CESCR General Comment on Drug Policies: civil society engagement

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In October 2022, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) decided to initiate work on a new General comment on the “impacts of drug policies on economic, social and cultural rights.” This joint briefing includes an overview of likely next steps in the drafting process and suggested themes that the Comment may address. This briefing was produced jointly with the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), Amnesty International, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)


“General comments” are authoritative interpretations by treaty bodies of thematic issues or provisions of human rights treaties – in this case, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is one of the core international human rights treaties and has been ratified by 171 countries.

The aim of general comments is to clarify the duties of countries that have ratified the treaties with respect to specific provisions, in this way helping State parties better implement the rights enshrined in the treaties. For civil society, a general comment is a powerful tool to advocate for reform and hold authorities accountable.


Each Committee sets up the process for drafting a General Comment, and no official timeline has been published yet for the discussion of this particular one. Based on CESCR practice, the drafting process for this new Comment is expected to include the following steps, although specific times and elements of the process can change:

  • Selection of Committee drafting group / Rapporteur(s) by CESCR;
  • Call for written inputs on the situation of human rights impact to drug policies, topics or issues to be covered by the Comment, and any other relevant information;
  • Development of a CESCR Working Paper as the basis for discussing the content of the Comment;
  • Regional and/or global consultations with communities and civil society, experts, and academia;
  • Publication of a first draft of the Comment;
  • Day of General Discussion. These Days normally include panel discussions on specific themes and/or questions and are preceded by written contributions;
  • In-depth discussion of the text and potential call for written inputs on the first draft;
  • Publication of revised draft;
  • Call for written contributions, and possibly more consultations, on the revised draft;
  • Publication of a second revised draft;
  • Deliberation and adoption by the Committee.
    It is our understanding that the General Comment would likely be finalised by the end of 2024, subject to confirmation by the CESCR Secretariat.


The Comment can cover a broad spectrum of issues related to the rights recognised in ICESCR, as applicable to drug policies. By participating in consultations and submitting information, civil society can suggest topics, themes, or specific angles that the Comment should cover. Below are some examples of relevant issues- further elaborated upon in the briefing – and more can be found in the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy and UN Common Position on Drug Policy:

examples of relevant issues

  • Non-discrimination and equality;
  • Participation, consultation, and transparency;
  • Right to social security;
  • Right to an adequate standard of living;
  • Right to and at work;
  • Right to housing;
  • Right to health;
  • Right to education;
  • The protection of cultural practices involving controlled substances; and
  • Thematic issues such as drug control and environmental justice/right to a safe and healthy environment, impacts of drug policies on women, children, and people discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, international cooperation in drug control and responsibilities of non-state actors, drug policies and the realisation of the SDGs, impact of drug law enforcement and drug-related detention on economic, social and cultural rights, State obligations to protect ESC rights where drug markets have been regulated, the role of community-led networks in the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights for people who use drugs.

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