The Death Penalty Doesn’t Stop Drug Crimes

World Day 2015

On September 28, 2015, the UN Human Rights Council hosted a three-hour panel discussion on “The Impact of the World Drug Problem on Human Rights.” One of the panelists was Mr. Aldo Lale of the UN Office on Drug Control. The Advocates for Human Rights and several of its partner organizations prepared the following oral statement for the discussion, highlighting that tomorrow, October 10, is World Day Against the Death Penalty. The theme for World Day 2015 is the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

This statement is made by The Advocates for Human Rights, Harm Reduction International, the Paris Bar, FIACAT, and the International Drug Policy Consortium, all members of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty.

Between 1980 and 2000, many countries added the death penalty as a punishment for drug-related offenses. This period coincides with the drafting, adoption and ratification of the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Only a handful of the 33 countries that impose the death penalty for drug crimes actually execute drug offenders. But in those countries, drug crimes often result in the bulk of capital sentences and executions.

On October 10, the international community celebrates the 13th World Day against the Death Penalty, this year highlighting the human rights violations involved with imposing the death penalty for drug crimes.

International human rights standards recognize that the death penalty must be limited to the most serious crimes—intentional killings.

Further, the World Drug Report recently confirmed that after 30 years, countries that sentence people to death and execute them for drug crimes have not seen reductions in drug consumption or trafficking.

UN assistance in the form of international funds contributes to the arrest, prosecution, and subsequent sentencing to death of drug suspects. Since 2008 we have called on the UNODC to take responsibility for its role in these human rights violations.

In 2012, a UNODC Position Paper stated: “If, following requests for guarantees and high-level political intervention, executions for drug-related offences continue, UNODC may have no choice but to employ a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support.”

However, UNODC continues to fund law enforcement-focused counter-narcotics activities in a number of countries which aggressively apply the death penalty for drug offences. Earlier this year it was finalizing a new five year funding settlement in a country that has executed at least 394 drug offenders in 2015. This funding continues despite a recent report from the UNODC’s own Independent Evaluation Unit finding that that country has taken “no action . . . yet in line with UNODC guidance.”

Mr. Aldo Lale, how has UNODC applied these guidelines, and has it ever frozen or withdrawn support in countries that still conduct widespread executions for drug crimes?

We urge donors to freeze all financial support pending an investigation into how funds have been spent and until clear risk assessments and accountability mechanisms are put in place.

We welcome the panel’s views on how best to ensure accountability of the UN and donors for ensuring that human rights are respected in drug enforcement.

Thank you.

By: Amy Bergquist, International Justice Program staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights and its representative on the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty’s Steering Committee.

Learn more about World Day Against the Death Penalty and how you can get involved.

Learn more about The Advocates’ work on the death penalty around the world.

Another Botched Execution

Another Botched Execution

Preparing-an-injection1695Oklahoma botched last night’s execution of Clayton Lockett by using a new, untested lethal injection protocol. While execution officials had pronounced Lockett unconscious, he was awake minutes later, writhing and breathing heavily. In apparent pain, he fought the restraints that locked him to the gurney. As he continued to twitch and call out “Man” and “Something’s wrong,” officials closed the shutters to block viewers from witnessing an execution gone horribly wrong.

Officials halted the execution. Lockett died of a heart attack within the hour.

The latest bungled execution is a tragic reiteration of Ohio’s execution of Dennis McGuire, who was put to death in January with a new two-drug combination that had never been tested. What McGuire’s attorneys had argued prior to his execution came true: the drug combination caused their client to experience “air hunger” in his struggle to breathe. “Shortly after the warden buttoned his jacket to signal the start of the execution, my dad began gasping and struggling to breathe,” McGuire’s daughter, Amber McGuire, is reported to have said. “I watched his stomach heave. I watched him try to sit up against the straps on the gurney. I watched him repeatedly clench his fist. It appeared to me he was fighting for his life but suffocating.

Oklahoma and Ohio’s experiments with new, untested lethal injection protocols are real-life — or real-death — demonstrations of what can go wrong when states are allowed to execute people using untested and dubious execution methods.

The majority of the 32 death penalty states in the U.S. and the U.S. federal government use lethal injection as the primary means to execute prisoners. Governments have traditionally used a three-drug combination to put people to death. But now, they are resorting to new combinations because the drugs needed for the three-drug injection are difficult to obtain. The drugs’ sources are drying up, caused by foreign government regulations, European Union restrictions placed on the supply, and drug corporations’ positions.

As these drugs have become increasingly harder to obtain, states have begun using other drugs to administer a lethal dose. In turn, pharmaceutical companies have refused to supply these drugs for execution purposes in the U.S.

Now, states like Oklahoma and Ohio are turning to questionable sources—including compounding pharmacies selling drugs that are not FDA-approved—to get the drugs they need to execute people. Obtaining execution drugs that are outside of federal regulation increases the risk of tampering and reduced drug efficacy; this increases the probability of cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment during an execution, a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

Moreover, several states have passed secrecy laws to conceal the identities of their drug suppliers, thus allowing states to withhold critical information from detainees and their families who seek assurances about the drugs’ quality and effectiveness.  The attorney for Charles Warner, a second man to be executed by Oklahoma last night, had criticized the suppression of information earlier on Tuesday. “Because the issue of secrecy in lethal injection has not been substantively addressed by the courts, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner will be executed without basic information about the experimental combination of drugs used in their deaths,” attorney Madeline Cohen said in a statement, according to the Washington Post. “Despite repeated requests by counsel, the state has refused, again, and again, to provide information about the source, purity, testing and efficacy of the drugs to be used.”

U.S. states have faced challenges with lethal injection because of the clamp down on the drug supply. Lethal injection in the U.S. has now turned into a cat-and-mouse game, with states attempting to procure execution drugs from an international community determined to keep the drugs out of the states’ possession, leading states to turn to untested and uncharted drug protocols as alternatives.

Regardless of whether a three-drug injection or a two-drug injection is used, there is much concern that these injections cause cruel and inhuman punishment. The gruesome deaths of Lockett and McGuire are visible, horrific testimonials that lethal injection violates the Eighth Amendment. “No one should die the way my dad did, no matter the circumstances,” said McGuire’s daughter, according to reports.

Hours after McGuire’s execution, Terry Collins, who served as the Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections from 2006 to 2010 and oversaw 33 executions, said that the suffocation execution of McGuire shines the spotlight on the unworkable nature of the problems in the death house. “The experiment has failed and that is plainly obvious,” he said.

The Advocates for Human Rights submitted a shadow report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, detailing how the death penalty in the U.S. violates basic human rights, including the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The Advocates was there, at the Committee’s 100th session in Geneva, Switzerland in March, when the Committee took the U.S. to task on the death penalty and other issues.  In its concluding observations, the Committee urged that measures be taken to ensure that the death penalty is not carried out in a racially biased or erroneous manner and that lethal injection drugs come from legitimate sources.

By: Attorney Rosalyn Park, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of research, represents The Advocates on the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty steering committee. She chairs the Working Group for World Day Against the Death Penalty and is active on several other working groups. Before beginning work with The Advocates, Rosalyn interned with Anti-Slavery International in London as an Upper Midwest International Human Rights Fellow.

Commemorate World Day Against the Death Penalty

Commemorate World Day Against the Death Penalty

Celebrate progress in the world movement toward ending the death penalty on October 10

By Rosalyn Park

Our graphic design volunteer, Cuong Nguyen, and I pondered the scribbles on our notepads, stumped. We were charged with developing this year’s poster for World Day Against the Death Penalty. World Day on October 10 marks the date when activists around the world rally to oppose the death penalty and commemorate the day with educational events, demonstrations, and other initiatives to voice their opposition to this human rights violation.

We were creating this poster at the request of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (www.worldcoalition.org), an international coalition that opposes the death penalty. The World Coalition spearheads World Day, along with many other campaigns, in its efforts to end the death penalty around the world. This October 10, 2012 is particularly special, because it marks the tenth anniversary of the creation of the World Coalition.

The poster would be a pivotal piece in the World Day campaign as the rallying symbol for hundreds of death penalty activists around the world. Our main challenge was that the World Coalition’s Steering Committee specifically requested a positive message in the poster. But how to convey a positive image about the execution of people and the end of human life? There’s nothing innately positive about the death penalty– images typically used to portray capital punishment are morbid: nooses, syringes, knives, stones, and execution chambers. Not exactly the ingredients for positive messaging.

Fortunately, the World Coalition suggested we focus on progress made over the past ten years—and there’s much to celebrate in this regard. The World Coalition has grown from a fledgling initiative to an independent organization composed of almost 140 members from around the world. Member organizations hail from numerous countries, such as Morocco, France, Iran, Lebanon, Taiwan, Japan, Puerto Rico, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, UK, Nigeria, and of course, the United States. As The Advocates’ representative on the World Coalition’s Steering Committee I have been privileged to meet and work with an inspiring group of individuals from all over the world.

The work of the World Coalition and other abolitionists has had a big impact. Today, 141 countries are abolitionist in law or in practice (97 countries have passed laws that have eliminate the death penalty, and 36 countries have not legally abolished the death penalty but have not used it in years). A glance at some of the countries that have abolished the death penalty in the past ten years shows the trend is global and reaches all corners of the world: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Burundi, Cook Islands, Gabon, Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mexico, the Philippines, Rwanda, Samoa, Senegal, Togo, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Some countries that have not abolished the Death Penalty have signified their strong disinterest in continuing the practice: Sierra Leone and Nigeria have declared a moratorium on executions and Tajikistan has had a moratorium on both death sentences and executions since 2004. Finally, eight countries have restricted the scope of their death penalty and abolished its use for ordinary crimes.

Even in the United States, where the use of the death penalty is one of the gravest human rights violations, we’ve seen a demonstrable shift by states toward rejection of the death penalty. In April 2012, Connecticut became the 17th State to abolish the death penalty, closely following Illinois in 2011, New Mexico in 2009, and New Jersey in 2007. California will be putting the vote to the people when the death penalty is up for referendum this November—a recognition that public support is waning.

Indeed, looking at these facts and figures, the progress is astonishing. It is clear: the global trend is countries moving away from using the death penalty.

Thinking about the death penalty in light of these developments was inspiring for Cuong and me as we sought to portray this message. W hile we still face dire problems with capital punishment here in the United States and elsewhere, the world overall is shifting toward abolition. It’s a positive sign and one that we can truly celebrate.

Given this insight, we decided on the simple image of the world atop a broken noose. We finished it with an inspiring message to capture our past progress and the brighter future we all face:  Abolish the death penalty. It’s a better world without it.

For more information about the death penalty, please see The Advocates’ Death Penalty Toolkit at http://discoverhumanrights.org/Death_Penalty.html.

Rosalyn Park is the Research Director at The Advocates for Human Rights.