The International Harm Reduction Association presented a statement against the death penalty last week to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna.
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.The statement was sponsored by many NGOs, including: International Network of People Who Use Drug; Penal Reform International; Human Rights Watchl The International Drug Policy Consortium; The German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; The Open Society Foundation's Drug Policy Programme; Reprieve; Transform Drug Policy Foundation; The Quaker Council for European Affairs.
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.
Thanks to Rick Lines.