Joint Statement on the Death Penalty for Drug Offences

Date: 03 March 2015

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3rd March 2015 - A new UN report on the global drug situation has highlighted the widening rift between countries on the issue of the death penalty for drug offences. These tensions are set to surface as Member States convene in Vienna next week at the annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UN policy making body on drug control issues.

The Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), released today, calls upon States that ‘continue to impose the death penalty for drug-related offences to consider abolishing the death penalty for such offences’.

The statement comes just a week before the annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UN policy making body on drug control issues, and underscores an issue that has become increasingly volatile among members of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in recent years. Indeed, attempts to craft a joint resolution on drugs at last year’s meeting nearly fell apart amidst heated debates between Member States on including language against the death penalty.

The death penalty for drugs looks to again be a major point of contention at the 2015 Commission meeting next week. A recent spate of executions in Indonesia has turned the world’s attention to the practice, with the killings of Dutch and Brazilian nationals prompting those governments to recall their Ambassadors from Jakarta. It remains to be seen how these diplomatic tensions will influence the States’ relations during the Commission meeting.

But it is not just Indonesia’s actions that are bringing these tensions to the fore. A number of other countries have demonstrated a renewed enthusiasm for executing drug offenders over the past year: Iran has escalated drug related hangings, Pakistan has resumed executions and Oman has proposed to introduce capital punishment for drug crimes. A protest to end the use of the death penalty for drugs will take place outside UN headquarters in Vienna during the Commission meeting.

The statement from the INCB -- a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of the international drug control treaties -- reinforces a similar call the group made one year ago, which added its voice to those of other UN authorities, including the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), who have called for ending the death penalty for drug offences.

Ironically, although the UNODC has publicly spoken out against the death penalty for drug offences, the agency has been linked to funding aggressive anti-trafficking operations in several death penalty States, and a number of donor governments have publicly acknowledged the link between UNODC counter-narcotics funding and death sentences. In recent years the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland all resolved to end funding UNODC programmes in certain countries while the death penalty is still enforced.

Dr Rick Lines, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International, said:

“The death penalty for drug offences represents the sharp end of the world’s failed war on drugs, disproportionately punishing the vulnerable while failing to tackle entrenched forces of crime and corruption. We welcome the growing number of UN bodies willing to condemn this unjust and ineffective punishment, but these positive sentiments must be backed by effective action if we are to stem the rising tide of states seeking to put drug offenders to death.

“The first step must surely be for the UN to refuse to fund anti-drug operations in states which maintain the death penalty for drug offences; and instead use this money to tackle the health, social and human rights impacts of drug use.”

A side event organised during the Commission meeting by the NGOs Reprieve, Harm Reduction International and the International Drug Policy Consortium will specifically examine links between international and UN aid and death sentences and executions for drug offences.

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