Pubdate: Mon, 21 Jun 2010
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Page: 21
Copyright: 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Mary O'Hara
Cited: International Harm Reduction Association
Referenced: The report


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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