Pressure mounting from within UN to stop UNODC funding death penalty for drug offences

December 17, 2015

Graphic of nooses hanging in Pakistan

An increasing number of UN agencies are calling on the UNODC to stop funding the death penalty for drug offences.

In an interview with Vice, UN special rapporteur on the right to health Dainius Pūras, was asked whether the actions of the UNODC have “directly contributed to drugs executions”. He responded “…if the whole field is dominated by punitive measures, then indirectly a message gets sent to governments. And this message is that the most effective way to deal with drugs is to be as harsh as possible. This becomes contagious, as one country copies another… It’s my duty to inform the UN that we have to stop and rethink and move towards other practices.”

Pūras’ comments come shortly after statements from three other UN experts – Juan Mendez, Special Rapporteur on Torture; Christoph Heyns, Special Rapporteur on Summary, Extrajudicial and Arbitrary Executions; and Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on Iran – calling on the UNODC and nation states to stop supporting the death penalty for drug offences.

Earlier this month, Pūras wrote to UNODC head Yury Fedotov warning that his agency is not doing enough to prevent a global surge in the death penalty for drug offences. In the letter, Pūras wrote that he is “concerned” that in current, UNODC-led General Assembly negotiations on international drug policy, “human rights is included as a theme [but] has played a very minor role in the negotiations to date… with no meaningful debate.”

The UNODC has faced criticism that counter-narcotics programmes it administers – funded by countries including the US, UK, Germany and France – have led to the handing down of death sentences. For example, a UNODC-funded law enforcement programme in Iran has been linked to the arrest of a 15 year old, Jannat Mir, who was later hanged on drug trafficking charges. An investigation by human rights organization Reprieve last year found that European funding alone could be linked to 3,000 executions in Iran and more than 100 death sentences in Pakistan.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that the UNODC is viewed as a rogue agency by other members of the UN. How much longer can they ignore the mounting chorus of voices calling on the UNODC, and its Western funders, to stop supporting brutal regimes that execute huge numbers of people for drug offences? Yury Fedotov must change course immediately and end the UNODC’s complicity in this brutal practice, which does nothing to stop drug trafficking and sees thousands of innocent lives needlessly ended.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The full interview with Dainius Pūras in Vice can be read here:

3. Dainius Pūras’ letter to Yury Fedotov from December 7th can be found here: