Skip main navigation

Harm reduction founded on human rights principles

In this video, Naomi Burke Shyne from HRI introduces how harm reduction is related to the human rights principles

With its strong ties to the global HIV response, many people primarily associate harm reduction with services that aim at preventing the transmission of infectious diseases. However, even from its early origins, the harm reduction movement has always included a wider perspective of fighting for social justice and equal rights.

The United Nations recognizes that harm reduction flows from the right to health. Maybe some of you have already used this argument and made references to one of the principles of the human rights declaration which states that everyone has the same right to the “highest attainable standard of health”.

In the video above, Naomi Burke Shyne expands on what this means and how it is directly applicable to harm reduction. We will then dive deeper into related components of the human rights frameworks, such as social rights and equality.

As you have learned in Week 1, harm reduction often faces resistance based on moral grounds. On the one hand we usually try to address this by providing clear evidence-based (public health) arguments, but we believe it is also key to understand the human rights’ argument. In some settings we might find a common ground by holding decision makers accountable on a human rights account; they must ensure that everyone has equal access to health and social rights.


Attached below you will find a guideline on Human Rights and Drug Policy. You will probably recognise some of the principles from the video above. You may find these guidelines helpful in your local context to use as a reference in your local discussions.

This article is from the free online

Drug Use and Harm Reduction

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now