UN must freeze counter-narcotics aid to Iran in wake of new executions, say rights groups

December 17, 2014

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17 December 2014

The UN agency charged with combating illicit drug trafficking should withdraw its support for counter-narcotics police operations in Iran until the death penalty for drug offenses is abolished, six rights groups have said in a letter published today. The groups made the plea after Iran’s judiciary hanged 18 alleged drug traffickers within 24 hours on December 3, 2014, bringing the number of drug offenders executed in the country during 2014 to at least 318.

Reprieve, Human Rights Watch, Iran Human Rights, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Harm Reduction International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation said the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) should follow its own human rights guidance and impose “a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support” if executions for drug-related offences continue. The organizations warned the UNODC of “the widening gulf between Iran’s rhetoric and the realities of its justice system,” and described the agency’s decision to continue funding supply-side counter-narcotics efforts in the country as “ineffective if not counterproductive.”

The UN’s records show it has given more than $15 million to “supply control” operations by Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Police, funding specialist training, intelligence, trucks, body scanners, night vision goggles, drug detection dogs, bases, and border patrol offices. UNODC projects in Iran have come with performance indicators including “an increase in drug seizures and an improved capability of intercepting smugglers,” and an “increase of drug-related sentences.”

Iran’s anti-narcotics law imposes a mandatory death sentence for manufacturing, trafficking, possession, or trade of five or more kilograms of a range of banned substances. International law, however, requires countries like Iran that retain the death penalty to impose it for only the “most serious crimes,” which does not include drug crimes. The UK, Ireland and Denmark have all chosen to withdraw their support from UN-Iranian counter-narcotics operations due to concerns about executions. When announcing its decision to do so earlier this year, the government of Denmark publicly acknowledged that “the donations are leading to executions.”

The groups had previously written to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in May 2014 expressing concern that UNODC support for Iran’s counter-narcotics operations was “lending legitimacy” to executions of drug offenders. In an August 2014 response, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov responded that his agency sought progress through “engagement and dialogue,” and that he was “gratified” by “potentially favourable developments regarding the application of the death penalty in relation to drug offenders in Iran.”

Figures suggest Iran is executing those charged with drug offenses in increasing numbers, while limiting the opportunities for appeal, despite recent calls for reform by the chair of the country’s Human Rights Council, Mohammad Javad Larijani. Reports from Iran yesterday (Farsi) suggested that a high-ranking official within the country’s counter-narcotics agency still opposes the elimination of the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“As Iran executes alleged drug offenders in ever-greater numbers, it beggars belief that the UN sees fit to continue funding Iranian anti-drug operations. How many more hangings will it take for the UN to open its eyes to the lethal consequences of its current approach, and make its counter-narcotics support conditional on an end to the death penalty for drug offences?”


Notes to editors

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