Achievements after two years of the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

Two years after their publication in March 2019, the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy have been recognised by a wide range of actors. This is an important success. Only in this way can the Guidelines contribute to a human-rights-centred global drug policy.

The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy are a worldwide innovation in that they define human rights obligations in drug policies. They provide governments, UN agencies, development actors and civil society with information on how to implement drug policies that are in line with human rights in the areas of health, development and criminal justice. The Guidelines are not legally binding but are intended to provide guidance. In March 2019, they were launched at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna.


The Guidelines were developed by the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy at the University of Essex with the support of the Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD) and in close cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The Guidelines are available in English, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.


Widespread international recognition


Numerous institutions now welcome or cite the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In addition, the Guidelines will be presented to the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2021.


National implementation of the Guidelines


Two regional dialogues for Latin America and the Caribbean and for South and South-East Asia highlighted ways in which the Guidelines can be implemented in practice. Links to regional and national drug policies were also discussed.


The first regional consultation on the application of the Guidelines took place in Mexico in January 2020. It was hosted by UNDP, the University of Essex, the GPDPD, the Foreign Ministries of Switzerland and Mexico and the non-governmental organisation México Unido Contra la Delincuencia (MUCD). Government representatives from twelve countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Peru, developed concrete implementation proposals during the meeting. These focus primarily on the areas of criminal justice, health and development, and on particular groups including children and young people, women, people deprived of liberty and indigenous communities.


The second regional dialogue on the implementation of the Guidelines in South and Southeast Asia was held virtually in November 2020. It was hosted by the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy at the University of Essex, UNDP, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Swiss Foreign Ministry, and the GPDPD. In addition to considering ways of applying the Guidelines in the region, the participants, including government representatives from ten countries, discussed concrete policy measures in the areas of health, gender and criminal justice.

Legal adoption of the Guidelines


A milestone was reached in Albania in April 2021. Using concrete legal cases, local judges learned how to integrate the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy into their daily work. The training, organised by the University of Essex, the UNDP, the Forum of Women Judges in Albania, and the GPDPD on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), was the first of its kind. Similar training courses are planned for other regions and contexts.


The Constitutional Court in Colombia cited the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy in two rulings on drug use (June 2019) and the use of glyphosate to destroy illicit drug crops (February 2020): In the first case, the court referred to the need to better reconcile international human rights standards and obligations to combat drug use and organised crime. In the second case, reference was made to the paradigm shift in international drug policy brought by UNGASS 2016 (United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem 2016). The court cited the Guidelines to point out the link between the protection of human rights and the environment in the fight against illicit drug crop cultivation.


A ground-breaking document in international drug policies


The Guidelines thus represent a model based on international law. Two years after their publication, it is clear that the International Guidelines have shaped national policies. Moreover, they are an important resource for states to position themselves at the United Nations. Civil society groups and organisations are also increasingly employing the Guidelines to remind governments of their human rights obligations in national drug policies and to underpin their demands for important developments.