The Death Penalty for Drug Offences

On 10th December 2007 – to coincide with International Human Rights Day – IHRA’s HR2 (harm reduction and human rights) team released a major report entitled The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: A Violation of International Human Rights Law. The report calls for an end to the use of the death penalty for drug offences around the world and concludes that the on-going execution of drug offenders is a violation of international human rights law. The report emphasises how the harms faced by people who use drugs do not only include health harms such as HIV and hepatitis C infections, but also the effects of repressive law enforcement activities.

While the number of countries practicing capital punishment has steadily decreased over the past twenty years, the number of countries using the death penalty for drug offences has steadily increased. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – one of the main UN human rights treaties – states that the death penalty may only be applied to the “most serious crimes”. Both the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions have stated that drug offences do not constitute “most serious crimes” – making executions for such offences a violation of international human rights law.