Research Project

International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy

Established in 2009, the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy is dedicated to developing and promoting innovative and high quality legal and human rights research and teaching on issues related to drug laws, policy and enforcement.

The Centre’s work supports policy development which reconciles the international narcotics control conventions with international human rights law. The Centre fosters research on drug policy issues among postgraduate law and human rights students through its engagement with universities and colleges around the world.

The Centre pursues this mandate by publishing original, peer-reviewed research on drug issues as they relate to international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law and public international law.

Since 2011, the project has been based in the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. 

Why we're great
  • We promote a human rights-based approach to drug policy and disseminate international legal scholarship and research related to this issue
  • We offer postgraduate teaching on human rights and drug policy
  • Made up of experts with experience in a wide range of issues relating to human rights and drug policy

What we do

Projects and research

Members of the project conduct research on various areas relating to human rights and drug policy. 


International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

In the wake of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016, there has been growing recognition among UN Member States, UN entities and civil society that the current policy framework to address potential harms related to the use of psychoactive substances has itself caused serious harms and created an environment where human rights abuses are more likely to occur. This includes creating a criminal black market; fuelling corruption, violence, and instability; threatening public health and safety; generating large-scale human rights abuses, including abusive and inhumane punishments; and discrimination and marginalisation of people who use drugs, indigenous peoples, women, and youth. Many UN Member States, institutions and experts in health, human rights and drug policy have publicly espoused rights-based approaches to drug policy, but what these statements mean and what concrete commitments should be behind them lacks articulation.

In light of this, the HRDP and the United Nations Development Programme are collaborating to develop international guidelines on drug control and human rights as a tool to help states advance and be accountable for rights-centred drug policies. This project integrates years of work (and continued work) with the UN human rights systems as they advance the normative development of human rights in drug control into a concise, inclusive set of principles to guide policymakers and other key stakeholders in national, regional, and international drug control policy. Human rights treaty bodies and special procedures are engaged in the project development alongside Member States, civil society, and academia.

Work with the UN Committees

The HRDP has worked with the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights to develop their assessment of States compliance with the International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights throughout the reporting period. Critically, the Committee used the work produced by the HRDP to engage the governments of the Philippines, Australia, and the Russian Federation on issues related to drug control. During the reporting period, the Committee made its first public recommendation for decriminalization as a means to fulfil obligations under the Covenant. This follows the Committee’s earlier recommendation on decriminalization to Mauritius, making the recommendation far more explicit.

HRDP Co-Director Damien Barrett has through his PhD research on the rights of the child and drug policy engaged in a constructive dialogue with the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The HRDP hosted a roundtable with the (entire) Committee in Geneva in March 2017, which raised the need for the Committee to adopt a more critical approach to drug laws and policies and highlighted the need for careful attention to Canada’s report followed the legalisation of cannabis.

UN Human Rights Mechanisms & Drug Control

The HRDP has undertaken an analysis of the United Nations human rights mechanisms work on drug policy, to assess the current standards in place and to identify normative gaps requiring further development. A series of briefing papers have been developed to further this project, which have been presented and used by various UN mechanisms in their current thematic work.


The International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy works to promote graduate teaching in human rights and drug policy. Since 2011, has engaged more than 700 university students across the globe in innovative teaching projects on human rights and drug policy and during the 2016-2017 academic year, every human rights masters and undergraduate student was required to attend teaching on this area of human rights.

The HRDP has organised and delivered an array of dynamic lectures on human rights and drug policy to over 300 postgraduate human rights students. Teaching engagements vary in scope and duration and have included: two-hour lecture or panel presentations, 2-day intensive short course modules, and a semester long assessed LLM module on human rights and drug policy, the first-ever of its kind. 

Outside of University of Essex, the HRDP team delivers teaching at National University of Ireland, Galway, the University of Vienna, Stockholm University, and the University of Gothenburg. This teaching is done across law, human rights, social work and medical programmes. New teaching partnerships have also been forged with the Rene Cassin Institute and Bangor University.

International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy

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Our members

Dr Rick Lines


International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy, University of Essex

Rick is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Human Rights at the Essex Law School, Swansea University, where he is Co-Director of the Centre on Criminology and Criminal Justice.