SPECIAL ISSUE: A DECADE-LONG REVIEW OF THE DEATH PENALTY FOR DRUG OFFENCES

This report builds on the pioneering work HRI has been doing since its first ‘The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview (‘Global Overview’) in 2007. It analyses how the landscape of the death penalty for drug offences has shifted in the last decade, looking at the main trends regarding people on death row, death sentences and executions for drug offences, as well as key developments at national and international level in the period between 2014 and 2023.

A DECADE IN A SNAPSHOT

  • At least 3113 people were executed for drug offences.
  • Eight countries were recorded to have carried out executions for drug offences.
  • On average, almost one out of three executions that took place in the last decade were for drug offences.
  • The highest recorded proportion of drug-related executions (against all executions) was in 2015 with 44.6%; meaning almost one in every two executions were for drug offences. The year also recorded the highest number of drug-related executions: 763 people.
  • At least 2142 people were sentenced to death for drug offences. This figure is based on data from 25 countries where sentences were imposed for drug offences throughout the decade.
  • Although 2020 recorded the lowest number of drug-related executions, the number of death sentences handed down that year was 38% higher than 2019.
  • Of the 34 countries and territories that retained the death penalty at the end of 2023, at least 12 countries retain it as a mandatory punishment for at least some drug offences.
  • Recommendations for abolition, moratorium, and/or review of the practices of the death penalty given by abolitionist States to retentionist States during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) processes increased from at least 382 on the second cycle (2012 – 2016) to 581 on the third cycle (2017- 2022). These include 4 and 13 specific recommendations on the death penalty for drug offences in each of the cycles, respectively.
  • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has failed to take public stances on the death penalty for drug offences over the past few years. This marks a retrogression of their position on this issue. Their silence could be interpreted as an approval of this blatant violation of international standards.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Pending abolition, retentionist countries should impose a moratorium on executions.
  • Retentionist countries should respect applicable international human rights obligations, including on fair trial, the right to apply for pardon or commutation of their death sentence, prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, among others.
  • Retentionist countries should systematically and publicly provide complete, accurate, and disaggregated data by sex, age, disability, nationality and race, and other applicable criteria, with regard to their use of the death penalty, including the number of persons sentenced to death, the number of persons on death row and the location of their detention, the number of executions carried out, and the number of death sentences reversed or commuted on appeal or in which amnesty or pardon has been granted, as well as information on any scheduled execution.
  • All countries that pursue punitive drug policies should work on policy reforms that are aligned with human rights standards and are evidence-based.
  • Abolitionist countries should cease any efforts to reintroduce the death penalty.
  • Abolitionist countries should actively condemn the use of the death penalty while sharing best practices and supporting efforts to restrict and abolish the death penalty for drug offences.
  • Abolitionist countries, together with international agencies and bodies, including the UN, should stop funding punitive drug policy and prohibitionist regimes that retain the death penalty for drug offences. Instead, investment should be made in drug policy reforms that are evidence-based and health and human-rights-centred, including harm reduction.
  • International organisations and bodies, including the UN, should take urgent and concrete steps to ensure that retentionist countries are held accountable for the human rights violations committed when applying the death penalty for drug offences, including by withdrawing funding for international cooperation when it is used to fund efforts that contribute to the application of the death penalty.
  • UN bodies, including the UNODC, should pay more targeted attention to the application of the death penalty for drug offences globally, monitoring the human rights violations that occurred during its application, and condemning, both publicly and through appropriate diplomatic channels, all executions handed down in the name of drug control.
  • International donors should increase and sustain funding for the death penalty abolition movement, making sure that experts, advocates, international, regional organisations, and civil society receive core, flexible and long-term funding for all work related to the abolition of the death penalty for drug offences.

 

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