Home > International guidelines on human rights and drug policy.

Dillon, Lucy (2019) International guidelines on human rights and drug policy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 70, Summer 2019, pp. 6-7.

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The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); the World Health Organization; and the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy have collaborated with international experts to produce International guidelines on human rights and drug policy.1 The outputs of this collaboration were launched to coincide with the 62nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in March 2019 – they include a written set of guidelines and an online resource.2



Human rights increasingly feature within international drug policy outputs. For example, every major UN political declaration on drug control since the late 1990s has reaffirmed the UN General Assembly resolutions’ acknowledgement that ‘countering the world drug problem’ must be carried out ‘in full conformity’ with ‘all human rights and fundamental freedoms’.3 However, while their importance has been recognised in writing, this has not always been reflected in practice internationally. The authors argue that one of the barriers to adopting a more human rights-based approach is a lack of clarity as to what human rights law requires of states in the context of drug control law, policy, and practice. The guidelines set out to address that gap.



The guidelines do not create new rights but highlight what states should and should not do to develop human-rights-compliant drug policies – meeting their human rights obligations, while also complying with their obligations under the various international drug control conventions.4 They are grounded in the international evidence base and aim to guide stakeholders involved in policymaking across the spectrum of related activities from cultivation to consumption. In doing so, the document covers a range of policy areas, from development to criminal justice to public health. It is important to note that this is not a toolkit for how to do drug policy, instead the guidelines are described as a ‘reference tool’ for stakeholders who are working at local, national, and international levels to ensure human rights compliance.


The guidelines are structured around five sections, as laid out in their introduction (pp. 4–5):

Section I presents general cross-cutting, or ‘foundational’, human rights principles underpinning the Guidelines, which may be seen as applicable irrespective of the issue or specific right in question.


Section II sets out universal human rights standards in the context of drug policy, taking the rights in question as its starting point. The section includes a brief overview of each human rights standard and its relation to drug policy before identifying consequent State obligations and recommended measures for human rights compliance. It should be noted that the order of this section does not imply any hierarchy of rights. It begins with the right to health to reflect the health goal of the international drug control system.


Section III addresses human rights concerns arising out of drug policy as it affects a number of specific groups: children, women, persons deprived of their liberty, and indigenous peoples. These, of course, are not the only groups with specific human rights needs or concerns of relevance to drug policy. They are emphasised as a consequence of more developed law concerning their specific human rights in relation to drug policy. Many others also experience disproportionate harm, inequities, and intersecting forms of discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, migration status, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic status, and the nature and location of livelihood, including employment as rural workers or sex workers. The universal rights described in these Guidelines apply equally to these individuals and groups.


Sections IV and V conclude by outlining general matters related to the implementation of human rights obligations and relevant principles of treaty interpretation.


The Guidelines have been designed to place human rights at the forefront. However, many readers may approach the Guidelines with a focus on a specific drug policy topic or theme, or may be unfamiliar with specific rights. To assist with navigating the Guidelines, Annex I provides three thematic reference guides for development, criminal justice, and health. Each thematic guide brings together the most relevant guidelines for each of these issue areas.


An interactive website is also available to stakeholders. It contains extensive commentaries and references that complement the guidelines document. Stakeholders can search by specific rights, drug control themes, and other keywords, as well as follow links to source material.2


1    United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2019) International guidelines on human rights and drug policy. New York: UNDP. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/30447/

2    For the guidelines and online resource, visit: https://www.humanrights-drugpolicy.org/

3    See, for example, the UN General Assembly, Resolution 73/192: International cooperation to address and counter the world drug problem, UN Doc. A/RES/73/192 (2019). Available online at: https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/73/192

4    Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (as amended by the 1972 Protocol) 520 UNTS 7515 (1961); Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1019 UNTS 14956 (1971); Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1582 UNTS 95 (1988). Available online at: https://treaties.un.org/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 70, Summer 2019
September 2019
Page Range
pp. 6-7
Health Research Board
Issue 70, Summer 2019

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