The Global Commission on Drug Policy strongly believes that the death penalty is not the appropriate response to any offence, including drug-related ones.
While the world is witnessing a positive shift towards progressive decriminalization in drug policy-making and a concomitant decrease in drug-related executions, penalties for drug-related offenses continue to be drastically disproportionate and still too common in some countries today.
Although authorities in Singapore have not carried out any executions since 2019, in recent times the number of death penalty sentences for drug-related offenses has risen sharply.
Then just two days ago, on March 30, Abdul Kahar bin Othman was executed in Singapore. He had been sentenced to death for a drug offense in 2015. There is also the ongoing case of Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, who could be executed days after an appeals court upheld the death sentence. against him on March 29.
The Drug Misuse Act (MDA) 1973 is the basis of Singapore’s national drug policy. Despite the draconian and disproportionate penalties it codifies – from imprisonment, canings to the mandatory death penalty for at least 20 different drug offenses (whether trafficking, importation or export of specific quantities of drugs) – the MDA has not fulfilled its intention to prevent and combat illicit drug trafficking and consumption.
There is plenty of evidence to explain why. Most often those caught committing drug crimes are the lower level traffickers and individual users, while those at the top of the ‘totem’ go undetected and unpunished.
The burden of the focus on low level offenders generally falls on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups who end up being the victims of an overwhelmed and outdated criminal justice system.
The demographics of those facing the death penalty for drug offenses are remarkably similar around the world, whether in Singapore, sub-Saharan Africa or the United States: disproportionately women, minorities and economically disadvantaged people. Currently, at least 3,000 people are on death row for drug offenses in approximately 35 countries. In 2021, there were at least 131 executions for these same offences, an increase of 336% over the previous year. These figures reflect a regrettable trend, which is also reflected in an 11% increase in the number of people sentenced to death for drug-related offences.
In September 2021, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tabled a report, Question of the Death Penalty, which highlighted the need to universally abolish the death penalty and protect the right to life for all.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy recalls that the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses does not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” – for the purposes of Article 6 of the International Covenant on civil and political rights – and therefore 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 and the Secretary-General support this interpretation. The International Narcotics Control Board has also encouraged states that impose the death penalty to abolish it for drug-related offences.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy strongly believes that the death penalty is never justified under any circumstances. The commission advocates a move towards a human rights-based drug policy and urges all countries to make immediate commitments to the total abolition of the death penalty by reforming their relevant national laws.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.