Side event – Effective drug policies without the death penalty

Chiara Sangiorgio. Amnesty International. Several organisations have highlighted alarming increases in the use of the death penalty for drug offences.

H.E. Martin Van Rijn, Minister for Health, Netherlands. We constantly speak out for the protection of human rights. Death penalty is far too common worldwide. It is cruel punishment. The Netherlands supports organisations seeking to eliminate the death penalty and torture. If necessary, Netherlands and the EU advocate for a moratorium on the death penalty. The General Assembly resolutions on the moratorium on the death penalty are critical. It is a pity we couldn’t do this for the UNGASS in 2016. This missed opportunity should not be repeated, and states retaining the death penalty should reconsider their position from a human rights perspective.

Death penalty event

H.E. Lurdes O Yparraguirre, Permanent representative of the Philippines. I convey my appreciation to the EU and organisers for this opportunity on effective drug policies without the death penalty. Tomorrow the UNGASS will open to review progress in the 2009 political declaration implementation. Part of the discussions and recommendations we propose in response to drugs relate to criminal justice. The Philippines have grappled with the issue of illicit drugs and responses. Many people fall pray to drug traffickers. We abolished the death penalty which was then reinforced for several offences, including drug offences. Despite all these developments, the rate of crimes did not abate, which show that the death penalty is not a deterrent. We now have a moratorium on the death penalty. Today, the debate of whether death penalty is the best deterrent and best way to protect society is discussed all over the world. The Philippines stands firm in fighting drugs. We have a national plan of action 2015-2020 to sustain our efforts in the fight against drugs, through an integrated approach. We adopted a compassionate approach victims of drug abuse including treatment and rehabilitation, as well as a criminal justice approach towards drug offenders.

Charles Radcliff, Chief of Global Issues Section, UN Human Rights Office in New York. What is the extent of this problem? 2016 is a year of paradox in reducing the use of the death penalty. We have seen a positive trend to abolish the death penalty. Mongolia adopted a new criminal code last year to abolish the death penalty. China and Vietnam reduced the number of people executed. Other countries are moving in that direction. If you take all the countries that have abolished the death penalty and those who don’t use it, you have about 80% of all UN member states. But for those limited numbers of people who retain the death penalty, the number of people executed has increased – 1634 people have been executed last year, and that does not include China. Almost 90% of all executions were carried out in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Trials don’t comply with international human rights standards in these countries. Drug crimes do not constitute the most serious crimes as the threshold for the imposition of the death penalty. Countries that use the death penalty do claim that this acts as a deterrent, but there is no evidence that this is the case. 33 countries and territories retain the death penalty, 6 were responsible for the highest rates of executions. After a long period of moratorium, Indonesia has started executing people again.

Dr. Rick Lines, Harm Reduction International. The issue of the death penalty of drugs and whether it meets the threshold of most serious crimes is critical. When I started doing work on this issue in 2006, it was clear that not only did drug offences meet the most serious thresholds in human rights law, but the same happens if you look at criminal law and even the international drug control regime and international law. When you look at the question of executing people for drug offences, you look at a clear breach of international law. We have 33 states that have the death penalty for drug offences in national legislation. For our purposes, we separated those countries in three categories: the vast majority of them don’t actually execute anyone. A small number (6-7) are low application states. And finally, a smaller number still are high application states. We are only talking about 6 countries for that final category. This is therefore a very small minority of countries that do execute a large number of people.

Kasia Malinowska, Open Society Foundations. The point we are trying to make at OSF is that if one looks at applications of the law across the world, it’s clear that drug policy is an engine for social injustice. Those most vulnerable are targeted across the world, suffering the most from the implementation of drug laws. Whether it is a mandatory sentencing in the USA for 2 decades for possession of small amounts of drugs or a drug offender condemned to the death penalty, it is a trend worldwide. There is no drug offence that deserves the death penalty. In our mind, we think of people who may have trafficked 10 kg of cocaine. But when we look at who is actually executed, it is not this kind of person. Last year we gathered in Malaysia to celebrate Malaysia’s harm reduction successes, but we also found the horrific implementation of death penalty on relatively small-scale traffickers. According to international law, nobody deserves the death penalty, in particular since most people on death row are low-level drug offenders. we are very disappointed that the death penalty did not make it into the UNGASS outcome document. Again, if you look at prisons in Italy, the USA, Malaysia, race, class are a big driver of how drug laws are implemented. The SDGs are also reflective of the issues of drug control and development.

Rick Lines, HRI. There has historically been a tension between the lines of human rights and drug control at the UN level. At UNGASS, we don’t just want to point of fingers at some states. We want to open a window to discuss human rights-based drug policies. We also need to rethink the fundamental belief that harsh drug laws are an effective deterrent. In the UN system, there is a responsibility for drug control agencies to support a human rights approach. The INCB is now supporting a moratorium on the death penalty. But the UN itself documents the degree to which the states enacting the death penalty increased by 50% after member states adopted the drug control conventions. There are very clear implications between drug control internationally and human rights violations. Another link is funding for international drug control and the imposition of executions for drug offences. We have documented that anti-drug strategies funded internationally had a clear impact on human rights violations – this should be taken into account by international donors and guidance should be established to ensure that this no longer happens.

Mr. Radcliff. OHCHR’s intention is clear – end the use of the death penalty for drug offences. For this reason, the OHCHR works with countries and civil society across the world to take action and remove the death penalty or at least agree to a moratorium. We also documented cases and brought this to the Human Rights Council and offered technical assistance to member states. We also provided expertise on the issue “Moving away from the death penalty”. This brings together trends and perspectives on the death penalty, as well as victims.

H.E. Neven Mimica, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, EU. Thank you for coming today and join forces for the abolition of the death penalty. The EU holds strong on the abolition of the death penalty. The abolition of the death penalty is a precondition for acceding the EU. The international human rights law is clear – drug crimes do not meet the most serious crimes threshold. We are intensifying our dialogue with the most fervent retentionists worldwide, especially where there is a spike in executions, sometimes after decades of moratorium. We must assist countries to develop and implement balanced and integrated drug policies in accordance with international human rights law. There is no chronological research showing a link between incidence of crime and capital punishment. Policy makers have to pave the way so that the trend in opinion is reversed on the death penalty. In different parts of the world, capital punishment is still imposed and executions take place. But abolition is gaining ground. Many countries have chosen alternative ways to remove cruel and inhuman punishment. We hope that others will follow suit.

Australia. We consider the death penalty as inhumane. It is irreversible and irreparable. We called on retentionists to establish a moratorium. We work with actors who can make a change – CSOs, parliamentarians and others. The most effective way to deal with the issue could be progressive, step by step. There has been significant progress in abolishing the death penalty. A congress was held last year in Asia on the death penalty, another congress will be held in June hosted by Norway. These are important opportunities.

Italy. I want to thank the organisers of the event as this is a critical issue. It was not easy in the 1980s to respond to organised crime – it was at the time when we were fighting the mafia. But we decided not to use the death penalty and adopt instead social reintegration and rehabilitation. There is, however, no one size fits all. We welcome the General Assembly resolutions on moratorium on the death penalty. We are convinced that the goal of the abolition of the death penalty is possible. We should promote awareness raising campaigns worldwide to make sure this is possible.

Oliver Robertson, Penal Reform International. This might not be the most diplomatic question, but I would like to know your sense of how many retentionist countries do so because there is a fundamental belief in government that this is the way to go.

Daniel Wolfe, OSF. What is the ability for the UN to deal with the issue of the death penalty – Ricky from Indonesia was uninvited from the Human Rights Panel here because of the Indonesian rep included on the table. I want to ask you to comment on this.

Rick Lines, HRI. From my own perspective, I think that the death penalty is the ultimate expression of state power. States that move away from this then would move away from that status. It’s about trying to tackle this… The Philippines have showed their concerns when they made decisions on the death penalty. Indonesia up to 12 months ago was clearly moving towards a moratorium on the death penalty. And then in the past 4 months they have changed government policy on this aspect. It’s a question here of political choices in government. The real worry we do have in this forum is the degree to which civil society voices are marginalised – for example what happened with Ricky, with political machinations behind the scene. Ricky is a well known legal advocate and deserved to be there. To lose a voice like that is a loss to civil society, but also a loss to the process.

Kasia Malinowska. The execution of drug offenders is a misinterpretation of the UN drug conventions. Many countries have chosen not to criminalise people such as Portugal, and we should celebrate these policies.

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