Death Sentences for Drug Crimes

Death Sentences for Drug Crimes

An Indonesian court last Monday rejected the appeal of two Australian nationals on death row for drug offenses, exhausting the duo's final effort to avoid the country's next firing-squad execution, which is slated for this year. While the ruling brings to light the extreme measures some nations take to punish drug offenders, it also calls attention to the involvement of the U.S. government and the United Nations, both of which are indirectly supporting these efforts through their attempts to prosecute the War on Drugs internationally.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were arrested in 2005 on drug-trafficking charges for leading a plot to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia. The other seven members of the drug ring, which has become known as the Bali Nine, were more fortunate and narrowly evaded death sentences. While Indonesia underwent a four-year capital-punishment hiatus in 2008, it resumed executions in 2013, with the most recent round -- six drug offenders -- held this past January. Although January's executions elicited an international outcry, with both Brazil and the Netherlands recalling their ambassadors from Jakarta, Indonesian president Joko Widodo has remained steadfast on capital punishment for drug criminals.

In fact, 33 countries have capital drug laws. Most of these laws are never used, but some countries execute drug criminals regularly. In Malaysia, for example, there were 648 drug offenders on death row in September 2012. Many legal experts have argued that these policies violate international law, citing the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which limits death sentences to the "most serious crimes," and U.N. committee rulings that suggest drug offenses do not qualify under this criterion.

Despite widespread awareness of these laws, both the U.S. and the U.N. continue to provide counter-narcotics support to countries that execute drug offenders. The DEA has spent roughly $400 million each year for the past four years on international drug enforcement, some of which has ended up in these countries.

The U.S. has sponsored drug-control operations in Indonesia since at least 2005, according to a cable obtained by Wikileaks. In 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration opened its Jakarta Country Office in order to provide "wide-ranging support that includes training, technical assistance, equipment, and infrastructure." Then, in 2012, the U.S. expanded its support and "funded the construction of administrative offices, classrooms, and barracks for training counter narcotics officers." In 2013, the Department of State spent $450,000 on its counter-narcotics program in Indonesia. The DEA also holds a field office in Kuala Lumpur, where the taxpayer-funded agency trains Malaysian law-enforcement officers and shares intelligence.

While U.S. aid to countries with capital drug laws is reproachable at best, it pales in comparison to the involvement of the U.N. in the Middle East, where capital drug laws are invoked regularly. Last year, Iran executed 367 people for drug-related crimes. In 2011, the country executed 540 — these were more than 80 percent of its total documented executions. The executions are not just reserved for adult offenders, either. Last April, a 17-year-old from Afghanistan, Jannat Mir, was hanged in Iran after being caught smuggling heroin across the border.

The human-rights advocacy group Reprieve has directly linked millions of dollars in international funding to drug arrests that result in executions. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has for years financially supported the counter-narcotics programs that the country uses to arrest, prosecute, and then execute drug offenders. While some countries, such as Denmark and Ireland, have acknowledged the deadly link and cut off funding to the UNODC, others have not yet done so.

Moreover, the UNODC recently established a five-year, multimillion-dollar aid deal to continue this support. And since the UNODC is financed through member-country donations, European taxpayers are footing the bill for this costly and inhumane attempt at global drug enforcement.

The U.N.'s mission is to uphold international law and support human rights, but in continuing to offer this funding to Iran, it has chosen to ignore both. This must change. And while the U.S. slowly begins to reform the criminal-justice system at home, it should do so overseas as well.

Andrew Gargano is an editorial assistant at Young Voices, a policy project of the international nonprofit Students For Liberty.

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