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Home > Human rights and drug policy – international perspectives.

Pike, Brigid (2016) Human rights and drug policy – international perspectives. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 58, Summer 2016, pp. 8-9.

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The work of four international bodies with a particular interest in investigating just what a human-rights based approach to drug policy might look like is outlined below.


International Centre for Human Rights and Drug Policy (HRDP)

The International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy (HRDP) is dedicated to developing and promoting innovative and high-quality legal and human rights research and teaching on issues related to drug laws, policy and enforcement. It pursues its mandate by publishing original, peer-reviewed research on drug issues as they relate to international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law and public international law.


In a six-page joint submission to the 2016 UNGASS on drugs, HRDP and Amnesty International took the following view:1


The UNGASS on drugs must be viewed as the beginning of a wider reflective process underpinned by a rigorous and inclusive assessment of the global state of drug control in the negotiations of a new Political Declaration and Plan of Action to be adopted in 2019. The lead up to 2019 is a critical moment to ensure that political commitments to drug control have clear, unambiguous articulations of international human rights law and standards.


International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD)

The International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) is a global peer-based organisation that seeks to promote the health and defend the rights of people who use drugs. In October 2015 it published a 42-page ‘consensus statement’ on human rights, health, and the law in relation to people who use drugs.2  The statement lists ten ‘established and recognised human rights’ to which people who use drugs are entitled: 

  1. human rights, which must be protected by the rule of law;
  2. the right to non-discrimination;
  3. the right to life and security of person;
  4. the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment;
  5. the right to the highest attainable standard of health;
  6. the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment;
  7. the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention;
  8. the right to bodily integrity;
  9. the right to found a family entitled to protection by the law, entitled to privacy, and entitled to be free from arbitrary interference; and
  10. the right to assemble, associate, and form organisations. 

Johns Hopkins–Lancet Commission on Drug Policy and Health

Ahead of UNGASS 2016 on drugs, the Johns Hopkins–Lancet Commission, comprising 22 experts from a wide range of disciplines and professions in low-, middle- and high-income countries, examined the emerging scientific evidence on public health issues arising from drug-control policy in order to inform and encourage a central focus on public health evidence and outcomes in drug policy debates. The Commission’s work was framed by the UN-endorsed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, which aspire to human-rights-centred approaches to ensuring the health and wellbeing of all people. In their 50-page report, the Commission made 11 recommendations regarding future drug policy, including the following: 

  • Decriminalise minor, non-violent drug offences – use, possession, and petty sale – and strengthen health and social-sector alternatives to criminal sanctions.
  • Ensure easy access to harm-reduction services, e.g. opioid substitution treatment, nsp, supervised injection sites and access to naloxone, for all who need them, and recognise the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of scaling up and sustaining these services.
  • Prioritise people who use drugs in treatment for HIV, HCV infection, and tuberculosis, and ensure that services are adequate to enable access for all who need care.
  • Reduce the negative impact of drug policy and law on women and their families, especially by minimising custodial sentences for women who commit nonviolent offences and developing appropriate health and social support, including gender-appropriate treatment of drug dependence, for those who need it.
  • Health, development and human rights indicators should be included in metrics to judge success of drug policy, e.g. access to treatment, frequency of overdose deaths, and access to social welfare programmes for people who use drugs. All drug policies should also be monitored and assessed as to their impact on racial and ethnic minorities, women, children and young people, and people living in poverty.
  • Move gradually toward regulated drug markets and apply the scientific method to their assessment. 

Pompidou Group­

Part of the Council of Europe, the Pompidou Group comprises 38 states, including Ireland. Its core mission is to contribute to the development of multidisciplinary, innovative, effective and evidence-based drug policies in its member states. ‘Bringing human rights to the forefront of drug policy’ is its top priority for 2015–2018.

The aims of the Pompidou Group’s current work programme include: 

  • increasing awareness of human rights obligations and reduction in human rights violations occurring in the pursuit of drug policy goals;
  • contributing to reducing stigmatisation and discrimination;
  • promoting the right of access to healthcare for drug dependent people in detention;
  • highlighting and recognising the pivotal role of the Pompidou Group, as a part of the Council of Europe, in promoting human rights as a fundamental drug policy principle; and
  • promoting the mainstreaming of gender aspects in all areas of drug policy.



1 International Centre on Human Rights Centre and Amnesty International (2016, 12 April) Joint Submission: The promotion and protection of human rights and international drug control. Retrieved 28 April 2016

2 INPUD (2015) Consensus statement on drug use under prohibition: human rights, health and the law. London: INPUD. Retrieved 28 April 2016

3 Johns Hopkins–Lancet Commission on Drug Policy and Health (2016) Public health and international drug policy Lancet Vol. 387: 1427–1480. Published Online, 24 March 2016,

4 Pompidou Group (2014) Pompidou Group work programme 2015–2018: ‘Drug policy and human rights: new trends in a globalised context’. P-PG/MinConf (2014) 4. Retrieved 28 April 2016

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 58, Summer 2016
August 2016
Page Range
pp. 8-9
Health Research Board
Issue 58, Summer 2016

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