Report to the UN Secretary-General on the Death Penalty

Date: 03 April 2020

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Harm Reduction International welcomes the opportunity to comment on crucial issues and developments concerning the use of the death penalty; and urges the Secretary-General to continue prioritising this issue. We further reaffirm the call for a moratorium on the death penalty, as a step towards its definitive abolition worldwide.

As of March 2020, 35 countries and territories prescribe the death penalty as a possible punishment for drug offences in their legislation, in violation of international law.

At least 4320 people have been executed for drug offences around the world between 2009 and 2019 (excluding figures from China, where information related to the imposition of the death penalty is subject to state secret). After a peak in 2015, executions for drug offences decreased for the period 2016-18. Most notably in Iran: the 93 confirmed executions in 2018 represent a 68% drop from 2017 and a 88% drop from 2015. 

For the first time since HRI started tracking this phenomenon, less than 100 executions were recorded globally for drug offences (excluding figures from China and Vietnam). However, in 2019 122 drug-related executions were confirmed, representing a 31% increase from 2018 (and accounting for 18% of total known executions). While 2019 figures are lower than figures recorded until 2017, these numbers may signal a reversal in the trend reported in recent years.

By the end of 2019, at least 3,000 individuals remained on death row for drug offences around the world. Due to systemic lack of transparency, this figure is likely to underestimate of the phenomenon. In 12 countries death is the mandatory punishment for at least certain drug offences.

© 2020 Harm Reduction International.

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