Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking: A Global Perspective
Drastic Measures: Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking
In recent news, five individuals were sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court for drug trafficking crimes committed in 2019. The accused were found guilty of transporting over 152 kilograms of heroin in a fishing vessel, their arrest executed by the Sri Lanka Navy during a sea raid off Ratmalana. High Court Judge Namal Ballale confirmed the charges presented by the Attorney General against the accused, resulting in the death penalty verdict.
Capital Punishment for Drug Crimes: A Global View
Capital punishment for drug-related crimes exists in numerous countries, often resulting from significant illegal drug trade activities such as importing, exporting, selling, or possessing significant amounts of drugs. Extrajudicial executions of suspected drug traffickers and users also occur in countries without drug death penalties by law, such as Mexico and the Philippines.
As of December 2022, Harm Reduction International (HRI) reports that 3,700 people worldwide are on death row for drug offences. In 2022 alone, at least 285 executions by law for drug offences occurred globally in six countries, with the majority (252) in Iran, followed by 22 in Saudi Arabia and 11 in Singapore. However, exact numbers are challenging due to opaque reporting in some countries like China, North Korea, and Vietnam.
Despite having laws that impose the death penalty for drug offences, not all of these countries regularly execute for such crimes. Some states are classified by Amnesty International as “abolitionist in practice,” meaning they have not carried out executions for any crime in the past ten years. Some countries, despite having laws for the death penalty for drug offences in place, have neither sentenced to death nor executed anyone for a drug offence.
Asian Countries: The Strictest Sentences
Asian countries are known for imposing the strictest sentences for drug-related crimes, particularly for trafficking. For instance, Myanmar, under the leadership of then-President Thein Sein, commuted all the country’s death sentences to life imprisonment in January 2014. South Korea, while having a moratorium on capital punishment, still has people on death row and continues to hand down new death sentences despite no executions since 1997.
In the Philippines, despite abolishing capital punishment, the ongoing Philippine Drug War has resulted in thousands of extrajudicial executions against drug traffickers, endorsed by the government. This reflects a complex and multifaceted approach to drug-related crimes.
Impact of Drug-Related Executions
While the death penalty aims to deter drug trade activities, it predominantly impacts people from marginalized and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Those sentenced to death are often the breadwinners of their families, and their execution leaves their families in dire economic situations, struggling with legal fees and loss of income.
Moreover, these executions often follow flawed investigations, and trials are systematically unfair. Detainees are frequently denied due process rights, including access to legal representation, and confessions, often obtained through torture, are used as evidence for conviction.
Conclusion: A Controversial Stance
The use of the death penalty for drug trafficking remains a contentious issue worldwide. While some countries view it as a necessary deterrent, others view it as a violation of human rights. The recent sentencing in Sri Lanka brings this debate back into focus, underlining the ongoing global conversation about the most appropriate and effective ways to combat the illegal drug trade.
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