Human Rights Watch and Harm Reduction International welcome the report of the Secretary-General on the question of the death penalty, in particular its clear statement that capital punishment for drug offences constitutes a violation of international human rights law.
Thirty-two states retain the death penalty for drug offences, but only a handful continue to execute people convicted of these crimes, showing that state practice has clearly moved away from this form of punishment. Nonetheless the numbers of people sentenced to death and executed each year are high.
Harm Reduction International estimates that as many as a thousand people a year are executed for drug offences, with many more being sentenced to death, and sometimes following processes that fail to live up to basic due process guarantees.
Despite these well-known concerns, millions of dollars in aid for drug enforcement is spent, much of it through the United Nations, in states that retain the death penalty for drugs, including those that execute hundreds of people a year and without appropriate human rights safeguards.
In 2011, for example, Iran executed at least 600 people, second only to China, a sharp rise from previous years. Eighty-one percent of these executions were for drug-related crimes, including for personal use.
In a joint statement issued in August 2012, our organizations called on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to reassess its funding of law enforcement projects to Iran.
This issue has also been explicitly addressed in the Secretary-General’s report. But while the risks identified by the Secretary-General have been known for some time, little if anything has been done to change ongoing drug enforcement projects.
It is often said that the international community has a shared responsibility to fight the drug trade. It also has shared responsibility for the human rights consequences of that fight, which are severe.
Following this timely report, we urge the Secretary-General to ensure that any and all assistance through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, a department of the Secretariat, does not facilitate further executions. As a first step, all current projects should be transparently audited for human rights impact, and any areas of concern acted upon, including freezing of support in those cases when, as noted in the UN human rights due diligence policy, the relevant authorities fail to take the necessary corrective or mitigating measures.