Drug executions up more than 40 per cent

There were at least 467 drug-related executions in 2023, according to the latest report from Harm Reduction International (HRI). 

Drug offences accounted for more than 40 per cent all confirmed global executions last year - prison cell
Drug offences accounted for more than 40 per cent of all confirmed global executions last year

The figure is 44 per cent higher than the previous year and does not account for the ‘dozens, if not hundreds’ of executions believed to have taken place in China, Vietnam, and North Korea, HRI points out. Ninety-eight per cent of known drug-related executions took place in Iran. 

Drug offences accounted for more than 40 per cent all confirmed global executions last year, the highest proportion since 2016, with drug-related executions also confirmed in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Singapore. Almost 60 of those executed for drugs belonged to ethnic minority groups – in Iran and Singapore – while 13 were foreign nationals, and six were women. ‘These figures confirm that these groups are uniquely vulnerable to capital punishment as a tool of drug control,’ says HRI. 

At the end of 2023, 34 countries still retained the death penalty for drug offences, the report states, although Pakistan took the ‘landmark’ decision to remove the death penalty for ‘certain violations’ of its Control of Narcotic Substances Act. Malaysia – which has more than 700 people on death row for drug offences – also abolished the mandatory death penalty for all offences. 

death penalty expert Chiara Sangiorgio
Amnesty International death penalty expert Chiara Sangiorgio

There was also a 20 per cent rise in the number of confirmed death sentences for drug offences, almost half of which were passed by courts in Vietnam and a quarter in Indonesia. More than 30 of the 375 people sentenced to death were foreign nationals and 15 were women. ‘Most notably, no accurate figure can be provided for China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Thailand,’ says HRI. ‘These countries are all believed to regularly impose a significant number of death sentences for drug offences.’ At least 3,000 people are estimated to currently be on death row for drugs, across almost 20 countries. 

Last year Singapore carried out what was believed to be first execution of a woman for two decades, which Amnesty International called ‘unlawful and shameful’. The authorities in Singapore ‘must stop their unlawful and increased resort to executions in the name of drug control,’ said the charity’s death penalty expert Chiara Sangiorgio at the time. ‘There is no evidence that the death penalty has a unique deterrent effect or that it has any impact on the use and availability of drugs. In fact, it has the effect of disproportionately punishing and further discriminating those with disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds or belonging to marginalised groups.’ 

The death penalty for drug offences: global overview 2023 at hri.global

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