What does it mean to adopt a human rights approach to drug policy?

Date: 17 August 2020

What does it mean to adopt a human rights approach to drug policy? 

The 25th anniversary of Health and Human Rights comes at an interesting time in international drug policy. Not long ago, references to human rights could be, and were, easily vetoed from draft UN drug policy resolutions. At best, human rights were included in declaratory preambles of omnibus resolutions, and largely forgotten in any substantive sense. Drug policy NGOs, for the most part, did not tend to foreground human rights, while human rights NGOs all but ignored drugs.

The past decade, however, has seen changes. Human rights are now central to international drug policy debates and are causing considerable controversy. Drug policy NGOs have made significant progress in highlighting the human rights dimensions of the field, while human rights NGOs have more and more come to see the issue as one warranting close attention. Indeed, it has become something of a cliché to say that a ‘human rights-based approach to drug policy’ should be adopted. The fact that this is so frequently heard, from NGOs and some governments, is a major step forward. But while much of the work to date has involved identifying rights violations in drug control, we still have not unpacked what adopting a human rights-based approach might mean.

 Health and Human Rights Journal, Jan 2020

Rick Lines, Julie Hannah and Damon Barrett

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