Three leading anti-death penalty groups have appealed to the United Nations to freeze counter-narcotics aid to Vietnam after the country sentenced 30 people to die for drugs offences.
The call – from Reprieve, Harm Reduction International (HRI) and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty – cites the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) internal human rights guidance, which requires the organisation to cease support for a country if it is feared such support may facilitate executions.
The appeal follows the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland’s withdrawal of aid from Iran’s drug control program, fearing that such assistance could contribute to illegal executions for drugs offences in the country.
“Our organisations have, for many years, been raising concerns about UN assistance for drug enforcement in countries that continue to apply the death penalty for drug offences,” the letter states. “Our concerns stem from the fact that we have demonstrated how UN Office on Drugs and Crime assistance in countries with capital drug laws has contributed to the arrests of people who have later been sentenced to death and executed.”
While there is considerable secrecy around the death penalty in Vietnam, it is known that the country hands out numerous death sentences every year. The Vietnamese government admitted in a 2003 submission to the UN Human Rights Committee that ‘over the last years, the death penalty has been mostly given to persons engaged in drug trafficking.’ Media reports have indicated that around half of all executions are for drug-related crimes.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime aid to Vietnam is extensive and will exceed $5 million for technical assistance, equipment, training and other support. Drug control is the largest component of the country programme.
In recent years, non-governmental human rights organisations have identified people captured as a result of UN drug control assistance who were subsequently executed or sentenced to death.
The groups suggest in the letter that if law enforcement aid cannot be provided with the assurance that it will not contribute to human rights abuses, it can be redirected to health services instead.