerously short while billions are wasted on drug enforcement. HRI works to assess resourcing needs and advocates for a reinvestment in health.

Harm Reduction Decade

Read our latest report calling for a Harm Reduction Decade, sign the Harm Reduction Decade Declaration, call for #10by20, and stand up for human rights of people who use drugs, their families and communities.

10 by 20 Campaign

We are calling on governments to redirect 10% of the resources currently spent on ineffective punitive responses to drugs and invest it in harm reduction by 2020.

Human rights-based policy

Human rights abuses and drug enforcement go hand in hand. HRI challenges laws, policies and practices that generate harm.

The Death Penalty for Drug Offences

HRI monitors the death penalty for drugs in law and practice worldwide, and also considers critical developments on the issue.

Sector strengthening

HRI builds advocacy coalitions and supports emerging harm reduction networks to strengthen the international harm reduction sector.

International conference

Harm reduction is a global movement. Our biennial gathering is the International Harm Reduction Conference, convened by HRI.


News and Announcements

Read the latest announcements and updates from HRI.

Global State of Harm Reduction

Global State of Harm Reduction

Our flagship publication is the biennial Global State of Harm Reduction report. First published in 2008, it involves a coordinated effort across practitioners, academics, advocates and activists to map global data and responses to HIV and hepatitis C epidemics related to unsafe injecting and non-injecting drug use. It is the only report to provide an independent analysis of the state of harm reduction in the world. The information collated within the report is stored and regularly updated on an interactive e-tool for researchers and advocates.

The Global State of Harm Reduction report is supplemented by regular thematic reports and advisories on key issues and emerging challenges. Please search our Resource Library for more information or join our e-list for regular updates.

Resource Library

Resource Library

Use our extensive resource library to search for HRI, NGO and academic reports, articles and presentations, including materials from past international conferences.

Harm Reduction Journal

Harm Reduction Journal, www.harmreductionjournal.com, is an open access, peer-reviewed, online journal whose focus is on the prevalent patterns of psychoactive drug use, the public policies meant to control them, and the search for effective methods of reducing the adverse medical, public health, and social consequences associated with both drugs and drug policies.

Contact Us

Contact Us

Harm Reduction International
61 Mansell Street
E1 8AN

Tel: +44(0) 207 324 3535
Join us on Facebook at: Harm Reduction International
Follow us on Twitter at: HRInews
Join us on Instagram at: hrinews


Conference 2019

The 26th Harm Reduction International Conference (HR19) which will take place April 28-May 1 in Porto, Portugal at the Alfândega Porto Congress Centre.

Register to attend HR19 here.

Human Rights and UNODC: Accountability or Window Dressing?

Date: 01 June 2012

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UNODC human rights

One if the most troubling realities of drug control is that some of its key indicators of success are also key indicators of human rights risk.

When we talk about hectares of crops eradicated we have to think about subsistence farming communities, family income and food insecurity, not to mention the right to health in the context of herbicides sprayed onto farms and villages from above. We have to consider human displacement as a result of the destruction of people’s livelihoods, and the effects of eradication on fuelling insurgencies and conflict.

When celebrating tonnes of drugs seized and related prosecutions we have to think through police brutality, military interventions against drug gangs, fair trial standards, prison conditions, and inhuman sentencing, such as the death penalty.

And even when we think about the most seemingly innocuous of statistics – how many people use drugs – we are necessarily led to think about stigma and discrimination associated with drug use, racial disparities in the application of drug laws, access to healthcare and HIV prevention, the right to privacy and bodily integrity in the context of stop and search policing and strip searches, and, of course, abuses in the name of ‘drug treatment’.

It is for these reasons that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has for so long, and remains, in such a difficult position, caught between the UN’s overarching aim of the promotion and protection of human rights, and its role as guardian of the international drug control system. They are two regimes that do not go hand in hand, and just as indicators of success in drug control can be indicators of human rights risks, so too can successes in UNODC’s own work in the context of drug enforcement capacity building and technical assistance, and in crop monitoring, be indicators of its involvement in human rights violations.

It has not gone unnoticed in Vienna. Last week UNODC released a groundbreaking human rights ‘position paper’, clarifying the agency’s guidance in cases when its work may conflict with human rights norms. It follows on from a somewhat secretive UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, an initiative of the Secretary-General that while important remains entirely internal to the UN system.

More directly related to its work, UNODC’s position paper comes after several years of research and advocacy by human rights NGOs that called for greater clarity from UNODC of its position on human rights, and its guidelines for staff, including in several high-profile reports. 

These reports identified instances when UNODC projects facilitated the arrests that led to death sentences or executions as well as the development of drug detention centres, where former detainees told of being subject to forced labour and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment.

These examples were published in Harm Reduction International’s ‘Complicity or Abolition? The Death Penalty and International Support for Drug Enforcement’ and Human Rights Watch’s, ‘The Rehab Archipelago: Forced Labor and Other Abuses in Drug Detention Centers in Southern Vietnam’, among others.

The UNODC paper specifically cites both practices.

On the death penalty, UNODC states that if, in spite of interventions and efforts, ‘a country actively continues to apply the death penalty for drug offences, UNODC places itself in a very vulnerable position vis-à-vis its responsibility to respect human rights if it maintains support to law enforcement units, prosecutors or courts within the criminal justice system ... At the very least, continued support in such circumstances can be perceived as legitimizing government actions. If, following requests for guarantees and high-level political intervention, executions for drug-related offences continue, UNODC may have no choice but to employ a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support.’

On drug detention, UNODC expressed concerns about documentation reporting forced labour, cruel treatment and even torture, and said, ‘Direct UNODC support to any institution in which the above violations are reported places UNODC at an unacceptably high risk of providing aid or assistance to human rights abuses. UNODC must in such cases either work with these institutions to improve the human rights situation, or to consider withdrawal of support. In countries where such centres are present, UNODC should support government efforts to implement an evidence-base alternative to such centres, including voluntary drug dependence treatment programmes at community level. UNODC should also be clear in a call to the government to end all forms of arbitrary detention and to make available voluntary, low-cost, community-based drug dependence treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration.’

The issue, of course, is application. According to the document UNODC is preparing to take steps to operationalise the paper, through the development of a ‘human rights planning tool’, in order to ensure the agency’s operations are consistent with its guidance from design through to implementation. It is a similar concept to Harm Reduction International’s ‘Human Rights Impact Assessment’ project, currently in development.

The UNODC position paper is pitch perfect with respect the bringing the agency’s work in line with other UN bodies, including those devoted to health and human rights. It has the potential to have a seismic impact on human rights and drug policy.

The true measure of the paper’s success, however, will be the impact it makes on programming and future projects. Much hangs on the ‘planning tool’, however dry this may sound, as it remains to be seen whether these words on paper can be put into practice in a transparent way, so that UNODC can be held accountable for them. As Prof Paul Hunt said while UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, 'Without accountability, human rights can become no more than window dressing'.

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