UN expert warns UN drug agency over executions
December 10, 2015
A UN human rights expert has warned the UN’s drugs agency that it is not doing enough to prevent a global surge in the death penalty for drugs offences.
In a letter dated 7th December, Dainius Pūras – the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health – told Yury Fedotov, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, that he was “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.” He added: “I would like to reiterate that the death penalty for drug offences does not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes.'” Mr Pūras called for next year’s General Assembly summit on global drug policy to include “explicit and clear human rights standards and commitments” by all states – including against the death penalty.
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.
Mr Pūras’ concerns come as the death penalty for drugs offences is becoming more prevalent worldwide. According to research by Reprieve, drug-related executions have doubled in Saudi Arabia and Iran over the past year, while hundreds of drug offenders are at risk of imminent execution following the collapse of death penalty moratoria in Pakistan and Indonesia. Other countries, such as Oman and the Philippines, have advanced legislation allowing for the death penalty in relation to drugs.
The UN General Assembly has long called for drug control to be carried out ‘in full conformity’ with the UN Charter and international conventions. In his letter, Mr Pūras says that “such language…becomes meaningless unless underpinned by clear and explicit human rights standards and principles.” The letter follows similar recent calls to UNODC from the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture, summary executions, and Iran.
Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“Mr Pūras is right to sound the alarm about the death penalty for drug offences at a time when this practice is surging worldwide. Ahead of next year’s all important drug policy summit, it is deeply alarming to see the UNODC and its Western funders pushing a counter-narcotics approach that is an unmitigated human rights disaster. Yury Fedotov must urgently listen to the experts within the UN family, and end the UNODC’s complicity in the death penalty for drugs offences.”
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London press office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.
2. Mr Pūras’ letter is available here.