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The United Nations Development Programme and the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy at the University of Essex jointly led the development of the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Harm Reduction International provided additional support and expertise throughout the drafting and consultative process. The Guidelines are the product of extensive legal research, expert review, and an inclusive multi-stakeholder process at the international and regional levels with cross-regional participation. They are also informed by the global experience of UNDP in following up with the Recommendations of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law – an independent body of eminent experts to which UNDP served as the Secretariat. Specific efforts were made to engage with those communities most adversely affected by international drug control efforts, including people who use drugs, farmers who cultivate illicit crops, and communities negatively affected by the illicit drug trade.

Legal research:

These Guidelines are based on doctrinal legal research drawing on international, regional, and national hard law and soft law sources from multiple thematic areas. An in-depth review of the three international drug control conventions, including each official commentary, was undertaken. In addition, targeted research of international human rights instruments and mechanisms was conducted with respect to both treaty-based mechanisms and UN Charter-based mechanisms. Sources in this regard include the concluding observations and general comments of each treaty body for the core UN human rights treaties, as well as the work of relevant thematic Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Resolutions of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Human Rights Council, and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs were also studied. The research also drew on scholarly works on key legal issues and on guidance documents issued by UN and regional bodies. Additional international instruments and expert mechanisms reviewed included the International Labour Organization conventions related to child labour, HIV/AIDS, and indigenous peoples; the UNESCO conventions and declarations on cultural heritage; and
the reports of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Where relevant, or where particular lacunae were identified at the international level, regional human rights treaties and jurisprudence from regional human rights courts and national courts was also cited. Thematic keyword searches were developed in consultation with the Guidelines’ drafting committee to target searches and filter the extensive material that was gathered. While there was no date range for inclusion, more recent findings of legal mechanisms (i.e., those post-2000) were preferred for referencing in the Guidelines.

A group of experts developed several background papers that framed some of the key thematic issues and helped inform various aspects of the Guidelines. Likewise, individuals from the core editorial team working on the Guidelines provided an overarching framing paper establishing the case for international guidelines on human rights and drug policy. This work was peer reviewed and published in a special section on human rights and drug control in the June 2017 issue of Harvard University’s Health and Human Rights Journal.

Expert review:

A team of legal scholars and practitioners was commissioned to peer review drafts of the Guidelines. This team comprised experts on a range of issues, including child rights, criminal law, development and human rights, health and human rights, indigenous rights, international drug control, public international law, and women’s rights. The comments and insights provided by this team were used to amend subsequent drafts and to guide key substantive and structural issues.


From 2016 to 2018, a series of multi-stakeholder consultations were convened across five continents to inform the Guidelines
at various stages in their development. These consultations included the participation of members of government; representatives of UN and regional health, human rights, and drug control entities; civil society actors; independent experts; and scholars. Two initial expert gatherings were convened in 2016 in New York and at the University of Essex to identify the scope and format of the Guidelines, as well as their drafting process. After these framing consultations, a zero draft was presented at a global consultation in June 2017 in Bogotá, Colombia. Present at this meeting were UN Member States, UN agencies, UN independent experts, affected community representatives, and academic experts. A fourth gathering was convened in September 2017 to review and consolidate the inputs from the global consultation. This led to the production of a new draft that was subsequently submitted for feedback to a team of commissioned experts. After these experts’ feedback was incorporated into the draft, three more global consultations were held in 2018 in Pretoria, South Africa; Bangkok, Thailand; and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The Amsterdam meeting was a community consultation for people who use drugs. Additionally, two Member State meetings were hosted
in Vienna, Austria, during the convenings of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Following these meetings, a final expert workshop was convened at the University of Essex in November 2018 to analyse and incorporate the input gathered. A final draft was submitted to a team of international legal scholars and other subject-matter experts for their review.

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