Do not take drug addicts to court, CSOs urge govt

A section of civil society organisations (CSOs) have asked the government to stop the arraignment of drug addicts in court.
The Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN), an organisation that provides treatment and care for people affected by drugs, says such repressive actions have proven to be counterproductive. 

UHRN adds that such actions contravene international standards on human rights and public health.
“The suspects in drug cases are subject to violence or torture by the police. The hostile legal environment drives both brutal human rights violations and epidemics of HIV, TB and viral hepatitis among people who use drugs in Uganda,” Mr Twaibu Wamala, the UHRN executive director, said yesterday.

The Global Drug Policy Index that came out in November 2021 shows that Brazil keeps Uganda off the basement when it comes to poor drug policies and their implementation. 
The index serves as a tool for accountability and evaluation in the field of drug policy. 
Many African countries fared poorly on the index because their policies do not align with the UN principles of human rights, health, and development.

Section 58 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act, 2015, states that an addict can only have access to a rehabilitation centre after they have been convicted and sentenced because the time spent in the centre is considered as part of one’s custodial sentence.
“If the court is satisfied that the person is an addict to a narcotic substance and that they are in possession of the substance for personal use, it will order that a part of the period of imprisonment imposed on them be spent in the rehabilitation centre specified by the court,” the law reads in part.

What police say
Police spokesperson Fred Enanga, however, says incarceration is informed by the fact that drugs influence people into crime. Punitive action, he adds, should be taken to discourage their use.
“The law does not distinguish between narcotics for private or public use. All we know is that it is criminal for one to be in possession of drugs. Many people use drugs and react to them differently. If anyone commits crime under the influence of drugs, the law will take its course,” Mr Enanga said.
He, however, agreed that the Ministry of Health should educate the people and also come up with ways of addressing the misuse of drugs, which is becoming a big public health problem.

Mr Marvin Mugume, a former drug addict, had no kind words for the manner in which the police deal with people who abuse contraband substances.
“We are treated like we are not people. We are treated as if we are already guilty. Without even being found guilty of any single crime, you are criminalised instantly,” he said.