The statement copied below - calling for an end to the illegal use of the death penalty for drug offences was read out by Eka Iakobishvili (Human Rights analyst for the International Harm Reduction Association) as an NGO representative (via the Vienna NGO committee on drugs) at yesterday's pleanry session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
Such a call should be relatively uncontroversial at a UN gathering - the General Assembly has called for a moratorium on all use of the death penalty, and the UNODC has recently (it should be noted - following concerted NGO pressure) made a clear statement opposing the use of the death penalty. In a 2010 paper by the previous Executive Director of the UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa, titled 'Drug control, crime prevention and criminal justice: a human rights perspective - Note by the Executive Director' (para 25/26) the UNODC position was laid out (bold emphasis added):
"The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifies that in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence of death may be imposed only for the “most serious crimes”. The concept of “most serious crimes” is limited to those where it can be shown that there was an intention to kill which resulted in the loss of life. The weight of opinion indicates that drug offences (such as possession and trafficking) and those of a purely economic nature do not meet this threshold. Moreover, States that have abolished the death penalty are prohibited to extradite any person to another country where he or she might face capital punishment."
"Despite such prohibitions, a considerable number of the 47 retentionist States that continue to use capital punishment have carried out executions for drug offences in recent years. In some of these countries, drug offenders constitute a significant proportion of total executions As an entity of the United Nations system, UNODC advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon Member States to follow international standards concerning prohibition of the death penalty for offences of a drug-related or purely economic nature.
However, as IHRA have demonstrated with their groundbreaking death penalty publications, the illegal use of the death penalty for drug offences remains widespread, with an estimated 1000+ such executions taking place annually, some even resulting from arrests made under UNODC funded enforcement projects.
The plenary statement (endorsed by Transform) as read:
Date: 24 March 2011
Agenda Item No. 7: World Situation with Regard to Drug Trafficking
"Thank you, Mr Chairman. This statement is made on behalf of:
- The International Harm Reduction Association
- The International Network of People Who Use Drugs
- Penal Reform International
- Human Rights Watch
- The International Drug Policy Consortium
- The German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
- The Open Society Foundations Drug Policy Programme
- Transform Drug Policy Foundation
- The Quaker Council for European Affairs
- and 20 other non-governmental organisations
We are grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important agenda item.
We heard yesterday from UNODC of the seizures of illicit substances made in many parts of the world. While looking at the statistics on tonnes and kilos, we must also recognise the human face of such seizures.
We must consider the penalties that will be applied to those who are arrested and prosecuted. This is not to excuse criminality – but nor can we excuse the taking of human life for any crime.
The death penalty for drug offences is a violation of international law. This is clear. Yet 32 jurisdictions retain this excessive and cruel punishment. The International Harm Reduction Association has identified hundreds of executions annually for drug-related offences but believes that as many as one thousand people may be executed for drug offences each year when states that keep their death penalty statistics a secret are counted.
The justification for this is usually deterrence. This is a faulty argument that has been presented many times over, and for a range of crimes.
While nobody should be executed for any offence, the vast majority of those known to be sentenced to die for drugs are not kingpins or major traffickers. They are carriers. Very often involvement in this aspect of the drug trade is driven by poverty, drug dependence and a lack of options. To kill these people is cruel in the extreme.
Our call is brief. All States must cease the application of the death penalty for drug offences, and, indeed, for all offences, and immediately institute a moratorium to spare the lives of those on death row."