Pursuant to Human Rights Council decision 18/117, this report by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights updates previous reports on the question of the death penalty. The report confirms that the trend towards the universal abolition of the death penalty is continuing. However, a minority of States continue to use the death penalty for drug-related offences, despite no evidence proving it is a better deterrent than other forms of criminal justice.
Question of the death penalty: Report of the Secretary General (A/HRC/33/20)
24. Drug-related offences do not meet the criteria for “most serious crimes”. There is no persuasive evidence that the use of the death penalty is a greater deterrent than other methods of punishment in eradicating drug trafficking or other drug-related offences, nor does it protect people from drug abuse. Nevertheless, 33 countries or territories continue to maintain the death penalty for drug-related offences in their legislation. In some countries, drug offences account for the majority of death sentences handed down and executions carried out. During the reporting period, the death penalty was imposed or implemented for drug-related offences in a number of countries, including China, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kuwait, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Viet Nam. Foreign nationals continued to be sentenced to death and executed in cases related to drug trafficking in many countries.
25. United Nations human rights entities continued to address the issue of the use of the death penalty for drug crimes in violation of international law. In its follow-up evaluation of Indonesia, the Human Rights Committee awarded a grade E — the lowest possible evaluation score — for the country’s failure to respond to the Committee’s recommendation in 2013 to halt the execution of prisoners for drug-related crimes and to amend its legislation accordingly. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Government of Indonesia to halt execution for drug offences and to conduct a thorough review of all requests for pardon with a view to commutation.
26. During the panel discussion on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights, held during the thirtieth session of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Drug Policy Consortium, emphasizing that drug control measures must be consistent with international human rights law, encouraged States to abolish the death penalty for drug-related offences, recalling that they are not considered to fall under the category of “most serious crimes” (A/HRC/31/45). Furthermore, in its annual report of 2015, the International Narcotic Control Board recommended that drug control action must be consistent with international human rights standards. The Board advised all countries that continue to retain the death penalty for drug-related offences to consider abolishing capital punishment for this category of offences.
27. During the same panel discussion, a number of States stressed that the death penalty should be abolished for drug-related offences, while others emphasized that their goal was the universal abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances, including for drug users. Colombia, for instance, expressed its concern regarding the high number of individuals facing a death sentence for drug-related crimes and proposed an agenda aimed at eliminating the death penalty (A/HRC/31/45).
28. On the occasion of the special session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem, a group of special procedure mandate holders and other independent experts reiterated that the death penalty for drug offences did not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes”. They expressed collective disappointment that many States had failed to bring their national policies into accordance with that standard, emphasized that the application of capital punishment for drug-related offences directly contravened international human rights law and urged States to make immediate commitments to its full abolition.
62. In many countries, the majority of executions are carried out in respect of convictions for drug-related offences. This is despite such offences not meeting the threshold of “most serious crimes” required under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and despite confirmation from international drug control bodies, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, that there is no persuasive evidence that the use of the death penalty is a greater deterrent than other methods of punishment in eradicating drug trafficking or other drug-related offences. States should immediately halt the execution of offenders who have been convicted for drug-related crimes and are reminded that the term “most serious crimes” refers to offences of intentional killing only.