Human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem


Note: Hereafter the Summary and Recommendations made regarding the World Drug Problem. The full text (19 pages) is available in:                                                    

The present report outlines human rights challenges in addressing and countering key aspects of the world drug problem. It also offers an overview of recent positive developments to shift towards more human rights-centred drug policies, and provides recommendations on the way forward in view of the upcoming midterm review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration and to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Conclusions and recommendations
64. The world drug problem has a major impact on the enjoyment of human rights.
Responding to the harms associated with drug use and to the illicit drug trade constitutes a major public policy challenge, of which all aspects have human rights implications. The main areas of concern when addressing and countering the world drug problem are the lack of and unequal access to treatment and harm reduction, the “war on drugs” and the militarization of drug control, overincarceration and prison overcrowding, the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences, and the disproportionate impact of punitive drug policies on youth, people of African descent, Indigenous Peoples and women.
65. Despite these challenges, important progress has been made in recent years to move from punitive to health- and human rights-based drug policies. These developments include the increased alignment between human rights and drug policy discussions in international forums; the participation of civil society in national and global decision-making processes on drug-related issues; the strengthened collaboration among United Nations entities on human rights-compliant drug policy; recommendations to States from human rights mechanisms and drug control bodies to apply a public health and human rights approach to drug policies; global efforts to move away from the death penalty specifically for drug offences; and national initiatives to shift the paradigm from punitive approaches to health- and human rights-centred measures, by decriminalizing drug use and possession, providing alternatives to incarceration, and including harm reduction.
66. Alternative development – as a process to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of narcotic plants – is also putting the focus on the needs of the global South, and improving living conditions of communities that depend on the drug economy.
More attention is also being given to the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the design and
implementation of drug policies.
67. Shifting away from punitive models is critical to addressing all human rights challenges that arise from or are facilitated by the implementation of punitive drug control policies. Drug control policies should be understood as a way of achieving broader objectives, including the protection of human rights, in particular the right to health, ensuring equality and non-discrimination.
68. As prescribed in the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy, the following are key recommendations for States and relevant stakeholders to develop effective drug policies grounded in human rights:
(a) Adopt alternatives to criminalization, “zero tolerance” and elimination of drugs, by considering decriminalization of usage; and take control of illegal drug markets through responsible regulation, to eliminate profits from illegal trafficking, criminality and violence;
(b) In the case of decriminalization, review convictions and/or sentences and, where appropriate, quash, commute or reduce convictions and/or sentences;                                (c) Consider developing a regulatory system for legal access to all controlled substances;
(d) In the case of continued criminalization, ensure that crimes are clearly defined in law, and that penalties are proportionate to the gravity of offences and take mitigating and aggravating factors into account;
(e) Consider the specific needs and possible vulnerabilities of women drug offenders when prosecuted and imprisoned, in line with the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders;
(f) Ensure that conditions in detention for drug offences respect the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, including access to treatment and effective oversight;                                                                                                        (g) Adopt drug policies that recognize and advance the rights of people who use drugs, including by ensuring access to medical care for people who inject drugs and develop HIV, viral hepatitis and other blood-borne infectious diseases. Ensure that drug-dependent treatment is voluntary, and informed consent is a precondition for any medical treatment or intervention;
(h) Adopt gender-sensitive drug policies that respond to the specific needs of women, and remove legislation that makes drug use a justification for removing children from their parent’s custody or that aims to punish women for using drugs during pregnancy;
(i) End the disproportionate impact of discriminatory law enforcement and sentencing policies on people of African descent, who are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted and severely sentenced for drug crimes, in many contexts;
(j) Adopt drug policies that explicitly protect against discrimination, and ensure everyone’s right to health and to be treated with respect, dignity and equality – regardless of gender, sexual identity, race, nationality, legal status, health and other status, including drug dependency;
(k) Meaningfully engage civil society organizations, people who use drugs, affected communities and youth in the design, implementation and evaluation of drug policies, to ensure that their knowledge and experiences are considered;
(l) Incorporate and fund harm reduction services, and support communityled advocacy and harm reduction services;
(m) Address the increased vulnerability of people who use drugs in crisis settings, including by providing health and protection services within the humanitarian response framework;
(n) Invest in alternative development with the participation of local communities, including farmers, women, minorities and Indigenous Peoples, and secure alternative livelihoods before removing existing livelihoods earned from the cultivation of illicit crops;
(o) Address the underlying socioeconomic factors that increase the risks of using drugs or that lead to engaging in the drug trade, by tackling social inequalities, promoting social justice and advancing human rights;
(p) Ensure that the eradication of illicit crops does not negatively affect the health of individuals in the area, and the environment; and avoid aerial spraying for crop eradication because of the harm it causes to health and the environment;
(q) Ensure that law enforcement in drug control efforts is fully consistent with States’ human rights obligations; and ensure that drug law enforcement is primarily reserved for civilian law enforcement agencies, properly trained, and equipped to allow for a differentiated use of force in accordance with international norms and standards;
(r) Only resort to military force extraordinarily, temporarily, and when strictly necessary in specific circumstances. In such exceptional circumstances, the participation of the armed forces should be subordinated and complementary to civilian forces, regulated and supervised by civilian authorities, and subjected to the same rules and procedures as those established for civilian law enforcement officials;
(s) Universally abolish the death penalty for all crimes, including for drugrelated offences;
(t) Ensure that any financial and technical assistance provided to countries for drug enforcement operations does not contribute, or carry a risk of contributing, to the commission of human rights violations;
(u) Include relevant aspects of drug policy in reports to human rights mechanisms, and Sustainable Development Goals-related reports, and implement the recommendations of these mechanisms, and ensure the consistent incorporation of human rights in the work of international drug control mechanisms;
(v) In view of the 2024 mid-term review of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on persistent and emerging challenges related to the world drug problem, take stock of results to date, and look forward by planning what ground should be covered by drug policies by 2029 and how to ensure the protection of human rights and contribute effectively to the 2030 Agenda.                                                                                                                          END                                                                                                                                                                                              oOo                                                                 (*) Agreement was reached to publish the present report after the standard publication date owing to circumstances beyond the submitter’s control.                                                                                                            oOo


Foundation for a Drug-Free Europe was formed in March 2004 with the firm purpose of preventing and stopping debilitating drug use through educating non-users concerning the harmful effects that drugs can inflict upon the body, mind and personality, and by finding and directing existing users to programmes that can help them achieve comfortable abstinence for life.

Get in Touch

Related Articles

Get in Touch


Latest Posts

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.