Hundreds of drug offenders executed yearly

Veronika Oleksyn
Associated Press

Hundreds of drug offenders are executed annually and the number likely tops 1,000 if figures from countries that don’t disclose their death penalty data are included, a new report said Monday.

The number of states carrying out death sentences for drug offenses, however, appears to be declining while others are observing moratoria on all executions, according to the report by the International Harm Reduction Association.

“Since the 1980s, as the number of countries worldwide retaining the death penalty dropped, there was a concurrent rise in the number of states expanding the application of the death penalty to include drug offenses,” it said. “This trend, however, appears to have reversed or at the very least stalled.”

Even Malaysia and Singapore — known historically for putting many people to death for drug-related crimes — appear to have greatly reduced the number of people they execute each year, Roger Hood of Oxford University writes in the report’s foreword. And Vietnam “may be giving serious consideration to its policy and practice,” he added.

Of the 32 states or jurisdictions around the world that have legislation allowing capital punishment for drug offenses, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia are most committed to carrying out the practice, the report said.

“The death penalty for drug offenses is an issue of considerable human rights concern,” the report said. “Its imposition violates international human rights law and dehumanizes, in the most final and irreversible of ways, those convicted of drug offenses.”

While China keeps its death penalty statistics a secret, its use of capital punishment is widely thought to “dwarf” the combined total of the rest of the world, the report said. The country’s tough counter-narcotics efforts and policies make it likely that a “sizable portion” of those executed each year are drug offenders.

In other countries, such as Iran, drug offenders also make up a large degree of those put to death each year.

“It is beyond dispute that Iran is one of the world’s most active death penalty states and that drug offenders represent a significant proportion of those executed,” the report said.

In Iran, where 172 drug offenders were executed in 2009, drug smuggling cases are often referred to revolutionary courts. Concerns over trial standards have also been raised in Egypt, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba, as well as other in countries.

In Saudi Arabia, the report said, human rights monitors have raised “well-founded concerns” about the proportion of foreign nationals facing execution.

While 36 of Saudi Arabia’s 40 drug-related executions in 2007 were of foreign nationals, at least 17 of the 22 drug offenders who were put to death the following year were from abroad. The foreigners included Iraqis, Pakistanis, Indians, Thais, Nigerians, Afghans, Syrians and Jordanians.

The International Harm Reduction Association released its findings on the first day of a meeting in Vienna of the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.