International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy
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V. Treaty interpretation principles

2. Standards for limitations on rights

i. Nothing in the international drug control treaties may be interpreted as implying for any State, group, or person a right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at or having the effect of violating any of the rights and freedoms guaranteed in international human rights instruments or limiting these rights to a greater extent than is specifically provided for in those instruments.

ii. Public health, safety, and order may be invoked as grounds for limiting certain rights, such as the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs, the freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly, or the freedom of association, in order to deal with a serious threat to the health or safety of the population or its individual members.

iii. National security may be invoked to justify measures limiting certain rights only when such measures are taken to protect the existence of the nation or its territorial integrity or political independence against force or threat of force.

iv. Where a State seeks to limit a specific right in the pursuit of fulfilling a drug control obligation, such limitation must be consistent with established general interpretive principles relating to the requirements for lawful limitations on rights, which apply to only some human rights norms. These principles include the following:

a. Certain human rights protections cannot be limited at any time, for any reason. These include the right to life; the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; freedom from slavery; the right not to be convicted of a criminal offence for acts that were not criminalised at the time they were carried out; and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

b. Any limitation must be provided for by a national law of general application. Any such law must be clear and accessible to everyone. A limitation cannot be provided for retroactively.

c. The scope of the limitation shall not be interpreted so as to jeopardise the essence of the right concerned, and any limitation shall be interpreted strictly and in favour of the right at issue.

d. No limitation shall be applied in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner.

e. No limitation shall be discriminatory or applied in a manner that constitutes legally prohibited discrimination.

f. The limitation must meet the ‘necessity’ test established in international human rights law, which means that the measure responds to a pressing social need, pursues a legitimate aim, and is proportionate to that aim. This includes the requirement that the state use no more restrictive means than are required for achieving the purpose of the limitation.

g. The State always bears the burden of justifying a limitation on a human right that it is legally bound to respect.

h. Adequate safeguards and effective remedies shall be provided by law against the illegal or abusive imposition or application of limitations on human rights.

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