The Death Penalty for Drug Offenses in Middle East in Light of International Human Rights Law Essay

The drug control menace now becomes the problem for the developed and the under developed world. The law enforcing agencies are of the developed world and the under developed world are trying hard to overcome this problem which has spreads its tentacles at length and breadth around the globe. All out efforts to eliminate this menace from the earth still an elusive dream for the think tank of the civilized society. Approximately two hundred years ago the history witnessed a war between the China and the United Kingdom on this issue. The drug barons in the different parts of the world caused higher number of casualties in the exchange of fire du between the drug dealers and the law enforcing agencies. To combat with this menace effectively, countries are focusing and funding on educating people, taking preventive measures and treatment program to save their future generation (Worldwide Drug Laws, 2012).

It is a matter of fact that the United States of America today known as the largest illicit drug consumable country of the world. The American law enforcers, despite of their best efforts yet to see the desired results to weed out illicit drug consumption from its administrative jurisdiction and in the jurisdiction of other parts of the world. It is interesting to note that Americans while chasing the goose, sometimes even don’t mind to respect the boundaries and sovereignty of the independent states. In this respect we may quote here the examples of Middle Eastern, South Asian and the African countries (Worldwide Drug Laws, 2012).

In some parts of the world harmful drug control policies are strictly and rigidly enforced. Take the example of Malaysia and Thailand wherein the possessor of illegal drugs gets imprisonment of 15 to 20 years. Some countries are even more rigid in the drug policies they enforced. In Malaysia and Thailand possession of illicit drugs can result in 15 to 20 years in prison. In the mentioned countries, drug trafficking / distribution of illegal drugs amongst the users amounts to capital punishment in the shape of death sentence. The Indonesians are not far behind in awarding death sentence to drug traffickers irrespective of locals or foreigners. For the last seven years the Indonesian awarded ten Australians death penalty on the charge of drug smuggling into Indonesian territory (Worldwide Drug Laws, 2012).

Death Penalty for Drug Offenders worldwide

Hundreds of drug offenders met death penalty every year by rigidly enforced drug control laws. In this respect, we see two extreme scenarios i.e. increased executions and reduced moratorium. There are number of countries that have dropped death sentences whereas the other countries recommend death penalty to combat this menace effectively (IDPC, 2010).

We have the best example in awarding death sentence to drug offenders are Malaysia and Singapore where many people in the yester years put to death on illicit drug related crimes. The exemplary punishment given to the law breakers helped above countries to reduce the number of crimes. Amongst 32 states, we have witnessed capital punishment on committing drug related crimes in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia and China in the shape of death sentence. Although the majority of the European Scholars thought it to be the capital punishment for the drug offenders and a flagrant violation of international human rights law (IDPC, 2010).

Due to best reasons known to the Chinese, China kept secret its statistics of death toll to the world. The exemplary punishment awarded to the drug offenders somehow proved instrumental in reducing the narcotics concerning crimes although much work to be done for its complete eradication (IDPC, 2010).

Iran is no exception to it. In Iran such offences are unavoidable and attract capital punishment if proved. Each year in Iran number of drug traffickers put on to death for heinous crimes. Iran is the best example where no evidence of compromising in awarding death penalty to the offender of ugly crimes is found. The assessment of published statistics of death punishment around the world shows that the Iran executed approximately 172 drug offenders so far which represents a sizeable portion of drug traffickers were sentenced to death publically as per the judgment of revolutionary courts. However, Egypt, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba raised their eye brows on the fair trial and dispensation of justice system by the concerned courts (IDPC, 2010).

The Saudi Arabia is a country, worth mentioning in terms of executions of drug related crimes. Majority of them are foreign nationals. Amongst foreign nationals those who were executed in the pas hailed from India, Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan and Syrians etc (IDPC, 2010).

International Laws on Human Rights on the Death Penalty of Drug Offences

In the eyes of International Human Rights law and the UN Human Rights Commission the death sentence for drug offences amounts to violation of International Human Rights. The imposition of death penalty in many countries who received funding from donor countries to combat with the menace of illicit drugs make the position of donors awkward who are dead against of death penalty of such crime. Therefore, the donors are seriously thinking of linking their donations with abolition of death sentence in recipient countries since donors countries are already abolished death sentence in their own countries (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

In 32 jurisdictions of the world, local laws allowing death penalty to drug offenders. Everyone knows that hundreds of convicted persons executed each year on account of drug offences. These statistics may not reflect a true picture in terms of number of people hanging every year because of secrecy is maintained by those countries. The majority of deaths belongs to a very few countries of the world who strictly follow divine laws / local laws as far as capital punishments are concerned (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

There are number of watch dogs of International agencies who monitors present status of enforcement of International Laws concerning Human Rights are against of death penalty since offences concerning illegal drugs are violation of rights of life as enumerated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is frustrating to observe that in some cases violation of human rights laws is aided by the donor agencies (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

The Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights restricts death penalty to the “most serious crimes”. What transpired from the interpretation of UN Human Rights Commission is that in certain circumstances death sentence is allowable under international law except in drug offences (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

The UN Human Rights Committee being an independent body responsible for monitoring and implementing the International Covenants consistently opposing death sentence even the cases of drug offences (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

The United Nations Office working on Drugs and Crime in a report published in the year 2010 favoring abolition of the death penalty in member countries and impressed upon the states to abide with the international standards relating to prohibition of death penalty for drug offences if it is based on compelling economic reasons (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

Enforcement of International Laws

It is an admitted fact that the execution of death sentence is the sole responsibility of the government of that country where the convicted awarded death sentence. However, international non-governmental organizations have to play its due role to commute death sentence into life imprisonment. In order to abolish death sentence, UNODC and the European community focusing on technical, financial and the legislative assistance to strengthen local drug enforcement cell as the only way out to contain increasing death sentence on drug offences. The drug eradication program specially designed to demoralize the drug dealers by the funds raising countries in line with the local laws, international laws on human rights and capacity building to handle drug related offences (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

Case Study

In a move to facilitate six Asian Countries, in the year 1993, United Nations Drug Control Program inked Memorandum of Understanding with the cited countries to stop death sentence in harmful drug related cases. Out of six countries mentioned block, the Cambodia retains the death penalty for the offenders. The funds earmarked to the kitty for the purpose as discussed above by the major and minor donors come to around USD26 million. Details of which are: a) United Kingdom (24%) b) United States (24%) c) Japan (24%) and d) Australia (10%). Other donors whose meager contributions are: a) European Commission (3%) b) Sweden (3%) c) Canada (2%) and d) UNAIDS (5%). The majority of these countries are against the death sentence concerning drug related offences. There is no doubt that by way of joint operations with the UNODC and the law enforcers of respective countries many a big fish caught in the past and in the recent past. All were subsequently hanged on to death (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).


States are bound to oblige to protect human rights through an agreements executed between the States, International human rights commission and the donor agencies. As far as European countries are concerned, it is incumbent upon the signatory countries to abide by the obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights duly ratified by the European Countries and the Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As per commitment signatory countries are bound to eliminate the death sentence on the charges of drug offence in their countries. These legal obligations are to comply with by the member states. These are to be monitored through International agencies instead of individual states. The European donors have to fulfill their obligations in line with the judgment of European Court of Human Rights announced in the year 1999. To achieve the desired objectives, States established international organizations to vigorously pursue member states to seek their cooperation in mutually consented fields and extend immunities where required (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

It would be in the fitness of things if Contracting States are relieved from their obligations under the Convention in relation to the field activity. The complication with regard to human rights abuses, it is the responsibility of the global organizations and the donors to retain the death sentences already awarded for implementation by the donation recipient countries. The good Office of Human Rights Commission can exert its influence on donation recipient countries to shun the practice of execution as far as drug related cases are concerned. These stake holders can be comprised of governmental and non-governmental policy makers, who are responsible for drug enforcement activities in the countries that fall within the ambit of UNODC and the donors (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

Local Laws for Drug Offenders in Middle Eastern Countries

Saudi Arabia

The crime rate in terms of drug offences in Saudi Arabia is at the lowest ebb and the street crimes are seldom heard. However, the crimes are on the rise due to stay of non Saudis who come here from other countries to join different profession to serve the country. In the year 1989 thin increase in crime rate witnessed which was attributed to the unemployment amongst the Saudis and the Yemenis residing in the different localities of kingdom. The strict enforcement of laws in the Kingdom aims at to reduce the crime rate in order to ensure safety and security of life of its citizens. The punishment of beheading, stoning to death though harsh in the eyes of the western world are sufficient to deter others not to follow the suit of criminals (Saudi Arabia Crime and Punishment, 2004).

Nonetheless, Crimes that relate to death sentence are murder, adultery, drug smuggling, rape and armed robbery leading to beheading or stoning to death of the criminals.

Human Rights Violations

As per the published report of apex International Organization the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia is not better than the other Middle Eastern countries. There are number of persons who allegedly detained in known places by the Saudi security officials. The arrested persons do not allow seeing their family members for months or years altogether (Saudi Arabia Crime and Punishment, 2004).

Saudi Arabia is dominated by the religious minded rulers who strictly believe in implementation of Sharia Law to punish the culprits. According to State media, the Sharia Courts so far awarded 30 years rigorous imprisonment to 289 Saudis and the 41 foreign nationals. The domestic human rights organizations and the human right activist have been accusing the Saudi Arabian Government with regard to detention of opponent activists whose demand is to introduce democracy and the democratic reforms in the country (Saudi Arabia Crime and Punishment, 2004).


In light of the Article 4 of the Iranian law, anyone who smuggles out, produces, distributes of contraband items may attract the punishments mentioned at seriatim herein below in terms of quantity (Amnesty International, 2011):

Possession of about 50 grams may attract penalty of five hundred thousand Riyals in cash along with 50 lashes.

Above 50 grams to 500 grams may invite fine of four million to ten million Riyals in cash along with twenty to seventy four lashes plus five years rigorous imprisonment.

Custody of more than five hundred grams to five kilograms may impose a fine of ten to forty million Riyals in cash with fifty to seventy four lashes plus three to fifteen years of imprisonment.

However, if anyone criminal who is having more than five kilograms may attract death penalty along with confiscation of property.

At the time of investigation if it is found that the offender has done the crime for the first time in his life and neither involved in selling and distributing the illicit goods before shall be awarded life imprisonment, seventy four lashes and confiscation of assets by the competent courts (Amnesty International, 2011).

The Amnesty International has taken up the matter with the Iranian government to: a) commute all death sentences awarded to drug offenders in general and the juvenile offenders in particular. The death sentence to the juvenile offenders amounts to violation of Internal Laws for Human Rights b) Review the local laws that deals with death penalty for drug offences in order to abolish mandatory sentences in capital punishment cases c) ensure that all trials relating to drug offences should be fair and transparent. d) Provision of lawyer to plead the cases by the suspect criminals is assured d) appeal to higher tribunals / courts against the judgment of subordinate judiciary to be accepted as a birth right of a convicted person (Amnesty International, 2011).

The apex body for the protection of human rights around the globe calling donor countries and the UN office on crimes and the other anti drug trafficking agencies which are making all out efforts to get rid of illicit drugs considered to be very dangerous for human life invites the attention of Iranian government to: a) take concrete steps to abolish death sentence to drug offenders / juvenile offenders once and for all which is repugnant to international standards for human rights and b) donor countries should re-examine bilateral agreements with Iran. This is just to remind the Iranian government of her obligations entrusted by the International norms (Amnesty International, 2011).

The large number of executions over the years could not alleviate the menace of dangerous drugs. Hence, death sentence for committing drug related crimes does not consider panacea of all social ills (Amnesty International, 2011).

Human Rights Violations

As per the available statistics, the number of prisoners executed in Iran is more than in any country of the world except China. As far as the executions of juvenile offenders are concerned, Iran is on top of the world countries. In Iran who attained the age of nine (for girls) and fifteen (for boys) comes under the purview of puberty. Hence, are entitled for capital punishment wherever required. In Iranian prisoners, around hundred juveniles are on the death row for their alleged crimes. In few cases law enforcers hanged on to death, the convicted in the wee hours of dawn without intimating their families and lawyers. This act of law implementers speaks for itself the scenario of human rights and of course a flagrant violation of International Law for Human Rights (Human Rights Watch, 2011).

Reportedly Security forces usually chase the human rights activists, harassed them and putting them behind the bar without leveling any charge against them. Therefore, they could not perform their duties with peace of mind and independence. Sometimes activists have to face the charges of hatching a conspiracy to topple the government. In the recent past, the competent revolutionary court sentenced to a media man for six years merely on the charge of interviewing a religious leader who was against the ruling party. Further, revolutionary courts in another reported cases awarded six years of imprisonment to the members of Human Rights Committee on alleged national security offences (Human Rights Watch, 2011).


As per the article 39-B of dangerous act 1952, no person shall on his own or on behalf of any of the person, whether or not such other person in Malaysia: a) traffic in a dangerous drug b) offer to traffic in a dangerous drug or c) do or offer to do an act preparatory to or for the purpose of trafficking in a dangerous drug (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

Any person who contravenes any of the provision as mentioned above shall be guilty of an offence against this act and shall be punished on conviction with death. Malaysia executed 229 persons on the charges of drug offences from 1975 to 2000. The Malaysian courts frequently announced death sentence to drug offenders (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

As per aforementioned drug act, the law enforcers of Malaysian government can detain the suspect for sixty days for interrogation without competent court permission. After passage of said period, the concerned ministry issue detention warrant of suspect criminal. It is alleged by the number of victims that they had been detained under the said act despite their acquittal on the orders by the competent court of law (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

The interesting thing is that this number of executions is doubled every year despite frequent death sentences to drug offenders. The donor countries have to think the other way round to curb this menace since capital punishment miserably failed to address this problem (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

Human Rights Violations

According to a news item published in the esteemed local daily newspaper, police the other day by use of excessive force disperse majority of people who were agitating for electoral reforms. The police mercilessly beat the peaceful protestors with baton charge, tear gas shelling and water cannon. The Police arrested dozens of injured protestors and later on released them with the threats of dire consequences if they do not mend their ways (Human Rights Watch, 2012).

The Human Rights watch raised its voice on the use of water cannon, baton charge and tear gas shelling on the peaceful demonstrators by the state security forces. They impressed upon the government to hold an impartial enquiry into the incident to pin point the officials involved in using third degree methods by misusing their power in order to punish the accused according to law (Human Rights Watch, 2012).

National and International agencies widely condemned the state atrocity on the innocent people. To soften the situation, the Prime Minister set up a parliamentary committee to probe into the incident. The opposition is not satisfied with the government arrangement. Therefore, they demands: a) to hold free and fair election within few months b) remove the members of election committee who may influence the election process and c) election should be held under the supervision of International observers. Comparatively the human rights situation in Malaysia is better than Iran (Human Rights Watch, 2012).


Article 80 & 82 of the law of Republic of Indonesia 1997 on narcotics recommends death sentence for those who produce, process, extract, convert, compose, import, export, offer for sale, distribution for sale are liable for capital punishment (Amnesty International USA, 2012).

The first reported execution in Indonesia was a drug offender hailing from Malaysia who smuggled out 420 grams heroin in the year 1985 and put on to firing squad in the year 1995. In accordance with the report of Attorney General’s office, 56 persons were executed in the year 2009 on the charges of smuggling contraband items into the country. Amongst them a large number comprised of foreign nationals (Amnesty International USA, 2012).

It is alleged by the International Human Rights Commission that in most of the cases fair trials were not conducted. The third degree methods were applied to suspect criminals to extract confessional statements at the sweet will of the interrogators. Further, no legal assistance was provided to the offenders to plead their cases in the competent jurisdiction (Amnesty International USA, 2012).

Human Rights Violations

The human rights watch dog observed serious human rights violations at the hands of Indonesian security forces that have compromised by the United States of America. The relationship between Indonesia and the US become tense at the time of separation of East Timor from Indonesia under the UN arrangement. During the course of independence people of east Timor had witnessed worst atrocities on their fellow citizens (US Department of State a, 2011).

The human rights activist namely Karma put behind the bar and remains there for months without charge. In another incident Kasmir, who detained for alleged motor cycle racing died in police custody due to unbearable police torture. On the death of Timumun, the unruly mob which comprised of 3000 people attacked the police station with locally made arms and ammunition. In that attacked the police killed eight protestors. As a result of that protests the police compelled to identify three police officers who allegedly involved in the murder of Timumun (US Department of State a, 2011).

There are numerous instances wherein security forces shot and killed number of people in exchange of gunfire. In the scuffle, the law enforcers arrested more than one hundred suspects. On the other hand eleven police officers were shot and killed by the alleged vandals. In the year 2007, a UN Special emissary visited Indonesia and found many evidences of tortures wherein the authorities did not allow bail, access to counsel to plead cases and also blockage of their access to free legal assistance from voluntary organizations. Even the judicial officers found accepting handsome bribes in lieu of granting bail to the accused (US Department of State a, 2011).


The legislative body of Kuwait prescribed death sentence to the offenders since 1995 in accordance with Sharia Law. In 1998 two Iranian drug traffickers were hanged to death. Later on, fourteen death cases on similar charges were reported by the concerned agencies of UK in the year 1998 and 2007 respectively. The reported case of last execution was a Pakistani National who smuggled in 813 grams of heroin into Kuwait. From 2007 to 2009 two foreign national drug offenders put on to death row on the charge of smuggling harmful drugs in the country (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

The Kuwait had ratified the International Covenant in the year 1996 that pertains to civil and political rights. A comparative study of the executions on the charge of drug offences indicates that the Kuwait is the sole country amongst the cited countries who reported low executions during the years reported herein above (Gallahue and Lines, 2010).

Human Rights Violations

Human rights in Kuwait are a blend of rights and obligations. In Kuwait the capital punishment for murder and drug trafficking is death sentence. According to report published by the US States Department, Kuwait is known as worst offenders of human trafficking. This has attributed to the cool attitude of Kuwaiti administration towards responding and handling the human trafficking issues. Migrant workers are not given fair treatment in terms of wages and in terms or working hours. The emigrant workers are placed under the sponsor scheme of employer thus restricting their free movement. By all standards it can be branded “modern slavery”. In the year June 2007 the Kuwaiti legislators unanimously passed a bill in the assembly to restrict the working hours of women. The law does not allow women to work between 8 pm and 7 am. The only exception allowed to the women belongs to medical profession. Further, Women are not allowed to choose immoral profession (US Department of State b, 2011).

It would not be out of place to mention here the incident of Katherine, an American educator and former vice principal of a private school in the Gulf was detained merely on the charge of expulsion three students who violated the sanctity of school premises by fighting each other. Father of one of the student threatened the said teacher of dire consequences. This has created fear amongst the offshore teachers regarding their employment and respect (US Department of State b, 2011).

Recommendations to abolish death sentence

If the donor countries intend to abolish death sentence in drug related offences. They should take the following remedial measures (Gallahue and Lines, 2010):

Review policies for providing funds to those countries that retain death sentence to certain activities of drug offenders.

Criticize the death sentence for drug related offences.

Soft attitude towards drug offenders in terms of capital punishment would be a pre condition for financial assistance.

Specific funding should be allocated for the protection of human rights by the donors.

Bilateral agreement should incorporate the clause of human rights protection.


Amnesty International, 2011. Addicted to Death: Executions for Drug Offences in Iran. London: Amnesty International Publications. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2012]

Amnesty International USA, 2012. More information on Indonesia. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 02 May 2012].

IDPC: International Drug Policy Consortium, 2010. IHRA Report – The death penalty for drug offences: Global overview 2010. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 01 May 2012].

Gallahue, P. and Lines, R., 2010. The Drug Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2010. London: International Harm Reduction Institution. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 01 May 2012].

Human Rights Watch, 2011. World Report 2011: Iran. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 01 May 2012].

Human Rights Watch, 2012. World Report 2012: Malaysia. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 01 May 2012].

Saudi Arabia Crime and Punishment, 2004. Saudi Arabia Crime and Punishment. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 30 April 2012]

US Department of State a, 2011. 2010 Human Rights Report: Indonesia. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 02 May 2012].

US Department of State b, 2011. 2010 Human Rights Report: Kuwait. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 02 May 2012].

Worldwide Drug Laws, 2012. Worldwide Drug Laws. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 01 May 2012].