This is the tenth year that Harm Reduction International (HRI) has been working on the death penalty for drug offences and, regrettably, prohibitionist and punitive approaches to drugs continue to result in the execution of hundreds of people for non-violent drug offences every year. The majority of those sentenced to death and executed are low level couriers who often experience overlapping and intersecting forms of vulnerability, discrimination and exclusion and who are often subjected to forced confessions and unfair trials. Not only do these executions continue to fail to achieve any reduction in drug use and trafficking, they are also a clear violation of fundamental human rights under international law.
This report looks at the death penalty for drugs in law and practice. It also considers critical developments on the issue. Some of its key findings include:
- There are at least 33 countries and territories that prescribe the death penalty for drug offences in law.
- At least nine countries still have the death penalty for drug offences as a mandatory sanction, although three of these (Brunei Darussalam, Laos and Myanmar) are abolitionist in practice. Malaysia removed the mandatory sentence for drug offences in November 2017.
- Between January 2015 and December 2017, at least 1,320 people are known to have been executed for drug-related offences – 718 in 2015; 325 in 2016; and 280 in 2017. These estimates do not include China, as reliable figures continue to be unavailable for the country
- Taking China out of the equation due to a lack of data, Iran has been the world’s top executioner for drug offences by far, with at least 1,176 executions carried out since January 2015. That amounts to nearly 90% of all reported drug-related executions during that period.
- Between 2015 and 2017, executions for drug offences took place in at least five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Singapore.