The UN Secretary General releases a regular report on the question of the death penalty. It has consistently opposed the death penalty for drug offences on the grounds of international law and developing state practice.
Question of the death penalty: Report of the Secretary General (A/HRC/18/20)
24. Amnesty International reported that in most countries where support for the death penalty is still strong, capital punishment reportedly continues to be imposed after unfair trials and is often based on confessions extracted through torture. In most countries, the death penalty is used disproportionately against the poor, members of minority racial, ethnic and religious communities and other minorities. In some countries death sentences are handed down for non-violent crimes that do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” – such as economic crimes, sorcery, apostasy and drug-related offences or sexual relations between consenting adults.
27. The application of the death penalty for drug offences remains one of the major challenges. Harm Reduction International reported that in 2010 there were 32 countries or territories that prescribed the death penalty for drug-related offences; and hundreds of people were known to have been executed for drug-related offences. According to various sources, more than 150 people were executed for drug offences in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2010. In China, at least 59 people were executed in the week around 26 June 2010 to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, added to an unknown number of people who have been put to death for drug-related offences throughout the year. Saudi Arabia is known to have beheaded one person for smuggling hashish. In 2010, death sentences for drug-related offences were also passed in Egypt, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and Viet Nam, as well as in Taiwan Province of China. Reportedly, at least 58 drug offenders are on death row in Indonesia and 339 (including 68 women) in Thailand.
37. Special procedures of the Human Rights Council also continued to address the question of the death penalty within their respective mandates. In February 2011, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, jointly with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, warned in a public statement of a dramatic surge in death sentences in the Islamic Republic of Iran that were carried out in the absence of internationally recognized safeguards, despite numerous calls by the United Nations to immediately halt executions. The experts noted that under international law the death penalty is regarded as an extreme form of punishment which, if it is used at all, should only be imposed for the most serious crimes, after a fair trial has been granted to the accused. They called on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately declare a moratorium on the death penalty in view of the gravity of the situation and the regular disregard of due process guarantees. In a 2010 report, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health also affirmed that the death penalty for drug-related offences violates international human rights law (A/65/255, para. 17).
45. In 2010, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) submitted a report entitled “Drug control, crime prevention and criminal justice: a human rights perspective” to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and to the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The report recalled that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specified that in countries that had 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 from extraditing any person to another country where he or she might face capital punishment.
46. UNODC further reported that 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. The report emphasized that as an entity of the United Nations system, UNODC advocated the abolition of the death penalty and called upon Member States to follow international standards concerning the prohibition 47. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children of the death penalty for offences of a drug-related or purely economic nature.