Written by Sarah Merrigan, University of Nebraska Omaha SSDP Chapter Leader and UNGASS Coordinator Intern
Saturday, October 10th marks the 13th World Day Against the Death Penalty, and this year the focus is on the use of the capital punishment for drug-related crimes. While the use of capital punishment has generally declined over the last few decades, a report published this month by Harm Reduction International states that the number of countries allowing the death penalty for drug offenses more than tripled between 1979 and 2000. Heavily influenced by the newly declared “war on drugs” and the anti-drug hysteria of the 1980s, during this time the international approach to drug control became increasingly punitive and prohibitionist. Today, 33 countries have capital drug laws on the books, but drug-related executions are considered routine in only seven. Though international pressure to discontinue this practice is picking up steam, many Western countries continue to provide foreign aid for drug control operations to some of the most frequent offenders. The peculiarities of this situation are best summarized in a 2012 report from Harm Reduction International which details the many ways donor states – and in some cases the UN – have funded executions and other human rights violations they have explicitly spoken out against.
This summer, members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in the Washington D.C. area participated in the Global Day of Action for the Support. Don’t Punish. campaign by drawing attention to the role the United States plays in providing aid to countries actively imposing the death penalty for non-violent drug offenses. SSDP actions around capital drug laws will continue this November at Model UNGASS where participants will discuss the current state of the world drug problem. As a simulation of the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) in April, the event provides students with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn about international drug laws and the United Nations. The first day of Model UNGASS will likely see a lively debate about the application of the death penalty for drug offenses from members of the Dr
ugs and Crime committee. Because participants are required to “stay in character” as they represent each country, Model UNGASS serves as an opportunity for many SSDP members to view drug policy from a perspective that differs greatly from their own. This experience will prepare participants to play a more active role in global drug policy reform both before and after UNGASS 2016.
Here are some things you can do today to take action:
- Check out the calendar of events to see if there is an event happening near you.
- Sign a petition organized by Amnesty International to release people sentenced to death in Malaysia
- Read the 2015 global review of the death penalty for drug offenses by Harm Reduction International
- Change your Facebook profile picture to this poster or something else to bring attention to this day
- Get involved on social media. Spread around HRI’s new report, link to the facebook event, and use the hashtag #NoDeathPenalty
While the countries that utilize the death penalty for drug crimes are at the extreme fringe of international society, their aggressive use of capital punishment means that hundreds still lose their lives every year. No one should be put to death for drug crimes. Today, demand an end to the use of the death penalty for drug offenses and stand up for peace.