Corporal punishment can be understood as institutionalised physical violence carried out as a disciplinary measure and is clearly and absolutely prohibited under international law as a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, if not torture. This prohibition is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as regional human rights conventions. UN human rights jurisprudence is consistent that corporal punishment not only constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, but also violates human dignity, a fundamental tenet of the human rights system.
People who use drugs or engage in drug markets retain their fundamental rights, and a comprehensive system of human rights standards exists that should guide State actions with respect to drug policy. Nevertheless, the repressive approach to drug control adopted in many countries leads to, or enables, a wide range of human rights violations and abuses, disproportionately impacting upon the most vulnerable in society and perpetuating cycles of violence and marginalisation, while failing to substantially reduce drug-related harms and risks. While significant research documents many such human rights violations, little is available on the use of judicial corporal punishment for drug offences.
In 2011, Harm Reduction International published its report ‘Inflicting Harm: Judicial Corporal Punishment for Drug and Alcohol Offences in Selected Countries’. The report, which examines judicial corporal punishment in international law, and the laws around its application for drug and alcohol offences at the national level, remains one of the only available sources on the phenomenon.
Despite a lack of attention on this issue, corporal punishment continues to be imposed in a number of countries as a form of judicial punishment for drug offences. In order to fully understand the scale of the phenomenon, and develop effective strategies for action, there is a need for further research, including detailed mapping of national legislation and practice, and further analysis of the applicable human rights framework.