The death penalty for drug offences: Global overview 2012

Several trends are discernible. The first is that despite the fact that 33 countries or territories have capital drug laws on the books, only a small minority of countries actually impose and enforce these sanctions. Harm Reduction International estimates that executions for drug offences have taken place in only twelve to fourteen countries over the past five years. In 2011, it is probable that executions for drug offences occurred in fewer than nine countries.

In fact, the number of countries retaining the death penalty for drug offences in both law and practice constitutes only between 5 and 7 per cent of the world’s national governments. (The range in this figure results from the difficulty of accurately assessing how drug laws are enforced in some countries, for instance in Iraq, Libya and the Democratic Republic of North Korea). State practice internationally clearly leans against executions for drug offences.

A second visible trend, however, entails the rise and fall of capital drug laws. Despite an unprecedented global trend towards abolition of the death penalty for all crimes in the past 60 years, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a surprising increase in the number of countries enacting capital drug laws. In 1979, around ten countries prescribed the death penalty for drug offences. By 1985, that number had risen to 22. By 2000, it appeared that the number of states that imposed the death penalty for drug offences had reached 36. All of this in the era of the global ‘war on drugs’.

  • Death penalty

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These are just several paragraphs of a comprehensive report on the use of the death penalty for drug offences. Please refer to the full report for more information. The report was updated in 2015: