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The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy are a reference tool for policy-makers, diplomats, lawyers and civil society organisations working to ensure human rights compliance in drug policy.

They aim to fill the gap in foundational standard-setting processes through which contemporary human rights norms have been applied to various aspects of drug policy.

1. Human dignity

Universal human dignity is a fundamental principle of human rights. It is from the inherent dignity of the human person that our rights derive. No drug law, policy, or practice should have the effect of undermining or violating the dignity of any person or group of persons.

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2. Universality and interdependence of rights

Human rights are universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated, including in the contexts of drug policy, development assistance, health care, and criminal justice.

A person’s involvement in drug-related criminality affects the enjoyment of some rights and specifically engages others. In no case are human rights entirely forfeited.

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3. Equality and non-discrimination

All persons have the right to equality and freedom from discrimination. This means that all are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection and benefit of the law, including the enjoyment of all human rights without discrimination on a range of grounds (such as health status, which includes drug dependence).

In accordance with this right, States shall:

i. Take all appropriate measures to prevent, identify, and remedy unjust discrimination in drug laws, policies, and practices on any prohibited grounds, including drug dependence.

ii. Provide equal and effective protection against such discrimination, ensuring that particularly marginalised or vulnerable groups can effectively exercise and realise their human rights.

To facilitate the above, States should:

iii. Monitor the impact of drug laws, policies, and practices on various communities – including on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, and involvement in sex work – and collect disaggregated data for this purpose.

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4. Meaningful participation

Everyone has the right to participate in public life. This includes the right to meaningful participation in the design, implementation, and assessment of drug laws, policies, and practices, particularly by those directly affected.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Remove legal barriers that unreasonably restrict or prevent the participation of affected individuals and communities in the design, implementation, and assessment of drug laws, policies, and practices.

ii. Adopt and implement legislative and other measures, including institutional arrangements and mechanisms, to facilitate the participation of affected individuals and groups in the design, implementation, and assessment of drug laws, policies, and practices.

iii. Remove laws depriving people of the right to vote as a consequence of drug convictions.

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5. Accountability and the right to an effective remedy

Every State has the obligation to respect and protect the human rights of all persons within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction. Everyone has the right to request and receive information about how States have discharged their human rights obligations in the context of drug policy. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy in the event of actions and omissions that undermine or jeopardise their human rights, including where these actions or omissions relate to drug policy.

In accordance with these rights, States should:

i. Establish appropriate, accessible, and effective legal, administrative, and other procedures to ensure the human rights- compliant implementation of any law, policy, or practice related to drugs.

ii. Ensure that independent and transparent legal mechanisms and procedures are available, accessible, and affordable for individuals and groups to make formal complaints about alleged human rights violations in the context of drug control laws, policies, and practices.

iii. Ensure independent, impartial, prompt, and thorough investigations of allegations of human rights violations in the context of drug control laws, policies, and practices.

iv. Ensure that those responsible are held accountable for such violations in accordance with criminal, civil, administrative, or other law, as appropriate.

v. Ensure that adequate, appropriate, and effective remedies and means of redress are available, accessible, and affordable for all individuals and groups whose rights have been found to be violated as a result of drug control laws, policies, and practices. This should include accessible information on mechanisms and processes for seeking remedies and redress, and appropriate means of ensuring the timely enforcement of remedies.

vi. Take effective measures to prevent the recurrence of human rights violations in the context of drug control laws, policies, and practices.

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Everyone has the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. This right applies equally in the context of drug laws, policies, and practices.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Take deliberate, concrete, and targeted steps to ensure that drug-related and other health care goods, services, and facilities are available on a non-discriminatory basis in sufficient quantity; financially and geographically accessible; acceptable in the sense of being respectful of medical ethics, cultural norms, age, gender, and the communities being served; and of good quality (that is, with a solid evidence base).

ii. Address the social and economic determinants that support or hinder positive health outcomes related to drug use, including stigma and discrimination of various kinds, such as against people who use drugs.

iii. Ensure that demand reduction measures implemented to prevent drug use are based on evidence and compliant with human rights.

iv. Repeal, amend, or discontinue laws, policies, and practices that inhibit access to controlled substances for medical purposes and to health goods, services, and facilities for the prevention of harmful drug use, harm reduction among those who use drugs, and drug dependence treatment.

In addition, States may:

v. Utilise the available flexibilities in the UN drug control conventions to decriminalise the possession, purchase, or cultivation of controlled substances for personal consumption.

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The right to health as applied to drug policy includes access, on a voluntary basis, to harm reduction services, goods, facilities, and information.

In accordance with their right to health obligations, States should:

i. Ensure the availability and accessibility of harm reduction services as recommended by UN technical agencies such as the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, meaning that such services should be adequately funded, appropriate for the needs of particular vulnerable or marginalised groups, compliant with fundamental rights (such as privacy, bodily integrity, due process, and freedom from arbitrary detention), and respectful of human dignity.

ii. Consider the development of other evidence-based interventions aimed at minimising the adverse health risks and harms associated with drug use.

iii. Remove age restrictions on access to harm reduction services where they exist, and instead ensure that in every instance in which a young person seeks access to services, access is determined based on the best interests and evolving capacity of the individual in question.

iv. Exclude from the scope of criminal offences, or other punitive laws, policies, or practices, the carrying and distribution of equipment, goods, and information intended for preventing or reducing the harms associated with drug use, ensuring also that criminal conspiracy laws do not capture people using drugs together for this purpose.

v. Ensure that any law prohibiting the ‘incitement’ or ‘encouragement’ of drug use contains safeguards protecting harm reduction services, excluding from liability those who provide information, facilities, goods, or services aimed at reducing harms associated with drug use.

vi. Ensure that victims of, or witnesses to, an overdose or other injury occurring as a result of drug use are legally protected against criminal prosecution and other punishment in situations in which they have sought medical assistance for the overdose or injury.

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The right to health as applied to drug policy includes access to evidence-based drug dependence treatment on a voluntary basis.

In accordance with their right to health obligations, States should:

i. Ensure the availability and accessibility of drug treatment services that are acceptable, delivered in a scientifically sound and medically appropriate manner, and of good quality (that is, with a strong evidence base and independent oversight). This means that such services should also be adequately funded; appropriate for particular vulnerable or marginalised groups; compliant with fundamental rights (such as to privacy, bodily integrity, due process, and freedom from arbitrary detention), and respectful of human dignity.

ii. Ensure that voluntary, informed consent is a precondition for any medical treatment or preventive or diagnostic intervention and that drug use or dependence alone are not grounds to deprive someone of the right to withhold consent.

iii. Ensure that non-compliance with programme rules, such as failed drug tests, do not lead to automatic involuntary discharge or temporary expulsion as a disciplinary measure.

iv. Safeguard the confidentiality of all identifying information regarding an individual’s involvement in drug-related health care to ensure that it is used solely for the purpose of advancing the health of that person.

Where compulsory drug detention centres exist, States:

v. Should take immediate measures to close such centres, release people detained in such centres, and replace such facilities with voluntary, evidence-based care and support in the community.

vi. Shall in all circumstances guard against the arbitrary detention of people who use drugs.

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Access to controlled medicines without discrimination is a key element of the right to health. This includes for use as opioid substitution therapy, for pain management, in palliative care, as anaesthesia during medical procedures, and for the treatment and management of various health conditions.

In accordance with their right to health obligations, States should:

i. Take legal and administrative steps to ensure the adequate availability, accessibility, and affordability of controlled medicines, with a particular focus on those medicines included in the World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medicines.

ii. Amend laws, policies, and regulations that unnecessarily restrict the availability of and access to controlled medicines.

iii. Follow the procedures established in the international drug control conventions when scheduling a substance that has medical uses, and balance the substance’s public health risks with the effects of scheduling on restricting the availability, accessibility, and affordability of medications containing the substance.

iv. Include access to controlled essential medicines for drug dependence treatment, treatment of pain, and palliative care in national health plans and policies and on national essential medicines lists.

v. Ensure the special provision of controlled medicines for children, including appropriate paediatric formulations of such medicines.

vi. Introduce health service provider training on drug dependence treatment, palliative care and pain management, and other medical conditions that require the use of controlled drugs for medical purposes, and integrate training regarding stigma, discrimination, and respect for patients’ rights (including the equal rights of patients who use drugs) into ongoing health workforce education and training.

vii. Raise public awareness about the right to have access to controlled drugs for medical purposes, including for the treatment of drug dependence and pain relief, and about the availability of such treatment.

viii. Consider reviewing the 1961 and 1971 drug control conventions’ schedules of substances under international control in light of recent scientific evidence, and prioritise exploring the medical benefits of controlled substances in accordance with the World Health Organization’s scheduling recommendations.

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Human rights and environmental protection are interdependent. States should ensure a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights, including the rights to health and to an adequate standard of living. This applies to those who live and work in and near communities where the cultivation of illicit drug crops takes place. State obligations to protect against environmental health hazards also apply extraterritorially.

In accordance with efforts to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights related to a healthy environment, States should:

i. Ensure that drug control measures do not cause deforestation, the degradation of natural habitats, the loss of biodiversity, or other environmental harm either within or outside their geographic borders.

ii. Take effective steps to prevent and redress environmental harms caused by drug control measures on illicit crop cultivation and production, including steps to limit exposure to pesticides or other chemicals used to eradicate such crops.

iii. Establish and enforce buffer zones prohibiting or regulating the application of pesticides and other chemicals used for drug crop eradication around sensitive sites, including human settlements, farms, and water sources.

iv. Prohibit the aerial spraying of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals as a method to prevent and eradicate illicit drug crops absent proof that such chemicals pose no risk to human life or the environment.

v. Require comprehensive environmental impact assessments to be carried out with the participation of affected populations in order to assess the expected impact of drug control measures on the environment and to determine the extent to which planned activities can be modified. These studies should be completed prior to the commencement of drug control measures.

vi. Monitor the implementation of drug control activities. In the event of environmental and related harm arising from such activities, develop and implement adequate and effective remediation measures in consultation with affected populations.

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Everyone has the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications. This right applies equally in the context of drug use and dependence, as well as in development and criminal justice responses to the illicit drug trade.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Take legislative and other appropriate measures to ensure that scientific knowledge and technologies and their applications – including evidence-based, scientifically proven interventions to treat drug dependence, to prevent overdose, and to prevent, treat, and control HIV, hepatitis C, and other diseases – are physically available and financially accessible without discrimination.

ii. Ensure that scientific research, including that on controlled drugs, can be undertaken and communicated without censorship and free from political interference.

iii. Consider reviewing the 1961 and 1971 drug control conventions’ schedules of substances under international control in light of recent scientific evidence, and prioritise exploring the medical benefits of controlled substances in accordance with the World Health Organization’s scheduling recommendations.

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Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate food, clothing, and housing. This right is equally shared by people who use drugs and people who are dependent on illicit drug economies.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Develop specific viable and sustainable economic alternatives for individuals and communities who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the illicit drug economy.

ii. Ensure that efforts to prevent illicit drug crop cultivation or eradicate illicitly cultivated drug crops do not have the effect of depriving people of their rights to a means of subsistence or to be free from hunger; ensure that interventions are properly sequenced so that crop eradication does not take place until small-farmer households dependent on illicit drug crop economies have adopted viable and sustainable alternative livelihoods; and undertake associated actions to promote land tenure through state-recognised land titling procedures.

iii. Review laws, policies, and practices on land and housing to ensure the existence of adequate safeguards protecting against discriminatory eviction based on actual or suspected illicit drug use and providing access to timely recourse and commensurate reparation for victims of such eviction.

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Everyone has the right to social security, including social insurance. This right applies equally to all without discrimination, including people who use drugs, people dependent on illicit drug economies, people in prisons and other places of detention or closed settings, and people who have been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drug-related offences.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Take steps, to the maximum of available resources, to establish and progressively expand comprehensive social security systems that equally guarantee legal entitlements – including universal access to health care, housing, education, and basic income security – to the aforementioned individuals and groups, while also ensuring that particularly marginalised or vulnerable groups can effectively exercise and realise these human rights on an equal basis with others.

ii. Prevent and remedy the denial of social assistance to persons on the basis of drug dependence, which is impermissible discrimination.

iii. If in a position to assist other States, facilitate the realisation of the right to social security and related entitlements, including through the provision of economic and technical assistance.

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Everyone has the inherent right to life. This right must be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their life based on actual or perceived drug use or involvement in the illicit drug trade. Drug offences do not meet the internationally recognised threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ for which the death penalty – where it exists – may be imposed.

In accordance with this right, States shall:

i. Take immediate action to halt executions, commute death sentences, and abolish the death penalty for drug offences. States may not transform an offence from a non-capital one to a capital one nor expand penalties for existing offences to include the death penalty.

ii. Take measures to prevent both State-perpetrated and private violence, threats to life, and unnecessary or disproportionate use of potentially lethal force based on actual or perceived drug use or involvement in the illicit drug trade, and investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those responsible for such acts.

iii. Avoid extraditing or otherwise forcibly returning or transferring a person to another State where that person risks being sentenced to the death penalty for drug offences, unless provided with credible and effective assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed.

iv. Avoid extraditing or otherwise forcibly returning or transferring a person to another State where there are substantial grounds to believe that, based on actual or perceived drug use or involvement in the illicit drug trade, the person risks arbitrary deprivation of their right to life, including by non-State actors over whom the receiving State has no or only partial control or whose acts the receiving State cannot prevent.

In addition, States should:

v. Take steps to ensure that they do not aid or assist in the imposition of the death penalty outside of their jurisdiction and that the supply of equipment, personnel, training, and funding for drug law enforcement activities by or in another State, mutual legal assistance between States, and joint operations with other States do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the imposition of the death penalty.

vi. Take positive measures to increase the life expectancy of people who use drugs, including adequate steps to provide scientific, evidence-based information, facilities, goods, and services on drug use prevention, overdose prevention and response, and harm reduction, including to reduce such harms as overdose, HIV, viral hepatitis, and other infections and injuries sometimes associated with drug use.

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Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are absolutely prohibited, in all circumstances. This includes during the arrest, questioning, and detention of persons alleged to have committed drug-related crimes or otherwise implicated during an investigation. The withholding of drugs from those who need them for medical purposes, including for drug dependence treatment and pain relief, is considered a form of torture.

In accordance with this right, States shall:

i. Take effective legislative, administrative, judicial, and other measures to prohibit, prevent, and redress all acts of torture and ill-treatment in their jurisdiction and in all settings under their custody or control, including in the context of drug dependence treatment, whether administered in public or private facilities.

ii. Promptly investigate allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by State agents, as well as acts that occur in their territory or under their jurisdiction (whether carried out by State or non-State actors), and prosecute and punish those responsible, including when victims are persons alleged to have committed drug-related offences or who are dependent on drugs.

iii. Avoid extraditing or otherwise forcibly returning or transferring individuals to another State where there are substantial grounds to believe that they are at risk of subjection to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including by non-State actors over which the receiving State has no or only partial control or whose acts the receiving State cannot prevent, or because they risk expulsion to a third State where they may be in danger of subjection to torture or other prohibited ill-treatment.

iv. Abolish corporal punishment for drug offences where it is in place.

In addition, States should:

v. Ensure access to essential medicines, including for drug dependence, pain treatment, and palliative care.

vi. Ensure that access to health care for people who use or are dependent on drugs and are in places of detention is equivalent to that available in the community.

vii. Establish a national system to effectively monitor drug dependence treatment practices and to inspect drug dependence treatment centres, as well as places of detention, including migrant detention centres, police stations, and prisons.

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Everyone has the right to liberty and security of the person and therefore to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. No one shall be deprived of liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law. Such rights apply equally to any person known to have used drugs or suspected of drug use, as well as to anyone suspected of a drug-related offence.

In accordance with this right, States shall:

i. Ensure that people are not detained solely on the basis of drug use or drug dependence.

ii. Ensure that pre-trial detention is never mandatory for drug-related charges and is imposed only in exceptional circumstances where such detention is deemed reasonable, necessary, and proportional.

In addition, States should:

iii. Guarantee that people arrested, detained, or convicted for drug-related offences can benefit from the application of non- custodial measures – such as bail or other alternatives to pre-trial detention; sentence reduction or suspension; parole; and pardon or amnesty – enjoyed by those who are arrested, detained, or convicted of other crimes.

iv. Prioritise diversion from prosecution for persons arrested for drug offences or drug-related offences of a minor nature.

v. Prioritise non-custodial measures at the sentencing and post-sentencing stages for persons charged with or convicted of drug offences or drug-related offences of a minor nature.

vi. Ensure that, where treatment is court mandated, no penalties attach to a failure to complete such treatment.

vii. Ensure that treatment for drug dependence as an alternative to incarceration is undertaken only with informed consent and where medically indicated, and under no circumstances extends beyond the period of the applicable criminal sentence.

viii. Take immediate measures to close compulsory drug detention centres where they exist, release people detained in such centres, and replace such facilities with voluntary, evidence-based care and support in the community.

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Everyone has the right to equality before the law and before courts and tribunals, to defend oneself against criminal charges, and to determine one’s rights and obligations in a suit at law. These and other components of the right to a fair trial should not be infringed or limited simply because an individual is accused of illicitly using, cultivating, or trading drugs.

In accordance with this right, States shall:

i. Guarantee to all persons accused of drug-related offences the right to a fair and public hearing, without undue delay, by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law, and further guarantee that all such persons will be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law.

ii. Ensure that such persons have access to prompt, detailed information and free, good-quality legal assistance where needed, in a language and format that is accessible. This includes access to interpreters, consular assistance (where applicable), and legal counsel to defend against criminal charges.

iii. Make provision for those convicted of such offences to have their conviction and sentence reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law.

iv. Avoid extraditing or otherwise forcibly returning or transferring a person to another State to face trial for drug-related offences where that person risks serious violations of the right to a fair trial, unless provided with credible and effective assurances regarding minimum guarantees during criminal proceedings.

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Everyone has the right to privacy, including people who use drugs.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Adopt legislative, administrative, and other measures to prevent arbitrary and unlawful interference with the privacy, family life, home, and correspondence of people who use drugs.

ii. Ensure the protection of the right to privacy in relation to criminal investigations for drug-related offences.

iii. Adopt legislative and other measures to prevent the disclosure of individuals’ personal health data, including drug test results and drug dependence treatment histories, without their free and informed consent.

iv. Ensure that welfare conditionalities and administrative requirements to access rights and benefits do not unlawfully, unnecessarily, or disproportionately infringe the privacy of those who use drugs.

In addition, States may:

v. Utilise the available flexibilities in the UN drug control conventions to decriminalise the possession, purchase, or cultivation of controlled substances for personal consumption.

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Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, which includes the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief, either individually or in community with others, in public or private. This right applies to those for whom such manifestations may involve the use of drugs for religious or spiritual purposes.

In accordance with this right, States may:

i. Utilise the available flexibilities in the UN drug control conventions to decriminalise the possession, purchase, or cultivation of controlled substances for personal consumption.

In addition, States should:

ii. Consider exemptions within drug legislation allowing the cultivation and use of controlled substances for religious purposes, including in rituals and ceremonies.

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Everyone has the right to enjoy cultural life. This right applies equally to all without discrimination, including people who use drugs recreationally, people who use drugs for cultural, spiritual, or religious purposes, people who need controlled substances for medical purposes, and people who cultivate illicit drug crops as a traditional way of life.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Refrain from discriminatory and otherwise unnecessary or disproportionate interference with the exercise of cultural practices and with access to cultural goods and services on grounds of drug control law and policy.

ii. Take necessary measures to ensure the preconditions for participation in, facilitation of, and promotion of cultural life without discrimination, including access to and preservation of cultural goods where these involve controlled plants and substances.

iii. Foster a rich and diverse cultural life through the conservation, development, and diffusion of culture and by ensuring the participation of relevant communities in the governance of cultural heritage, including where these involve controlled plants and substances.

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Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds through any media of choice. It also includes the right to hold opinions, express ideas, and seek, receive, and impart information about drugs and drug policy.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Take all necessary legislative, administrative, and other measures to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and information about matters related to drug laws, policies, and practices, including information and opinions regarding health services for people who use drugs (such as harm reduction interventions); the composition of controlled drugs; the value, meaning, and benefits of traditional, cultural, and religious uses of substances; the human rights of people who use drugs or are otherwise involved in drug-related activities; and reforms to such laws, policies, and practices.

ii. Provide accurate and objective information about drug laws, policies, and regulations; drug-related harms; and drug-related health goods, services, and facilities.

iii. Refrain from censoring or restricting access, including through the application of criminal or other sanctions, to scientific and health-related information about drugs, drug use, drug-related harms, and goods, services, and facilities aimed at preventing or reducing such harms, and refrain from otherwise withholding or intentionally misrepresenting such information.

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Everyone has the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly. This includes the right to plan, organise, promote, and advertise peaceful marches, protests, and other types of gatherings to express views and advocate for or against changes in drug laws, policies, and practices, and the right to form and join organisations that advocate on matters related to drug laws, policies, and practices or are dedicated to working with individuals or groups affected by drugs and drug control efforts.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Take all necessary legislative, administrative, and other measures to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly with respect to drug laws, policies, and practices.

ii. Refrain from requiring prior authorisation to hold a peaceful assembly regarding drug laws, policies, and practices, and exempt such spontaneous assemblies from prior notification procedures.

iii. Permit associations that advocate on matters related to drug laws, policies, and practices and that work with individuals and groups affected by drugs and drug control efforts, including unregistered associations, to receive and utilise financial contributions from domestic, foreign, and international sources.

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1. Data collection

States should:

i. Collect and disseminate appropriate information to enable the formulation and implementation of human rights-compliant drug control laws and policies. These data should be disaggregated by relevant factors, including health status (such as drug dependence), age, sex, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and economic status (including involvement in sex work).

ii. Ensure that data collection for the purpose of drug law and policy formulation, implementation, or other analysis complies with relevant international standards for data protection.

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2. Human rights review and budget analysis

States should:

i. Consider undertaking a transparent review of drug laws and policies to assess human rights compliance.

ii. Subject all proposed drug control legislation and policies to transparent human rights risk and impact assessments.

iii. Under take a budgetary review to ensure the progressive realisation of the right to health in relation to drug use and dependence.

iv. Carefully consider and justify any cuts in the allocation of resources for drug treatment, harm reduction, and other health services for people who use drugs where such cuts entail retrogressive measures.

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3. Obligation of International cooperation and assistance

In accordance with these obligations, States in a position to assist should:

i. Consider providing resources for harm reduction, essential controlled medicines, and other health and social services for people who use drugs and who need controlled drugs for pain relief.

ii. Consider providing resources to develop specific viable and sustainable economic alternatives for individuals and communities particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the illicit drug economy.

iii. Adopt clear policy guidelines incorporating human rights standards for the provision of financial and technical aid, for international judicial and law enforcement cooperation in drug-related criminal matters, and for demand reduction and related projects in recipient States.

iv. Exercise due diligence to ensure that international cooperation and assistance provided or received for drug-related enforcement and for demand reduction and related projects is carried out in full compliance with international law and human rights standards and does not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the use of the death penalty for drug-related crimes, to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, or to fostering or perpetuating unlawful discrimination.

States that do not have sufficient capacity or resources to meet all of their human rights obligations should:

i. Seek assistance, including financial and technical assistance, from the international community for harm reduction services, access to essential controlled medicines, and other health and social services for people who use drugs and who need controlled drugs for pain relief.

ii. Seek assistance, including financial and technical assistance, from the international community to develop specific viable and sustainable economic alternatives for individuals and communities particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the illicit drug economy.

iii. Seek assistance, including financial and technical assistance, from the international community for criminal justice system diversion projects and other alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug offences and drug-related offences.

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1. Harmonisation and simultaneous compliance with human rights obligations

i. Parties to the international drug control treaties are bound to implement their obligations arising from those treaties in full respect for their other obligations under international law, including human rights law. Consistent with international law, these obligations ‘shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given in light of the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose’. Where there appears to be incompatibility, the principles of treaty interpretation emphasise the strong presumption against normative conflict in international law.

ii. States are assumed not to derogate from their previous obligations when they create a new obligation, such as by ratifying a treaty. Where a number of apparently contradictory instruments are simultaneously applicable, international case law and academic opinion endeavour to construe them in such a way as to coordinate their effects and avoid any opposition between them. Two diverging commitments must therefore be harmonised as much as possible so that they produce effects that are fully in accordance with existing law, including human rights law.

iii. Obligations contained within international drug control treaties may not be used as a basis for violating concomitant international human rights obligations. Provisions contained within an international drug control treaty that allow States to ‘adopt more strict or severe measures’ than those provided by the relevant treaty should be interpreted as allowing only for such measures that align with States’ international law obligations, including human rights law.

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2. Standards for limitations on rights

i. Nothing in the international drug control treaties may be interpreted as implying for any State, group, or person a right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at or having the effect of violating any of the rights and freedoms guaranteed in international human rights instruments or limiting these rights to a greater extent than is specifically provided for in those instruments.

ii. Public health, safety, and order may be invoked as grounds for limiting certain rights, such as the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs, the freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly, or the freedom of association, in order to deal with a serious threat to the health or safety of the population or its individual members.

iii. National security may be invoked to justify measures limiting certain rights only when such measures are taken to protect the existence of the nation or its territorial integrity or political independence against force or threat of force.

iv. Where a State seeks to limit a specific right in the pursuit of fulfilling a drug control obligation, such limitation must be consistent with established general interpretive principles relating to the requirements for lawful limitations on rights, which apply to only some human rights norms. These principles include the following:

a. Certain human rights protections cannot be limited at any time, for any reason. These include the right to life; the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; freedom from slavery; the right not to be convicted of a criminal offence for acts that were not criminalised at the time they were carried out; and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

b. Any limitation must be provided for by a national law of general application. Any such law must be clear and accessible to everyone. A limitation cannot be provided for retroactively.

c. The scope of the limitation shall not be interpreted so as to jeopardise the essence of the right concerned, and any limitation shall be interpreted strictly and in favour of the right at issue.

d. No limitation shall be applied in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner.

e. No limitation shall be discriminatory or applied in a manner that constitutes legally prohibited discrimination.

f. The limitation must meet the ‘necessity’ test established in international human rights law, which means that the measure responds to a pressing social need, pursues a legitimate aim, and is proportionate to that aim. This includes the requirement that the state use no more restrictive means than are required for achieving the purpose of the limitation.

g. The State always bears the burden of justifying a limitation on a human right that it is legally bound to respect.

h. Adequate safeguards and effective remedies shall be provided by law against the illegal or abusive imposition or application of limitations on human rights.

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