Reprieve report reveals £20 million UK funding for foreign drug executions

December 14, 2014

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Download the report here: European Aid for Executions – A Report by Reprieve.

European Aid for Executions report shows UK aid comes with targets encouraging death sentences

UK taxpayers’ money has enabled as many as 2,917 brutal executions in Iran and more than 112 pending death sentences in Pakistan, a report from legal action charity Reprieve has shown. Many of the sentences have been handed down to women and children, as well as a number of British nationals. 

Reprieve’s European Aid for Executions report is the result of a two year investigation which sourced classified overseas death row data and compared it with reports on European aid to foreign police forces. It found that UK funding routinely comes with targets encouraging arrests likely to result in death sentences, despite a Government commitment to encourage global abolition of the death penalty.

The research confirms that over the last ten years Britain has given more money than any other European country to drug police in Iran and Pakistan; countries which aggressively pursue the death penalty for drug offences and boast the world’s highest per capita execution rate (Iran) and the world’s largest death row population (Pakistan). 

Reprieve found that the UK has given more than £20 million to drug agents in these countries, frequently citing capital convictions secured in formal measurements of the money’s success. This funding is channelled through the UN’s Office for Drugs and Crime, and goes toward training, intelligence-sharing and equipment used for pursuing alleged drug offenders (including body scanners, sniffer dogs and night vision goggles). 

British support of this nature can be directly tied to at least 2,917 executions in Iran and 112 death sentences in Pakistan, based on the periods over which British aid was provided and the law-enforcement led “supply control” operations it supported. While drug offences made up the main charges in all of these cases, both countries’ drug courts fall woefully short of international standards, and in Iran’s case drug allegations have been used as a pretext for the persecution of political dissidents.  

In one example of how British aid has enabled executions in Iran, the UK government co-funded a $3 million project between 2007 and 2011 which established “border liaison offices” in the areas of Zahedan and Dogharun, near the country’s border with Afghanistan. In these offices’ first two years of operation, at least 24 people were reported to have been hanged in Zahedan and Doghuran, including two boys aged fifteen and seventeen. By the final year of the project seizure sizes had spiked and the number of drug-related executions in Iran reached 450.  

Figures obtained by Reprieve through investigation in Pakistani prisons, and parliamentary questions in Pakistan and the UK, indicate that five British men and one British woman are currently facing death sentences in the country after being arrested and convicted using UK resources.

Britain abolished the death penalty in 1965 and the British Government is currently in the penultimate year of a “five year strategy” to end capital punishment worldwide. Both Iran and Pakistan are “priority countries” in the Foreign Office’s abolition strategy. Despite this, Britain still gives millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to Pakistani law enforcement organisations like the Anti-Narcotics Force, which lists on its website the death sentences it has secured.

While the Government has not confirmed what assurances it seeks that its aid does not result in executions, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wrote to Reprieve last December that Britain’s aid to Pakistani drug police “must not compromise our clear opposition to the use of capital punishment in all circumstances”.

Some European states have already stopped funding drug police in countries that pursue the death penalty for drug offences. Acknowledging that the “donations are leading to executions,” Denmark pulled its funding from Iranian supply control initiatives in April 2013. Ireland did the same in 2011 because of “human rights concerns related to the use of the death penalty in Iran.”

Britain is not alone in providing aid that leads to executions. France continues to fund drug enforcement projects in Iran and is currently contributing to a $2 million project aiding drug police on the country’s borders, where alleged drug mules are often executed summarily upon capture. Other European states that continue to provide aid for executions in Iran and/or Pakistan include Germany, Italy and Denmark.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said:

“Despite grand commitments to end the death penalty worldwide, Britain has given millions of pounds to corrupt and repressive police forces then turned a blind eye as they have used the money to pack their death rows full of drug offenders. Astonishingly, British aid has frequently come with targets which end up encouraging death sentences and executions. Britain’s aid for executions breaches the Government’s own human rights rules and makes a mockery of its commitment to fight capital punishment abroad. The only way to end this costly and untenable hypocrisy is to place proper conditions on counternarcotics aid which stop it enabling death sentences”. 

Notes to editors

For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: (UK) +44 (0) 207 553 8160

The “European Aid for Executions” report can be downloaded from Reprieve’s website here.