By Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon
Mangaluru, July 8, 2023: Globally, there are 33 countries that prescribe death penalty for drug related offences, and out of these 9 countries impose mandatory death penalty for drug offences. Executions for drug offences regularly take place in at least five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Singapore. In the Philippines, President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ has resulted in a spate of extra judicial killings.
In India, Section 31A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985, prescribes the death penalty for recurrent wrongdoers. Through the Amendment of 2014, capital punishment under Section 31A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Act, 1985, was fused with an option of detainment for a long period of time under Section 31 of the NDPS Act. On 16 June 2011 the Bombay High Court struck down Section 31A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act) that forces a compulsory capital punishment for a resulting conviction for drug dealing ‘illegal’.Another amendment in 2014 made it optional for the judge to award the death sentence. Strangely, in December 2007, India cast a ballot against the United Nations General Assembly goals requiring a ban on capital punishment. In November 2012, India again maintained its position on the matter of death penalty by casting a ballot against the UN General Assembly draft goals looking to boycott capital punishment. But in many recent cases although the Act provides for optional capital punishment, the judiciary in India has consciously refrained from awarding death penalty for drug-offences.
Drug offences related executions in Iran is making headlines in the media. Iran Human Rights (IHR) has revealed that about 256 people have been executed in Iran till date in 2023. In the month of May alone 142 people were executed, almost four people were hanged every day. Iran is believed to execute the most people per capita. According to the BBC, Iran "carries out more executions than any other country, except China". Iranian law dictates that any person holding more than 30 grammes (1 ounce) of heroin should receive capital punishment and have most of their wealth seized. Drug trafficking cases are tried by Iran’s notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in special courts.
Though many West Asian countries are implementing the death penalty in brutal ways, it has never been a deterrent to dissuade traffickers. Authorities in Saudi Arabia seized 5,280,000 amphetamine tablets hidden inside a shipment of building materials in Jeddah Islamic Port, in May 2023. In April 2023, the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority (ZATCA) of Saudi Arabia seized more than 4 million Captagon pills at the Al-Batha border crossing. Earlier in January 2023 the ZATCA foiled an attempt to smuggle 2,972,400 Captagon pills worth up to $75 million, at the King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam.All those involved will definitely get the death sentence, but traffickers are willing to take the risk. In the list of drug traffickers, even Saudi royalty finds a place. In April 2015, Lebanese Customs arrested Saudi prince Abdel Mohsen Bin Walid Bin Abdulaziz and four others for attempting to smuggle about two tons of Captagon and Cocaine. Twenty-five boxes and six suitcases, all stamped with the Saudi Arabian emblem of palm tree and crossed swords, containing the contraband drugs were to be shipped out on a private Saudi jet.
A number of debates have emerged among governments about how to balance international drug laws with human rights, public health, alternatives to incarceration, and experimentation with regulation. While many countries have initiated decriminalisation of drug consumption, and relaxation in policies and laws, relating to trafficking, importing, or exporting specific quantities of drugs, resulting in an accompanying decrease in drug-related executions, many countries still continue to impose the death penalty. Activists who demand abolition of death penalty for drug offences point out that the apprehended are often the peddlers, carriers and individual users, while those at the top of the “totem pole” are invisible and beyond the reach of the law. The ’big fish’ organizing, financing, and arranging for transportation of drugs, are untouched. The burden of the focus on low-level offenders generally falls on more vulnerable and marginalised groups who end up being the victims of an overwhelmed and obsolete and expensive criminal justice system.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy stresses that the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences does not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” – for the purposes of article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – and thus clearly violates international human rights law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions, the Economic and Social Council, the General-Assembly, the Secretary-General, and the International Narcotics Control Board support this interpretation. The debate drags on interminably.
Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd), Ph.D. (Narcotics)
Former Director General of National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics & Multi-Disciplinary School Of Economic Intelligence India; Fellow, James Martin Centre For Non Proliferation Studies, USA; Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA; Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.; AOTS Scholar, Japan. He can be contacted at email@example.com