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Dillon, Lucy (2022) Assessment tool for human rights. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 83, Winter 2022, p. 7.

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The Pompidou Group (Council of Europe International Cooperation Group on Drugs and Addictions) is the Council of Europe’s drug policy cooperation platform. Upholding the core values of the Council of Europe – human rights, democracy, and the rule of law – is central to the group’s mission. To support a human rights approach to drug policy internationally, it has published Human rights in drug policy: a self-assessment tool to be used in assessing drug policy compliance with human rights.1

Human rights in drug policy

Internationally, there is an increasing emphasis on adopting a human-rights-based approach to drug policy. In their foreword, the authors argue that ‘promoting and supporting worldwide evidence-based policies, strategies and interventions that are based on a public health and human rights can be an important way to reduce drug use and the health and social burden it causes’ (p. 5). However, translating the principles of human rights into policy and practice can be challenging, with growing calls for the development of human rights indicators for drug policies.

Pompidou Group response

In response to this, the Pompidou Group set up an expert group in 2020 to develop a tool that allows for a self-assessment and internal evaluation of drug policies and programmes with respect to human rights standards under existing legal instruments. These include the work undertaken by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; and other stakeholders. The new tool is the output of the work of this expert group on drug policies and human rights.

Aim and approach of the tool

This strand of work by the Pompidou Group aims to help address the challenge of assessing human rights in drug policy. The authors recognise the complexities involved in making such an assessment given that there tends not to be standardised indicators in this area, and that both human rights laws and drug policies are both very broad and complex topics. In its simplest terms, ‘the aim of this tool is to provide a straightforward entry point for human rights assessment across key issues. … By linking key topics to human rights standards and more specific probing questions, its aim is to provide a practical framework to investigate and assess the human rights implications of drug laws, policies and practices’ (p. 8). It is envisaged as a tool to be used by member states internally, on a voluntary basis, and not with the aim of comparing states. It should support work across ministries to understand, reform, and progress drug policies so that they are more compatible with human rights. The authors describe the tool as ‘exploratory, aiming to assess the current situation and invite discussion, debate and inquiry across responsible ministries’ (p. 12). 

Conceptual framework

The tool is a framework presented in table format and is structured around three themes.

1    Social and welfare: Assessing general anti-discrimination protection, social welfare conditionality, data protection and privacy, child custody, and school-based prevention.

2    Health and treatment: Assessing access to drug treatment and risk and harm reduction services, compulsory drug treatment, detention due to addiction or intoxication, and conditions of drug treatment.

3    Law enforcement and criminal justice: Assessing alternatives to criminal sanctions for drug use/possession for personal use, arrest and interrogation, crimes involving freedom of expression, imprisonment and pre-trial detention, and conditions of detention (drug treatment and risk and harm reduction services).

Under each theme there is a column that looks at the issue and rationale; followed by a column with a set of assessment questions; three columns for assessment criteria (low risk of human rights concerns, need for further investigation, and potential need for remedial action); and a final column for the human rights treaty provisions and sources for guidance and enhancing policies.

For example, school-based prevention is explored as part of the social and welfare theme. The aim of the section is to draw attention to the human rights/child rights aspects of drug prevention in school. Among the ‘issues and rationale’ raised about this are concerns about the use of drug testing, sniffer dogs, and strip searches. The assessment questions include whether national guidelines on school-based prevention take account of the child’s right to privacy and education, and if there are consequences for a refusal to do a drug test, for example. An assessment is then made depending on the responses to these questions and the relevant parts of the human rights laws and treaties cited.

Concluding comment

This self-assessment tool provides a user-friendly framework through which complex questions can be approached. Its use could provide valuable opportunities for cross-ministry discussion on key policies and their compliance with a health-led and human rights approach to dealing with drug issues.

1 Pompidou Group (2022) Human rights in drug policy: a self-assessment tool. Strasbourg: Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/36575/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Screening / Assessment, Policy
Issue Title
Issue 83, Winter 2022
November 2022
Page Range
p. 7
Health Research Board
Issue 83, Winter 2022

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