MEPs demand answers over EU funding for executions, as Iran drug hangings hit 500

October 8, 2015

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The European Parliament has today called on the EU to ensure that it is not using taxpayers’ money to fund the execution of alleged drug offenders overseas.

In a resolution passed today by 569 to 38, MEPs called on both the  European Commission and member states “to reaffirm the categorical principle that European aid and assistance, including to UNODC counter-narcotics programmes, cannot facilitate law enforcement operations which lead to death sentences and executions of those arrested”.

The EU is the world’s second largest donor to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which oversees anti-drug operations in countries which apply the death penalty for drug offences, such as Iran and Pakistan.

The resolution comes as new figures from NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), also published today, indicate that Iran has hanged more that 500 people for drug-related charges in 2015 so far – already exceeding last year’s total of 367.  The 500 make up the majority of the 800 people that IHR believes Iran has executed this year in total.  Meanwhile, Pakistan has leapfrogged Saudi Arabia to become the world’s third most prolific executioner, hanging at least 240 people in the last 10 months.

The EP resolution also demanded increased transparency, requesting the European Commission publish “an annual account of its funding for counter-narcotics programmes… outlining what human rights safeguards have been applied to ensure it does not enable death sentences”.

The EU has contributed over €72m to UNODC projects focused on ‘organised crime and drug trafficking’. This money has paid for equipment and training for the narcotics forces in Iran and Pakistan, both of which ascribe the death penalty for non-violent drug offences in violation of international law.

Besides donating to UNODC projects, the EU also funds counter-narcotics operations in Iran and Pakistan through its own €15.5m initiative aimed at tackling heroin trafficking.

UN human rights experts yesterday condemned executions for drug crimes, arguing “they amount to a violation of international law and are unlawful killings”. The UN Special Rapporteurs on summary executions and torture said: “International agencies, as well as States providing bilateral technical assistance to combat drug crime, must ensure that the programmes to which they contribute do not ultimately result in violations of the right to life.”

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at international human rights charity Reprieve, said:

“Today’s vote is a stinging rebuke of ‘EU execution aid’ by MEPs from across the political spectrum. As the UNODC seeks to negotiate secretive funding deals for drug police in Iran and Pakistan, MEPs have made clear that European taxpayers’ money should never enable executions. The European Commission must now lay out its plans to end European aid for executions once and for all – and do so in a transparent and open manner.”

Commenting, Jean Lambert MEP, said:

“For far too long the European Union and Member States have given their backing to aggressive anti-drug operations which send non-violent offenders to death row. This support undermines Europe’s position on capital punishment and is helping to fuel a global resurgence in the use of the death penalty for drug offences. Instead of enabling executions in this way the EU should be using its influence constructively, and making all such support strictly conditional on recipient states abolishing the death penalty for drug crimes. Our resolution has been passed today with a resounding majority reflecting all shades of political opinion, and European decision makers must sit up and take note.”

Commenting, Richard Howitt MEP said:

“It is a disgrace that European taxpayers’ money is being used to fuel executions overseas. It’s perfectly possible to assist foreign law enforcement bodies while applying common sense conditions which ensure our aid does not lead to executions. The EU has must look into the consequences of its lethal counter-narcotics assistance, and that’s why I’m pleased that today a resounding majority of MEPs have called for transparent annual reports on this spending.”


Notes to editors:

1. For further information please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8140

2. The text of the resolution which was voted on today, and passed with 569 MEPs for, 38 against and 54 abstaining, can be read here; the final adopted text will be available here.

3. The most up-to-date figures on the number of executions in Iran this year, including those for drug offences, have been released by Iran Human Rights today and can be viewed here.