Home » Side Event: Assessment of drug policies in the light of human rights

Side Event: Assessment of drug policies in the light of human rights

Organized by Portugal with the support of Malta, Norway, Switzerland, the EU and the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe

Moderator: Eliza Kurcevic Eurasian Harm Reduction Association.

Welcome remarks.

Introductory remarks by Joao Goulao, Portugal.

Since UNGASS in 2016 the protection and promotion of human rights has become more pronounced in the drug policy arena. For Portugal evidence into human rights is crucial. It puts political commitments in to practice by helping countries deliver on human rights. This side event is an interactive debate that will provide insight into various tools to asses human rights in the context of drug policy.

Damon Barrett, International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy

International Guidelines on human rights and drug policy.

15 years ago it was rare to hear human rights mentioned at the CND. This morning (in the opening Plenary) we had the head of OHCHR speak. I believe this is the first time ever at CND. We often hear that drug policy most be carried out in full compliance with human rights, but what does this mean? What are rights abuses?

One concern of mine is what we already doing, ‘business as usual’, is being rebranded as human rights. If state executes someone for drug offenses it is not in breach of the drug treaties, but it could be in breach of a number of human rights obligations and commitments. Human rights obligations run parallel with drug polices and the tool I want to share today help to link these parallel and equally complex areas.

The guidelines on HIV and human rights that have been around for years but the the International Guidelines on human rights and drug policy were only launched 3 years ago, but are now endorsed by UNDP, WHO, UNAIDS, OHCHR and more.

The International Guidelines on human rights and drug policy can be found here https://www.humanrights-drugpolicy.org/

The are not organized as per you would expect for drug policy, i.e. supply / demand etc… but by human right, specifically the list of rights is catalogued in the international human rights declaration. The guidelines provide policy recommendations across 3 broad policy sectors: criminal justice, health and development. Alternatively, by groups: children, indigenous people, women, people deprived of liberty — this last group not only includes prisoners but also people in forced drug treatment settings.

You can search by key words such as decriminalization, death penalty, HIV/AIDS etc… and you can also search by particular rights. The guidelines provide commentary, why it matters, references, recommendations from treaties.

Human rights law is complicated and so is drug policy and these guidelines are helping streamlining both of these equally complex areas. It’s rare, but there are situations where drug treaties are resulting drug laws are in direct conflict with human rights obligations, the most obvious of these is indigenous rights.

Thomas Kattau, Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe.

Human Rights in Drug Policy: A Self-Assessment Tool.

Like to share a tool developed by the the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe. It’s an honest assessment that doesn’t blame or shame. It is reviewed at intervals by expert groups and it’s objective to be simple and snapshot of human rights issues and not too complex.


This self-assessment tool helps address drug policy compliance with human rights. You need register with an email address and put both country and field of work, but no personal data is collected. It’s available in 6 languages (all European) and the assessment is based on traffic light theme: green, orange and red. There are 36 questions multiple choice questions (yes, no or don’t know). across 3 thematic areas and questions. The self assessment is saved and can be edited or downloaded at anytime. It’s a basic tool to provide a snapshot, including international human rights principals but also includes EU law and rulings by European Court of Human Rights.

The human rights treaty provisions come up in brief in your assessment but can be expanded for more detail. The results can be downloaded as a PDF. Also an option to provide feedback on tool.

Shared the following PDF and video of the tool as part of the presentation.

Moderator: Eliza Kurcevic, Eurasian Harm Reduction Association. Are there plans to update it? Answer; this tool can be used a trend spotting tool, but depends on it being used.

Marie Nougier – International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)

Global Drug Policy Index

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to present the Global Drug Policy Index.
The Global Drug Policy Index is the only one of its kind that evaluates, measures and compares how national drug policies align with the evidence and recommendations of the UN system. In the next 10 minutes, I’d like to explain why the Index was developed, how, and finally, what the Index tells us about current drug policies.

The Index seeks to address one fundamental issue: for decades, success in drug policy has been measured against the goal of reducing – and eventually eliminating – the scale of the illegal drug market. We all know now that drug policies worldwide have been unable to achieve this goal. But most problematically, efforts to achieve a drug-free society have had devastating consequences for the health, human rights and security of affected communities worldwide.

So the idea here was to change the way we assess success in drug policies –by no longer focusing on demand or supply reduction – but by evaluating instead how drug policies contribute to improving health, protecting human rights, reducing discrimination and marginalisation, and improving development outcomes. All of these indicators of success are aligned with the core objectives of the UN, and international drug policies should seek to achieve those same objectives – instead of operating in a silo.

So now moving on to the second part of my presentation: how was the Index actually developed? The Index was developed by the Harm Reduction Consortium – a group of NGOs working on drug policy and harm reduction, in partnership with Swansea University. We held consultations with over 200 experts from civil society, but also from academia, the UN and governments, to put together a solid and credible methodology.

First, and to ensure the credibility of the Index, we used the UN System Common Position and its implementation Task Team’s 2019 report as a basis for the tool. The 2019 report reviews the latest state of the evidence on what works best and what doesn’t work in the field of drug policy. So this constituted the starting point for the Index development.

Based on the Task Team report, we identified 75 indicators, running across five overarching themes:
The absence of extreme sentencing, including the death penalty and extrajudicial killings. The proportionality of the criminal justice response, including the decriminalisation of drug use and related activities. Health and harm reduction measures. Access to controlled medicines. And finally, development, in countries that have alternative development programmes.

Based on this, each country is given a score out of 100.
 Importantly, we decided to review both policies on paper, and their implementation on the ground.
 The first edition of the Index was launched in 2021, reviewing data from 2020. We considered this first edition as a pilot, a proof of concept. And this is why we focused on 30 countries only, with the hope of adding more countries in future editions of the Index.

Now, for the last part of my presentation, what does the Index tell us? I obviously won’t go into tons of details on this but I wanted to give you the key highlights, and takeaways from this first round of data. As you can see here, the top-scoring country among the 30 we evaluated was Norway, with a total score of 74/100, and the last was Brazil, with a total score of only 26/100. Of course, the ranking of countries could be drastically different if we included more countries.

But what is important to look at here is the scores. And worryingly, the median score for the 2021 edition of the Index only reaches 48/100, with only 13 out of the 30 countries reviewed having a score of 50/100 or more. Based on the findings of the Index, it is clear that drug policies remain clearly entrenched in a punitive rationale in most parts of the world, with severe impacts on health and human rights. And so one of the key takeaways here is that there is a LOT of work to be done to ensure that the recommendations of the UN are reflected in national policies. And this is exactly why the Index is so important here, because in one glance, it enables the viewer to identify which are the aspects of national drug policies that require urgent reforms.

The second takeaway is that the Index clearly shows how drug policies particularly impact specific groups: in particular women and the LBGTQ+ community, people living in poverty, and specific ethnic groups.

Our third takeaway is that there is a huge gap between policies on paper and their implementation on the ground. So there are situations where the laws and policies exist, and are excellent, but they are just not implemented adequately on the ground, so progress in improving health and human rights outcomes will inevitably be limited for affected communities. This is the reason why we placed so much emphasis on assessing both policies and implementation. And this leads me to my fourth and final takeaway.

And this is the role that civil society has played in the development of this Index, and should play in all aspects of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all drug policies more generally. Since the beginning, the Index has been thought through and elaborated with loads of civil society inputs, and data collection included both desk-based research, and a comprehensive civil society survey. If you visit the Index website, you will also see that it features the stories and testimonies of people with lived experience. This was critical for us to put the data into context, and to show what are the real impacts of policies on communities worldwide – whether they are positive, or negative.
So to conclude, the Index is meant to be conversation starter, a way for civil society and policy makers to discuss how to reform some of the most problematic aspects of drug laws and policies, by following the evidence promoted by the United Nations. And that’s why I hope that you’ll take the time to review the Index and its key findings, that you will take it as a starting point for a conversation with civil society colleagues in your country, and that these conversations can lead to tangible reforms on the ground.  
And of course, if you have any questions or concerns, do keep in touch! Thank you very much for your attention.

Moderator: Eliza Kurcevic, Eurasian Harm Reduction Association, opens floor for questions:

Katherine Pettus, International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC) Question for Damon Barrett.“Does the tool provide remedies?” Answer: It does, but there are not many for drug policy, but some for health. I can recommend a book on health litigation.

Question; for Marie; “Plans for including USA in the Index?” Not at moment due complexity between laws across state, federal and districts for more 50 jurisdictions. If we include it we may have to limit to only Federal law initially.

Question from UNDP in context universal periodic review (UPR). Are there plans to develop the Index and include drug policy tools along the lines of the UPR? IPDC has been engaging more with HR mechanisms, but but not many opportunities at HPF for drug policy.

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