Executions for drug offences up 850 per cent in two years

There were at least 285 executions for drug offences worldwide in 2022, according to the latest report from Harm Reduction International (HRI). This represents a 118 per cent increase on 2021 and an 850 per cent increase since 2020.

There are 35 countries that still retain the death penalty.
There are 35 countries that still retain the death penalty.

Executions for drug offences were either confirmed or assumed to have been carried out in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, as well as in China, North Korea and Vietnam. Exact figures are not available for the latter three because of ‘extreme opacity’, says HRI, which means the numbers are likely to represent ‘only a percentage’ of the actual total. There were also more than 300 death sentences for drug offences imposed in 2022, a 28 per cent increase on the previous year, while more than 3,700 people were now on death row for drug offences worldwide.

However, there are also growing protests against the policy in many countries, HRI points out. ‘After defending its barbaric policy on the death penalty throughout 2021, Singapore issued execution warrants against individuals convicted of drug trafficking in February 2022,’ the charity states. A wave of protests followed, which are ‘rarely seen in the country due to extreme limitations on assemblies and the routine intimidation of activists’. There were also peaceful protests in Iran by families of people on death row, coinciding with a ‘surge’ of more than 250 confirmed executions, with many of the protesters arrested.

States and institutions, however, have ‘failed to adequately respond’ to the issue, HRI says, with UNODC failing to ‘take any public position on this practice for the second year in a row’. This lack of any political, economic or diplomatic sanctions for ‘blatant’ violations of international standards sends a ‘dangerous message to retentionist countries that executions, and therefore death sentences, can continue with impunity’ it states.

There are 35 countries in total still retaining the death penalty for drug offences, and known executions for drugs accounted for 30 per cent of all global executions, HRI points out. The figures, it says, are ‘a call to action to all actors involved in the fight for abolition, but primarily to governments and to intergovernmental actors: to acknowledge the barrier that punitive drug policies represent for the global fight towards abolition, and to identify and pursue new, influential strategies to promote the respect of international standards on the death penalty.’

The death penalty for drug offences: global overview 2022

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