UN narcotics agency questioned over support for Saudi drugs executions

March 22, 2015

UN support for Saudi counter-narcotics policing has been questioned in light of figures which show that around half of the country’s 48 executions so far this year have been for drugs offences.

Legal charity Reprieve has unearthed a 2013 UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) document which states that it “agreed to cooperation with the [Saudi] General Directorate of Narcotics Control on drug control- related matters, including support to law enforcement efforts to combat illicit drug trafficking”.

As Saudi Arabia imposes the death penalty for non-violent drug offences, Reprieve has written to UNODC asking what, if any, safeguards it has put in place to ensure that cooperation with the country on counter-narcotics policing does not contribute to executions.  Publicly-available reports analysed by Reprieve suggest that around half of the 48 executions Saudi Arabia has carried out so far in 2015 alone were for drugs offences.

Reprieve is also asking major funders of the UNODC – including the UK and other European states – to raise with it concerns over the contribution of its programmes to the death penalty in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan.

A letter sent by Reprieve to the UNODC’s Chief Executive, Yuri Fedotov, in February this year raising these concerns asks:

  • Whether the UNODC made any assessment of the human rights implications – particularly in relation to the death penalty – before agreeing to provide counter-narcotics enforcement assistance to Saudi Arabia;
  • Whether any assurances or measures were sought from the Saudi government to protect human right, either before or after UNODC agreed to provide assistance;
  • What assistance to Saudi Arabia of this nature UNODC is currently providing, and whether – in light of the recent executions for drugs offences – it intends to re-consider its provision of counter-narcotics law enforcement support in Saudi Arabia in the future.

UNODC’s response, received on 18 March, does not answer any of these questions.  Despite stating that “we do not have a programme of assistance on counter-narcotics law enforcement” with Saudi Arabia, it fails to explain the apparent contradiction between this and the agreement set out in the 2013 document.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team said: “2015 has seen Saudi Arabia is carrying out executions at an alarming rate – around half of which appear to be for non-violent drugs offences.  This must ring alarm bells for those supporting counter-narcotics policing in the Kingdom.  The UNODC must stop helping countries like Saudi Arabia send ever greater numbers to the swordsman’s blade.  And Britain’s Home Office, as one of UNODC’s biggest donors, can no longer remain silent on this issue.  Theresa May must urgently raise this matter with UNODC, and come clean over how British money may be supporting executions carried out by some of the world’s most abusive regimes.”


Notes to editors

For further information, or to request copies of the letters to and from UNODC, please email donald[DOT]campbell[AT]reprieve.org.uk

The letter to the UNODC from Reprieve can be read here and the UNODC’s response here.