UK Home Office drugs policy may contribute to executions overseas

October 23, 2016

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of UK funding for international counter-narcotics operations may be contributing to higher numbers of death sentences and executions abroad, international human rights organisation Reprieve has  found.

Reprieve has written to the Home Office – the lead department on international drugs policy – to highlight new evidence that UK support for programmes operating in countries including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia may be resulting in the arrest and sentencing to death of vulnerable, exploited individuals.

Britain has provided almost $200,000 in funding to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) programme, along with training for anti-drugs officers in Pakistan.  The UNODC recently highlighted the success of the programme in arresting three individuals following a drugs seizure in Karachi airport in September this year.

The individuals arrested could end up facing execution because Pakistan retains the death penalty for non-violent drugs offences.  In the letter to the Home Secretary, Reprieve warns that those arrested under such circumstances “at worst tend to be vulnerable and exploited mules, not ‘kingpins.’”

Reprieve has documented cases in Saudi Arabia where drug ‘mules’ arrested and sentenced to death appear to have themselves been victims of trafficking.  The UN Special Rapporteur on Migrant Workers, among other UN experts, has condemned Saudi Arabia’s practices in at least eight cases involving human trafficking victims sentenced to death for drug offences, all of whom still face potentially imminent execution.

Saudi Arabia also participates in the UK-funded UNODC ‘Container Control Programme’ (CCP) responsible for the recent arrests in Pakistan.  An October, 2015 report by Reprieve found that those convicted of drug-related offences formed the largest single group of people executed in Saudi Arabia during the preceding year.

Reprieve’s letter warns that “UK funding for counter-narcotics programmes may be not only contributing to the death penalty and other human rights abuses, but even leading to the arrest and execution of some of the very exploited people it is seeking to protect.”

Reprieve is urging the Government to be more transparent by publishing a full list of all such support along with any human rights risk assessments that may have been undertaken.

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. To request a copy of Reprieve’s letter to the Home Secretary, please contact donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. Reprieve’s report on the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is available here: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2015_10_14_PUB-Saudi-Arabia-DP-report.pdf