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Faith-Based Rehabilitation vs. Opioid Substitution Therapy in Russia: What Will the ECHR Decide?

From October 2015 to January 2016, the European Court of Human Rights received the latest documents for the case Kurmanayevskiy, Abdyusheva and Anoshkin vs Russia. These are statements by Russian NGOs involved in drug rehabilitation – the Independent Narcological Guild, the Rehabilitation Centres Association of the Northern Caucasus, ROO “Zdorovoye Stavropolye”, as well as the St. Ioann of Kronshtadt Metropolitan Rehabilitation Centre “Voskreseniye”. All these organizations made statements against opioid substitution therapy and spoke about its ineffectiveness, including through references to the Crimean experience.

Aside from the Independent Drug Treatment Guild, the rest of these NGOs represent faith-based rehabilitation programs that they were informing the ECHR about. The statement from the St. Ioann of Kronshtadt Rehabilitation Centre contained multiple quotes from the Testament. The Russian Federation expressed its full support of the statement by these third parties. Specifically, according to the Russian Federation, “The vision of drug addiction as a destructive sinful passion allows explaining to a drug addict (and doing so clearly and from a special, spiritual perspective) undeniable scientific truth that 'addiction to narcotic drugs constitutes a serious evil for the individual and is fraught with social and economic danger to mankind', which is stated in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961.”

This article was first published by the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice. You can read the original here.

Earlier, eight international organizations and officials had supported the plaintiffs and opioid substitution therapy in general. The list of supporters included the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia; the Joint UN AIDS Programme; International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies; Human Rights Watch; Harm Reduction International; the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Statements by these organizations and officials were based on evidence of opioid substitution therapy’s effectiveness and the need to remove the ban on OST based on international guidelines as well as the norms and principles of human rights.

Therefore, today we can draw a line under this communication process and note that the ECHR faces a difficult task of deciding whether the OST ban goes beyond the discretion of Russian authorities.

The plaintiffs believe that it definitely goes beyond Russian authorities’ discretion. They justify their position by referring to multiple examples of scientific research and to the positions of international organizations including the UN and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Russian authorities believe this does not go beyond their discretion because the OST ban results from their responsibility for preventing threats to people’s lives caused by methadone poisoning, from their responsibility for preventing drugs from leaking on to the black market; at the same time Russia has an effective treatment system (as proven by the statements by the Russian NGOs), and OST is ineffective as it is, as shown by the situation in Crimea, and there is no common position on this issue globally. At the same time, Russian authorities either do not provide any references to research literature or their treatment of research results and international statistics is biased in their favor.

In parallel, Russia’s representative at the ECHR, Georgy Matyushkin, is an active participant in Russian and international forums where he explains that by banning OST Russian authorities do not violate the norms of international law because all the things that the plaintiffs are referring to in their communication are recommendations that the authorities are not obligated to implement.  In March 2015, in Geneva, Mr. Matyushkin informed the UN Human Rights Committee about that. The Committee, however, did not appreciate Mr. Matyushkin’s arguments and expressed its concerns about the legislative ban on OST and other violations of the rights of people who use drugs. On December 2, 2015, in Moscow, Mr. Matyushkin visited an international congress of organizations working in drug treatment and rehabilitation on the basis of total abstinence from drugs (the congress was chaired by Member of Parliament S. Zheleznyak). There his speech was appreciated alongside other suggestions such as forced drug treatment.

Both the plaintiffs and the authorities are now expecting the ECHR to name the date of its review of the case. Meanwhile, Russia has officially registered its millionth person living with HIV.

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