This master thesis (2014) shows how and to what extent advocacy for human rights of PWUD is part of the activities of harm reduction organisations. Based on seventeen in-depth and sixteen survey interviews with harm reduction and advocacy professionals in eight different countries, the study provides recommendations for improving the implementation of advocacy activities by harm reduction organisations.

Executive summary


The protection of the human rights of people who use drugs (PWUD) is important, also because it is an essential precondition to improve their health. (Jürgens et al, 2010) Organisations working on harm reduction, however, struggle when advocating for human rights. This study examines how and to what extent advocacy for the human rights of PWUD is currently used and how human rights advocacy can further improve the effectiveness of harm reduction strategies and services.


Qualitative explorative methods were used and a survey was done. Fourteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with respondents from harm reduction organisations and national advocacy organisations based in Ukraine, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Georgia, Nepal, Indonesia and Kenya. Also three interviews with experts from international advocacy organisations in the field of drug use were held. Sixteen surveys were obtained during a meeting with representatives of organisations based in the eight countries. The transcripts of the interview recordings were analysed by using coding techniques in three steps: open coding, axial coding and selective coding. The results of the analysis were, when possible, compared with the results of the survey.


All organisations advocate for the human rights of PWUD. However, some organisations are not aware of practicing advocacy and most organisations do not plan advocacy activities as being advocacy activities. Organisations reckon face-to-face communication and organising workshops as the most effective ways of bringing the advocacy message. Most organisations see media, including social media, as important tools as well, but do not know how to make use of these tools properly. Important differences were found between organisations.


There is room for improvement of advocacy of human rights practices by harm reduction organisations. Given the differences found between organisations, organisations could learn from each other to make their activities more effective. In general, improvement can be made in different phases of the advocacy process. First, awareness of organisations on their advocacy activities should be increased, and making a better planning of these activities can be improved. Most organisations could improve their knowledge on human rights and how to use them as a tool for advocacy, amongst other things. Further research should emphasise the development of a tool for documenting rights violations.