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Human rights are central to international drug control. States remain legally bound by their obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights including while developing and implementing their responses to drugs.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to health has examined the human rights impact of international drug control, and remains deeply concerned that existing policy approaches contribute to an environment of increased human rights risk, which, in many cases, can fuel widespread and systemic abuses.

The death penalty for drug offences does not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ for the purposes of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The arbitrary deprivation of life extends beyond judicial executions to include summary executions by military and police, and unnecessary use of lethal force in drug enforcement. Drug enforcement policies can worsen violent criminal drug markets, within which homicides increase significantly. Therefore, States must ensure full adherence to international human rights law and existing standards with regard to the use of force in anti-drug operations.

The criminalisation of drug consumption and possession for personal use has led to negative consequences for the health, security, and human rights of individuals and communities worldwide. It drives those most in need away from vital health interventions or places them in prison with significant implications for public health. Criminalisation fuels incarceration rates, overcrowded prisons and overtaxed criminal justice systems, placing individuals at increased risk of arbitrary detention and inhuman or degrading treatment while incarcerated. Treating drug possession for personal use as a crime intensifies discrimination. Individuals are in increased conflict with the law, which lowers their chances for employment, education and other opportunities for social inclusion.

Some States have adopted measures to decriminalise personal use of drugs as a way to improve the safety and well-being of their communities. Examples of positive outcomes of decriminalisation on health and public safety are detailed in the thematic report on international drug control (A/65/255).

A comprehensive approach to the drug problem

States must protect, respect, and fulfil the right to health of the population by committing maximum available resources to ensure access to affordable and quality health services. This includes access to essential medicines, palliative care, comprehensive drug prevention and education, drug treatment, and harm reduction.

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