Joint statement against the death penalty at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Date: 24 March 2011

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Agenda Item No. 7: World Situation with Regard to Drug Trafficking 

Thank you, Mr Chairman. This statement is made on behalf of:

  • Harm Reduction International
  • The International Network of People Who Use Drugs
  • Penal Reform International
  • Human Rights Watch
  • The International Drug Policy Consortium
  • The German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
  • The Open Society Foundations Drug Policy Programme
  • Reprieve
  • Transform Drug Policy Foundation 
  • The Quaker Council for European Affairs
  • and 20 other non-governmental organisations

We are grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important agenda item.

We heard yesterday from UNODC of the seizures of illicit substances made in many parts of the world. While looking at the statistics on tonnes and kilos, we must also recognise the human face of such seizures.

We must consider the penalties that will be applied to those who are arrested and prosecuted. This is not to excuse criminality – but nor can we excuse the taking of human life for any crime.

The death penalty for drug offences is a violation of international law. This is clear. Yet 32 jurisdictions retain this excessive and cruel punishment. Harm Reduction International has identified hundreds of executions annually for drug-related offences but believes that as many as one thousand people may be executed for drug offences each year when states that keep their death penalty statistics a secret are counted.

The justification for this is usually deterrence. This is a faulty argument that has been presented many times over, and for a range of crimes.

While nobody should be executed for any offence, the vast majority of those known to be sentenced to die for drugs are not kingpins or major traffickers. They are carriers. Very often involvement in this aspect of the drug trade is driven by poverty, drug dependence and a lack of options. To kill these people is cruel in the extreme.

Our call is brief. All States must cease the application of the death penalty for drug offences, and, indeed, for all offences, and immediately institute a moratorium to spare the lives of those on death row.

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