International drug crime measures ‘lead to executions’

Drug Policy — POSTED BY Michael Carmichael on June 30, 2010 at 8:40 am

Enforcement by Britain, the UN and the EU backs up regimes that ignore human rights, says report.

The United Nations, the European commission and individual states including Britain are flouting international human rights law by funding anti-drug crime measures that are inadvertently leading to the executions of offenders, according to a report seen by the Guardian.

The International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), a non-governmental organisation that advocates less punitive approaches to drugs policy globally, says it has gathered evidence revealing “strong links” between executions for drugs offences and the funding of specific drug enforcement operations by international agencies.

It says programmes aimed at shoring up local efforts to combat drug trafficking and other offences are being run “without appropriate safeguards” that could prevent serious human rights violations in countries that retain the death penalty.

The report concludes that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime ( “are all actively involved in funding and/or delivering technical assistance, legislative support and financial aid intended to strengthen domestic drug enforcement activities in states that retain the death penalty for drug offences.

“Such funding, training and capacity-building activities – if successful – result in increased convictions of persons on drug charges, and the potential for increased death sentences and executions”.

The report claims there is evidence of “complicity in acts that violate international human rights law”, undermining the Council of Europe’s commitment to abolish the death penalty, the United Nations Charter and UNODC’s stated opposition to the penalty for drugs offences.

The 33-page report lists a series of case studies it says illustrate how efforts to garner convictions for drugs offences across borders have resulted further down the line in executions. International law does not prohibit the death penalty but does limit its use to the “most serious crimes”. The meaning of “serious” is challenged by some states with the death penalty.

Rick Lines, deputy director of the IHRA and co-author of the report, said: “Many people around the world would be shocked to know that their governments are funding programmes that are leading people indirectly to death by hanging and firing squads.” He said agencies and countries were not intentionally funding programmes that led to people facing the death penalty but that it was “a fact” that executions were happening.

The report comes soon after the execution by firing squad of Ronnie Lee Gardner in Utah, America, that once again highlights human rights concerns about capital punishment. However IHRA’s focus on the persistence of capital punishment in other “retentionist” countries for drugs crimes is likely to resonate this week. Saturday is UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, organised to highlight that some states, including China, have always executed drugs offenders to make a public example of them.

An IHRA report published last month revealed that of the 58 states that retain the death penalty, 32 permit it for drug-related crimes. Some use it more readily than others. The estimated overall number of executions including those for drugs-related offences in 2009 was 714, according to Amnesty International, although this does not account for potentially thousands more executions that are not disclosed by China.

Commenting on the IHRA report, Rebecca Schleifer, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said that while UNODC in particular has recently “taken steps in the right direction” to account for the human rights implications of its programmes, its drug enforcement activities, and those of other organisations and countries, continue to “put them at risk of supporting increased death sentences and executions in some countries”.

Sebastian Saville, director of Release, a British drugs and human rights charity, said there was an urgent need for political leaders in Britain and the US to rethink their “disastrous ‘war on drugs’ policy and tacit support for regimes that continue executing people for relatively minor offences”.

A UNODC spokesman welcomed the report for drawing attention to capital punishment, saying it raised “legitimate concerns” about how actions designed to deal with drugs crimes “may indirectly result in increased convictions and the possible application of the death penalty”. He said UNODC had taken “concrete steps” to implement human rights assessments as part of “all drug enforcement activities”. The IHRA report makes a number of recommendations including that European governments, the European Commission and UNODC urgently leverage their influence with countries that retain the death penalty “to restrict or abolish the death penalty for drug offences.”

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