Pulling Back the Curtain: Drugs, Human Rights and the Death Penalty

By Dr Rick Lines

The death penalty for drug offences is one of the most significant and politically charged issues within the current global drug policy debate.  This week at the meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Harm Reduction International will release its annual report on the death penalty, monitoring global trends and developments in this important area.  That report shows that 33 countries have the death penalty for drugs offences in domestic law. While the majority of these States do not actually execute people under these laws, the report finds that seven countries – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia – are actively executing people for drug crimes. Between January 2015 and December 2017, at least 1,320 people were executed for non-violent drug-related offences, a figure that does not include China, where such information is guarded as a State secret.

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Dark clouds over international drug policy (pierced by some rays of light)

By Jan Malinowski

The war on drugs has delivered many broken promises – like the one of a “drug-free world” – alongside considerable collateral damage. Despite the good intentions expressed during the latest United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem (19 to 21 April 2016) and the valuable proposals in the outcome document paradoxically adopted at the outset of the meeting, fallout continues.

Indonesia and Iran recently added more names to the long list of people executed for drug-related offences, while Reuters quoted a senior Iranian judicial official saying that executions in Iran have had no deterrent effect. These are the latest, but far from the only victims despite the compelling evidence that capital punishment does not deter crime. There have been conflicting media reports about the Philippine President’s endorsement of the execution of a young Filipino mother in Indonesia for drug offences. Continue reading

The human rights ‘win’ at the UNGASS on drugs that no one is talking about, and how we can use it

By Rick Lines and Damon Barret

The April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem offered a unique opportunity to re-examine the approach of punitive suppression that underpins global drug control.  As the first such meeting to be held since 1998, it was a chance to set a new course, leaving behind what the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has called the negative ‘unintended consequences’ of the ‘war on drugs’.

Part of setting a new course must mean bringing human rights into the heart of drug control.  For too long, States have approached international drug control law in isolation, as if these obligations exist separate and apart from the broader framework of international law, and may be interpreted and applied as if no overlapping treaty obligations come into play.  This approach has contributed to the growth of human rights violations linked to drug control in all regions of the world – the death penalty; torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; arbitrary detention; denial of due process rights; violations of the right to health; mass incarceration; and many more. Continue reading

The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: What do the international drug control treaties say about ‘most serious crimes’?

By Dr Rick Lines. Rick s the Executive Director of Harm Reduction International, and a Visiting Fellow at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex. He is Chair of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy. You can follow him on twitter: @LinesRick

The recent mass executions of drug offenders in Indonesia have rekindled international debate on the death penalty for drug offences. A key flashpoint of this debate is whether drug crimes are of a sufficient severity to be capital crimes.

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