Two Georgian women are facing the death sentence in Malaysia in a case that human rights campaigners say has highlighted worries over the continued imposition of capital punishment for drugs offences.
Babutsa Gorgadze, 26, and Darejan Kokhtashvili, 37, were arrested last month in Malaysia after they were found with more than 10 kilos of methamphetamine.
Under strict Malaysian laws the pair, both mothers, are now facing mandatory death penalties if convicted and efforts are under way by Georgian authorities to stop the pair being sentenced to death if convicted.
Human rights campaigners say the case has brought into focus the dangers of imposing capital punishment for drugs crimes. The case took a new turn this week when Georgian media reported the husband of one of the women had confessed to Georgian police that he had been behind the drug smuggling, and that the women had gone to Malaysia unaware that they were carrying illegal narcotics.
I’m opposed to the death penalty in any situation, for a whole number of reasons, not the least of which is my lack of belief that it can be administered fairly or without murdering innocent people.
I’m even more opposed to it, if that’s possible, as a deterrent/punishment in drug cases, where it makes absolutely no sense that society should feel so threatened by the prospect of a voluntary transaction.
It’s clearly not a deterrent, as evidenced by the fact that Malaysia, Singapore, China, Iran, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia manage to find large numbers to execute each year.
Additionally, if your enforcement goal is to get the “big fish,” then a policy of execution is counter-productive. The big fish will put layers between themselves and harm’s way, using unsuspecting mules or desperate losers to take the risks (again, making the notion of deterrence ridiculous).
To add insult to stupidity, apparently in some countries these “crimes” are also tried differently.
Rights groups point to a high proportion of foreigners sentenced to death for drug offences in some countries and also question the fairness of trials for drug crimes, pointing to the fact that in some countries drug cases are referred to special courts where accepted standards of fair trial may not be met.
The specific legal paragraph of Malaysian law under which Goradze and Kokthashvili have been charged breaks international legal standards as it assumes the defendant is guilty unless they can prove their own innocence, according to Amnesty International.
So where is the international community on this? Well of course, organizations like Amnesty International and the International Harm Reduction Association are doing their best to get the word out.
But the lead international body has been complicit even as it mouths objections.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has also said it is opposed to the death penalty for drugs crimes.
The UNODC has made that statement several times, but never with authority or conviction. It regularly bullies countries into being tougher on drug offenses and then when there is some negative press about executions, they dutifully express their opposition. If i was one of those countries, I swear I would be able to see the UNODC wink at the end.
A report by IHRA released earlier this year also showed how abolitionist states helping fund efforts to battle the international drug trade are, in some cases, actually helping bring about executions for drug crimes.
The group cited case studies where such programmes supported by UNODC and funded by, among others, the European Union and states such as Sweden, Australia, and the UK had ended in the execution of convicts. […]
Rights groups argue that there is now a question mark over international organisations’ complicity in subsequent human rights violations when these operations are carried out and that all similar drug enforcement projects must be closely examined prior to funding.
Recently, there has been some favorable movement in the international arena as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, whose mandate is derived from the UN Human Rights Council, issued a report dramatically challenging the drug war as it is being waged internationally right now in terms of its violation of basic human rights (full report available here and it’s worth reading).
The current international system of drug control has focused on creating a drugfree world, almost exclusively through use of law enforcement policies and criminal sanctions. Mounting evidence, however, suggests this approach has failed, primarily because it does not acknowledge the realities of drug use and dependence. […]
The primary goal of the international drug control regime, as set forth in the preamble of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), is the â€œhealth and welfare of mankindâ€, but the current approach to controlling drug use and possession works against that aim. […]
Currently, there is a lack of coordination and discussion between the actors involved in drug control and human rights at the international level. Law enforcement approaches are ingrained institutionally in the international drug control regime, as drug control is housed within UNODC, which leads the United Nations efforts on organized crime. This association between law enforcement and drug control, in part, precludes adoption of a human rights-based approach and interaction with the human rights bodies of the United Nations.
As you can see, this isn’t specifically about the use of the death penalty in drug offenses, but rather the larger human rights picture â€” the philosophy of dealing with drug policy â€” which demands a radical shift, where things such as the complicity of the UNODC with state executions would simply no longer exist.
Interestingly, the UNODC and INCB (International Narcotics Control Board) recently issued a joint statement to respond to the UN Special Rapporteur report. They addressed none of the concerns, but merely re-stated their belief that what they do works.
The international drug control mechanisms were to set up to protect human health by preventing drug abuse and drug dependence and ensuring access to drugs for medical and scientific purposes. These control measures, which have been developed over the last 100 years with the consensus of Member States, have protected millions of people from falling into addiction to drugs. The present drug control system has been successful at the international level in preventing diversion of drugs from licit channels to illicit uses.
Law enforcement and criminal sanctions play a key role in enforcing these drug prevention conventions and strategies, targeting principally the organized crime groups making profit out of the misery of millions. Such enforcement measures however should be part of a balanced approach to tackling both supply and demand issues.