International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

3. Right to an adequate standard of living

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.


International and regional human rights law guarantees the right to an adequate standard of living.261 This right includes related rights to available, accessible, and adequate food, clothing, and housing, and the continuous improvement of living conditions.262 It also includes the right to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic uses, such as drinking, sanitation, bathing, washing clothes, and cooking.263

In practice, without appropriate safeguards, certain drug control measures may infringe these rights, leaving people at risk of poverty, hunger, and landlessness or homelessness. Particular risks to the right to an adequate standard of living are posed by crop eradication measures, aid conditionality, and land tenure and eviction laws, policies, and practices.

Crop eradication measures

Many small-scale farmers in drug-producing countries illicitly cultivate crops because of poverty, marginalisation, and a lack of viable alternatives. UN human rights treaty bodies have raised concerns that aerial spraying to eradicate drug crops exacerbates these problems, causing displacement, food insecurity, adverse health effects, and the denial of livelihoods.264

Illicit crop eradication measures pose specific risks to the right to food and the right to water. According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the standard as applied to the right to water requires that water be safe, meaning that it must be free from microbes, parasites, chemical substances, and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to human health.265 Moreover, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples have all raised concerns about the adverse effects of aerial spraying to eradicate drug crops on the rights to water and to food security, particularly for indigenous peoples and other rural communities.266 The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that States carry out independent, rights-based environmental and social impact assessments of such spraying, including prior consultation with affected communities (particularly indigenous ones), and take all precautions to avoid harmful impacts on the health of children.267

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has recommended that States ensure that crop substitution programmes offer ‘alternative productive activities that guarantee the peasant farmers concerned and their families an adequate standard of living, ensuring their effective participation in both the design and the conduct of those activities, as well as real opportunities to market their produce’.268 To this end, the Committee has recommended that alternative development programmes offered include ‘the possibility of participating in the medical cannabis market through a licensing programme for small-scale community farmers’.269

The Committee has also raised concern about the risk of death or serious injury by anti-personnel mines or in clashes with illegal armed groups faced by peasants participating in the manual eradication of crops and government failure to take effective measures to reduce risks associated with crop eradiation. It has recommended that greater efforts be made to ensure safe working conditions, in accordance with international standards, for everyone, especially civilians, involved in manual crop eradication; that necessary measures be taken to promote the creation of jobs offering decent working conditions; and that measures be taken to provide remedies and compensation to peasant farmers and their families who have been harmed while performing this work.270

The UN system common position on drug control policy, adopted in November 2018, commits to ‘stepping up our joint efforts and supporting each other … [t]o promote sustainable livelihoods through adequately-sequenced, well-funded and long-term development-oriented drug policies in rural and urban areas affected by illicit drug activities, including cultivation, production and trafficking, bearing in mind environmental protection and sustainability’.271

UN entities with responsibilities in drug control matters, including the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the UN General Assembly, have recognised poverty, marginalisation, and a lack of viable alternatives as root causes of illicit drug crop cultivation and have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to addressing them, including by tackling poverty and creating sustainable livelihood opportunities.272

Accordingly, the UN Guiding Principles on Alternative Development, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2014, call on States, development agencies, donors, international financial institutions, and international and regional organisations to ‘apply their utmost efforts … [t]o ensure, when considering crop control measures, that small-farmer households have opportunities for viable and sustainable licit livelihoods’ and ‘that [such] measures may be properly sequenced in a sustainable fashion and appropriately coordinated, taking into account the circumstances of the region, country or area concerned’.273

In relation to the broader right to continuous improvement of living conditions associated with the right to an adequate standard of living in areas dependent on illicit drug crop cultivation, where crop eradication and alternative livelihood measures may consequently apply, the UN General Assembly Special Session 2016 Outcome Document encourages States to improve ‘infrastructure and basic public services’ in areas ‘affected by or at risk of illicit cultivation and other related activities’.274

Aid conditionality

The Intergovernmental Expert Working Group on International Cooperation on the Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development, convened by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, recommends that donor countries ‘not make development assistance conditional on reductions in illicit drug crop cultivation’ and that UN Member States ‘ensure that eradication is not undertaken until small-farmer households have adopted viable and sustainable livelihoods and that interventions are properly sequenced’.275 The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank, and the European Union have adopted similar positions respectful of the right to an adequate standard of living.276

Land tenure

The UN General Assembly Special Session 2016 Outcome Document encourages ‘the development of viable economic alternatives, particularly for communities affected by or at risk of illicit cultivation of drug crops and other illicit drug-related activities in urban and rural areas … including through job opportunities’.277 In rural contexts, this may necessitate improved ‘access and legal titles to land for farmers and local communities’,278 while also ensuring that any related land tenure reforms give women equal rights to access, own, and control land and other forms of property,279 in keeping with the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The Sustainable Development Goals also include State commitments to ensure that all men and women have secure tenure rights to land and commitments to undertake reforms to provide women equal rights to economic resources, and to access to ownership and control over agricultural land and other forms of property, as part of their efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve gender equality.280


The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, has raised concern about laws subjecting applicants for subsidised public housing to denial, and tenants to eviction, based on ‘drug-related activity’ and has called for States to prohibit the use of criteria such as drug tests and criminal records for gaining access to public housing.281 The Special Rapporteur has highlighted their discriminatory nature on public housing residents, their negative, fragmenting effect on families, and their negative impact on domestic violence victims, who are subject to eviction if they report abuse, as the laws do not take into account whether tenants are crime victims or perpetrators.282

In relation to the right to housing as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has noted that non-discrimination provisions impose an additional obligation upon governments to ensure that evictions, where they do occur, do not involve discrimination.283 Such additional non-discrimination obligations may become relevant particularly where evictions are not based on reasons that may be considered ‘justifiable’ under the right to housing – such as ‘persistent non-payment of rent’ or ‘damage to rented property without any reasonable cause’284 – but rather based on a tenant’s actual or suspected illicit drug use or criminal record for drug use or possession for personal use. Special attention is needed to prevent the disproportionate impact of evictions on marginalised or otherwise vulnerable individuals and groups in this regard, including ‘women, children, youth, older persons, indigenous people, ethnic and other minorities, and other vulnerable individuals and groups’, recognising also that ‘[w]omen in all groups are especially vulnerable given the extent of statutory and other forms of discrimination which often apply in relation to property rights … or rights of access to property or accommodation …’.285

Relationship to the UN drug control conventions

The 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances requires that each State Party take ‘appropriate measures to prevent illicit cultivation of and to eradicate plants containing narcotic or psychotropic substances, such as opium poppy, coca bush and cannabis plants, cultivated illicitly in its territory’,286 while also respecting ‘fundamental human rights’ and taking ‘full account of traditional licit uses, where there is historic evidence of such use, as well as the protection of the environment’.287 In a different context, the obligation to take ‘appropriate measures’ is explained as follows: ‘i.e. [States Parties] are bound to take such measures as may be necessary, but only to the extent that they appear to be practical and can reasonably be expected of them under their special conditions’.288 However, as established by the text of the clause itself, such ‘necessary’, ‘practical’, and ‘reasonable’ cultivation prevention and eradication measures will be ‘appropriate’ only if they also comply with ‘fundamental human rights’ standards, which would include those related to the right to an adequate standard of living.

Also under the 1988 Convention, cooperation efforts may include ‘support for integrated rural development leading to economically viable alternatives to illicit cultivation’.289 The Commentary on the 1988 Convention explains that this proviso ‘creates no legal obligation on parties, but draws attention to the need, in some countries and regions, for programmes of integrated rural development designed, in effect, to rebuild a local economy hitherto partly or entirely based on illicit cultivation’.290 This permissive clause provides legal latitude for States to consider alternative policy options that are consistent with human rights obligations related to the right to an adequate standard of living.