International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

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.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is based on an understanding that human rights are grounded in the inherent dignity of the human person and are therefore universal and inalienable. This means that irrespective of ethnicity, gender, social or other status, or lifestyle choice, ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’6 and no one’s human rights can be taken away (some rights may be limited in certain circumstances, but this is quite different from those rights being removed; see Section V.2).

Human rights are also indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated.7 ‘Indivisible’ means that all human rights – economic, social, cultural, political, and civil rights – must be treated equally, on the same footing, with the same emphasis. ‘Interdependent’ and ‘interrelated’ mean that the realisation of a given human right is closely related to and dependent on other human rights. For example, the obligation to ensure access to essential controlled medicines, such as methadone or buprenorphine to treat opioid dependence or antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV, is a core obligation of the right to health, which means that it must be guaranteed without delay.8 Yet a number of factors, such as stigma, discrimination, and violence, often prevent people who use drugs from accessing these lifesaving medicines or even information about them.9 In this context, ensuring the right to health is closely related to and dependent on the realisation of a number of other rights, including the rights to human dignity, non-discrimination, equality, freedom from torture and ill-treatment, privacy, and information.10