The death penalty for drugs must go, it has no place in a civilised society
The conference, calling for leadership, was organised under the honorary patronage of the Malaysian Ministry of Health from 18 to 21 October 2015. Although the main focus was on reducing the harm for people who use drugs, attention was also paid to the harm caused by anti-drug policy and law, including the death penalty.
Ending the death penalty for drugs in India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia
One of the first major sessions was dedicated to death penalty lawyers and human rights advocates in Asia who participated in Harm Reduction International’s report: Death Penalty for Drug Offenses, Global Overview 2015.
Tripti Tandon, from the Lawyer’s Collective in India explained how they have challenged the constitutionality of the mandatory death penalty in India and stressed that although people are sentenced to death for drug crimes in India, no one has ever been executed for these crimes.
Dr Yingxi Bi, from the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy at Essex University in the UK, spoke about recent reforms in China and how the number of crimes punishable by death has decreased from more that 70 offenses before 1997 to 46 today.
Shamini Darshni, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia insisted on the fact that the number of people executed in Malaysia is not communicated by the authorities or the media. She also highlighted the case of Shahrul Izani Suparman, for whom a petition was launched for World Day Against the Death Penalty this year. Shahrul was convicted at 19 years old of carrying drugs in the motorbike that he had just borowed to a friend and mandatorily sentenced to death. He has always claimed that he did not know that the drugs were in the bike.
Ricky Gunawan, Director of the Community Legal Aid Institute (LBH Masyarakat) in Indonesia made a very powerful and emotional contribution to the panel by speaking about his client, Rodrigo Gularte, a Brazilian citizen who was among the people executed in April 2015.
“I met with him the day before his execution and he said, ‘am I going to die? But why?’ later he said ‘don’t worry, I heard voices and they are going to abolish the deaht penalty and I won’t be executed’. And when I wanted to buy him a drink he said : ‘no, don’t drink it, it is poison’ How could they execute Rodrigo? The thing is, in Indonesia, you can’t sentence to death someone with mental health issues, but you can execute him.”
Abolition of the death penalty in the package for UNGASS on drugs
Many speakers stressed that laws against drugs have been a total failure when “harm reduction has reduced crimes” as said Dr Sha’ari Ngadiman, Malaysian Minister of Health.
In the context of the UN General Assembly’s Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in April 2016, civil society has been working towards key recommendations based on these conclusions, and the abolition of the death penalty is one of them.
The Civil Society Task Force is acting as the voice of civil society and has been conducting wide consultations worldwide. It is made of two representatives by regions for nine regions, in addition to thematic representatives. Together, they have highlighted seven key issues : end the death penalty, promote human rights, health and harm reduction, decriminalization, universal access to controlled medicines, sustainable development and policy innovation.
A new campaign called “Stop the harm” was launched at the conference. It aims at helping people and organisations get involved in the process leading to UNGASS. Here are a few ways civil society organisations can engage:
• Register on Stop the harm.org to add your contribution
• Join the International Drug Policy Consortium to receive regular updates
• Contact your regional representative within the Civil Society Task Force
• Join the New York NGO Committee on Drugs (NYNGOC) and/or the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC) as these committees are directly engaging in the UNGASS
• Lobby your government to promote more progressive drug policies during international debates
• Send out a civil society submission to UNODC, which it will post on the civil society page of its official UNGASS website.