The Death Penalty, Drug Offenses, and International Responsibility

IPS News

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 “health and welfare of mankind”, 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 — the philosophy of dealing with drug policy — 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.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to The Death Penalty, Drug Offenses, and International Responsibility

  1. Shaleen says:

    “You’re talking about a profession where people accept a risk of being murdered, execution-style, as an occupational hazard. How is a mandatory minimum sentence going to deter a person who already accepts the risk of being shot and having their body dumped in a car?”
    David Bratzer, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

    Applies to the death penalty too

  2. darkcycle says:

    Look, this is a little off (not all that much, really)topic, but if you want a look at the grand plan they have in mind for the drug war, grab a copy of the “the Encyclopedia of witchcraft and Demonology”, by Russel Hope Robbins, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
    It is an encyclopedic look at the entire 600 year history of the witch hysteria.
    It’s a can’t put it down read. It has everything, the origins, the methods, the significant trials and witch hunters. A partial list of victims of the witch trials. Statistics, psychological analysis of the times and the societies. Descriptions of demons, possessions, exorcisms, And lots and lots of witch-burning….I mean lots.
    In short the parallels with the drug war are frightening, and it’s message, unfortunately, won’t give you much hope. The delusion of the witch trials lasted 600 years.
    It reads like it was “Pete Guither’s Witch-war-rant”.

  3. darkcycle says:

    How’s that for a compliment Eh Pete? I just compared your literary achievements to a Fellow of the Royal Society!…someone should tell her majesty, you need a knighthood…

  4. kaptinemo says:

    With the latest round of economic downturns, it’s going to become harder and harder, domestically and internationally, to maintain the facade of ‘public safety’ as a reason for Draconian drug laws when much larger, actual threats to that same ‘public safety’ (such as unemployment and all the attendant miseries of same) begin to make their impact felt in the halls of government.

    Already, angry sentiments amongst the taxpayers of various countries at the austerity measures proposed by their respective governments are manifesting into mass demonstrations and civil unrest around the planet. How much longer before those same taxpayers demand cuts in non-life-support programs – like drug prohibition – to pay for badly needed social safety net initiatives begin to be heard?

    More importantly, how much longer before that starts to happen here, at Ground Zero for drug prohibition? The rest of the world dances to Uncle’s tune when it comes to that…or did, before we began to lose our economic clout.

    Interesting times ahead. “Interesting’, that is, in the ‘Chinese’ sense. (Ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”, like war, plague, famine, etc.)

  5. darkcycle says:

    Interesting times indeed. Wait for the effects of peak petroleum to be felt….

  6. chris says:

    And yet this issue is still viewed as “people just want to legalize drugs so they can get high”. There is so much more to it that, so many deeper issues that people just ignore or pretend aren’t a problem.

  7. kaptinemo says:

    Chris, that’s always been the ‘popular’ understanding of the issue.

    It takes someone who is either a scholar, undaunted by ‘conventional wisdom’, to actually research the matter – or someone who’s survived being mauled by the prohibition beast and wants to know how something marketed as being so (A-hem!)’compassionate’ in orientation can have such blood-dripping claws and fangs – to truly apply the effort needed to get at the truth.

  8. chuck says:

    darkcycle, if you think oil will be an interesting resource when it runs out (which it will), just think what fun we will have fighting over fresh water.

  9. Jake says:

    I read that joint statement from the UNODC/INCB and this line really irritated me:

    “The present drug control system has been successful at the international level in preventing diversion of drugs from licit channels to illicit uses.”

    In their statement that is the only success they tout… so it has been unsuccessful in just about every other metric – but don’t mention legalisation & regulation as an alternative as ‘drugs’ “still remain highly addictive and damaging for human health”, except, you know, alcohol and tobacco as their damage is fine… I think it is the level of hypocrisy that annoys me more than anything else..

    It still surprises me sometimes just how blatantly parts of the UN convention on human rights can be ignored under ‘special circumstances’..

  10. Bruce says:

    Monsanto and pharma come to mind. Wherever big money and lobbying go, doom follows.

  11. darkcycle says:

    Successful in preventing diversion. My anus. I live by the Lummi Reservation. There is enough illicit Oxycontin on the Rez to send all of New York City to the E.R.

  12. darkcycle says:

    Yeah, Natural gas is the primary souce of fertilizer for industrial Ag….Isn’t it wonderful and neat that all of this is roughly timed to coincide in about twenty years or so? Alot of us will be around to enjoy our new utopia together, too. [HEAVY sarcasm]

  13. DdC says:

    OT Too little too late…

    Smoke Pot? Schwarzenegger Says, Who Cares?
    Tuesday Nov 9
    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said no one cares if you smoke a joint. The Hollywood actor-turned-governor signed a law five weeks ago that made possession of up to an ounce of marijuana the equivalent of a traffic ticket.


  14. Duncan20903 says:

    And yet this issue is still viewed as “people just want to legalize drugs so they can get high”.

    Actually that is the entire problem in a nutshell. There are a significant number of clueless people who actally belive they’re succeeding in keeping people from getting high. The entire premise of their argument in favor of the drug war falls apart if they acknowledge that we’re actually getting high, and suffering only minor inconvenience from their beloved war on (some) drugs.

    It’s easy to see their problem, the trouble is getting them to see it, that’s damn near impossible as this popular picture of a person in favor of prohibition aptly demonstrates:×277.jpg
    It seems the guy who played Eddie Munster on the TV is checking into rehab and claiming addiction to cannabis among other substances. After rehab he intends to resume production of his reality program called Life’s a Butch.
    Until recently I had thought the advancement of DNA testing had all but obviated the risk of unjust incarceration or the death penalty. About a month ago I read of a man, I think in Texas, who was given the death penalty (not yet executed) but has been cleared by DNA testing not available at the time of his arrest. Still, the prosecutors are doing everything they can think of to get this guy executed. Innocence is no excuse for breaking the law! uhhh….what the heck?

    Frankly I’m against the death penalty because I’d rather those that commit heinous crimes be kept alive and actually penalized. When they first came up with the idea people believed that the criminal was going to end up in Hell and suffer far more than anything we could impose. Lake of fire and all that Big Fairy Tale nonsense. I’m even against the idea of no parole eligibility for these criminals. Frankly I’d like them to get a hearing every year to get their hopes up then deny their application and say, oh, maybe next year, you’re really, really, close to getting paroled, year after year after year. That’s probably not very practical because parole board’s standards can change with the finances of their jurisdiction. But in my Utopia that’s how such heinous felons would be penalized.

    Give me the choice of death or life in prison and I’ll take the death penalty every day of the year because it’s the easy way out.

    But it is amazing how many people think that the death penalty for drug vending would stop people from getting high yet never explain why jurisdictions that impose that penalty on drug dealers never seem to run out of people to execute.

  15. claygooding says:

    It almost makes one want to quit telling people how beneficial and great pot is,because some of those stupid
    people will get to try it.

  16. ezrydn says:

    One of the arguments we heard a lot of recently is that people can go into dispensaries, buy theie cannabis, go outside and resell it. I doubt it would be resold at “cost.” And after seeing the prices that dispensaries charge, I began to wonder, “How much can they afford to tack on to their costs for it to become worthwhile or profitable?” It would seem that there comes a point where additional charges wouldn’t hold.

    Has this caught anyone else’s attention? From dispensary to parking lot, how much can you add to meet a profit standard and make it worthwhile?

    I started thinking about this after listening to Ron Allen who keeps bringing it up.

  17. Jon Doe says:

    ezrydn: From what I understand, the situation you describe only happens when dispensaries attempt to sell below street price.

  18. permanentilt says:

    On a side note ARIZONA PROP 203 HAS TAKEN THE LEAD BY 4,400 VOTES!!!!!!!

  19. So tired of... says:

    Its a sick world we live in. People are murdered for having a health problem. Those in positions of power act as though they are helping by doing this… compassionate….
    they tie a boulder to you, throw you in a lake. If you drown , you were innocent. If you live your a witch…
    ….burn all witches, indeed…thats compassion for mankind.

  20. Duncan20903 says:

    Monsanto and pharma come to mind. Wherever big money and lobbying go, doom follows.

    Yeah what he said. All those two dirtballs organizations have accomplished is to make obtaining food about 3% of our time. Back in the middle ages people worked about 60% of their output just to pay for their food. They also didn’t have many fat people back then. god almighty have you seen those hippopotamus who shop at Wal-Mart and drive around on those little electric carts Wal-Mart provides to attract the morbidly obese as customers?

    Then there’s the pharmas, all they’ve done is to add around 30 years to the average life span of people. Who the heck wants to drag it out for 3 extra decades? It’s not like 70 year old people get laid. When you look at it, life’s a piece of shit. We really do need to look at the bright side of death. I’d already be a long time dead if it wasn’t for the development of penicillin. Do you know how much money its cost for me to still be alive when I could be pushing up daisies for well over 4 decades? Then there’s all that emotional turmoil that my sainted mother endures when I was in puberty. She could have been past any involuntary grief caused by my death at 5 for a decade. But those damn pharma companies kept me alive and my mother suffered the consequences for their dastardly deed. There also would likely be no real controversy over so called abortion rights if we still had a healthy rate of infant mortality. Are you aware that these dirt balls have helped bring that down to less than 1% from as high as 30% at the turn of the 20th century? A good percentage of those are children that would have been called stillborn back when we had a respectably high level of infant mortality. We can find almost all of these children suckling at the government teat or acting as anchors for procedurally deficient immigrants (or both!) because it wasn’t white people that were suffering huge rates of infant morality.

    The happiest people in the world are in a tribe of aborigines called the Pirahã, in the Amazon basin. They don’t have any problem with morbid obesity because they still spend 60% of their day working their ass off to get enough food to just survive. There’s no argument about assisted suicide because they haven’t had their life spans increased by the greedy pharmaceutical companies who’s only motivation for keeping people alive is to pad their bottom line with all the extra drugs the elderly are forced to buy because of their insane desire to stay alive for another couple of years. It’s all about greed, simple as that. Well sooner or later we all have to embrace death. It just doesn’t make any sense to delay the inevitable. 500 years from now no one will care if you died at 5 months old, or age 5, age 50, or even age 100. Well I guess it’s possible that they’ll care if you make it to age 500 and technically it still hasn’t been proven that everyone is going to die. Shucks,they didn’t even get started on comprehensively getting a birth certificate for every child until a few decades ago. How the heck can you cross reference death certificates with birth certificates to prove that theory until everyone has a birth certificate?

    Heck, when I was growing up my mother used to say that if a man ever carried a baby to term that he’d be rich. Now that we have a guy that’s done it twice I guess mom was wrong about that. Sheesh, I wasn’t even aware of the guy before I saw him on TV pregnant with his second, so his first was obviously no big deal to people.

    I must say I think Mark Kleiman is going to pull a Tashkin on us and move to our side of the table. No, he desperately doesn’t want to but neither did Dr Tashkin. Only time will tell but I fully believe that Mr. Kleiman has a hardcore truth fetish and won’t be able to stop himself, though he will need a couple of truckloads of information. How long did Dr Tashkin serve as the ONDCP’s lackey, about 20 years right? Time will tell.

  21. darkcycle says:

    Duncan, your just plain wrong about pharma and infant mortality rates and the whole shebang. I’m not gonna get into a debate with you, but the reason our AVERAGE lifespan has increased thirty years is BECAUSE our infant mortality rate dropped. In any average (the average age, in this case)values at either far end of the spectrum have a disproportionate effect on the mean. Pharma’s miracle cures and heart drugs did almost nothing to that number. It was the large number of children who died in the first year of life that drove that number down. So raise the infant mortality rate back to it’s former number, and your precious average age drops from 73 for women and 70 for men right back down to the mid forties. A certain percentage of people back then lived to eighty, a hundred years old, but most people who made it past infancy and avoided crippling childhood diseases, died around sixty to seventy. Just like now. Another factor that had a decent influence was the advent of labor laws. Believe it or not, when it became illegal to work people to death, and/or subject them to hazardous workplace environments, the average life expectancy went up a measurable notch.
    In a previous post I mentioned peak oil. Google it and find out whats going to happen to that industrial agriculture you tout in twenty years.

  22. Duncan20903 says:

    darkcycle, I find it difficult to believe that the problem with oxycodone is caused by diversion. I think there’s a boatload going out the back door to be sold into the black market. I also did believe that before the company that produces Oxycontin got a felony conviction and fined almost a $billion specifically for doing exactly that. Of course that happening didn’t help a bit with my confirmation bias problem. (OK everyone should know that oxycodone is the generic name, and Oxycontin is a registered trademark. If you didn’t, now you do.
    ezrydn, we are talking about California, right? More likely than not it’s youngsters splitting a bag which haven’t we all done that when we were still enjoying youthful indiscretions? Oh, it wouldn’t be a good idea to let the dispensary staff see you doing it if you ever want to get your cannabis from them. From everything I read the dispensaries are higher cost than the black market and they charge sales and use tax as well. But they still offer a discount on a full ounce. If you hear someone who is outraged because the dispensaries charge $xxx.xx per ounce that figure is almost always the price of an 1/8 x 8. From time to time a particularly brain dead specimen will multiply the price of a gram x 28.4. Never in my life have I ever had occasion to meet a black market vendor who thought that an ounce had more than 28 grams. It’s always the top shelf product as well. If you ever do find yourself in a California dispensary and want to save some money, ask what they have with ‘limited bag appeal.’ People are nucking futz, they’ll pay through the nose for pot that looks good in a bag, but those tiny little popcorn buds are identical to the donkey dicks as far as potency. Oh and the really, really beautiful stuff comes with a huge piece of lumber to hold it all together. You get to pay for that as well. Plus sales tax! But you can find plenty of grower direct cannabis on Craigslist so if you are interested in making a profit that’s the place to buy. Quite frankly I’m almost certain that those accusations are spun from whole cloth by the Know Nothings, or at least of molehill to mountain style rhetoric about a few isolated events. It’s the same logic that we argue that underaged children are less likely to get ahold of drinking alcohol because those with liquor licenses know they’ll be penalized, perhaps even run out of business if they’re caught doing so. But in the case of dispensaries they’d actually be committing a conspiracy to distribute a schedule 1 drug.That would be the theory that the Feds could use to indict the dispensary operators and for all of the Federal piling on I don’t recall hearing about an actual bust involving diversion around the dispensary premises.

    The Know Nothings have made several bales of hay out of LA’s closing a substantial number of dispensaries. Well now it seems likely that they’re going to let 140 some open back up.

  23. Duncan20903 says:

    Umm yeah if you want to get technical the vast majority of the increase in life expectancy is from the lowered infant mortality. Shoot you might have even possibly picked that up from one of my posts because it’s one of my favorite memes when I’m ridiculing the Know Nothing claim of a vast increase in the potency potency of cannabis in the recent past.

    So you don’t think that the pharmas had anything to do with that decrease in infant mortality? Did you notice that I mentioned stillborn babies of 1900 being kept alive today, but still having a substantial likelihood of dying? That gets them included in modern infant mortality rates but in 1900 they wouldn’t have been included.

    Hey, outlawing duels and figuring out how to go to war but losing only a few thousand soldiers helped a lot there. Then there was that disinfectant guy, Dr. Joseph Lister. Oops, that guy did his work in 1865.

    but in 1865 he learned of Louis Pasteur’s theory that microorganisms cause infection. Using phenol as an antiseptic, Lister reduced mortality in his ward to 15% within four years

    Peak oil schmeek oil, we’ve got hemp and a goddam boatload of natural gas. Yeah, oil companies will go the way of the newspaper publishers. Oh OK I’m jumping the gun, they’re not dead yet.

    Well, not dead yet made me recall this historic re-enactment of a witch trial that occurred in the middle ages. Since it’s been a topic of discussion I’ll post a link.

  24. darkcycle says:

    No, Duncan I learned that fact way back as an undergraduate. Thirty-something years ago.
    Pharma is not your friend. And Gas found is not gas retrieved. Never mind that with Global Warming, gas isn’t an option anyway.
    And with gas it’s only a matter of price and demand before the supplies we are using to fertilize our crops become too expensive to use economically for that purpose. As gas gets used more for electricity generation and transportation, boom, there goes your price and bang, there goes any surplus. And all the estimates from the gas companies (I suspect you got that stuff from them) dishonestly project use as flat, or rising only slowly. And there’s the storage and transportation costs of gas, which needs to be liquefied at a huge energy cost itself to be economically moved by container….the damage to ground water supplies…and on and on..
    But it’s food availability and cost that will be the first casualty of the fuel crisis. We’re ‘Merkuns. We’ll make sure there’s fuel for our cars and our toys before we start to worry about feeding people.

  25. Duncan20903 says:

    Ah well I guess we’ll have to wait and see, My motto remains “Pave the planet. One world, One People, One slab of concrete”

  26. darkcycle says:

    WAIT AND SEE. We can do something about it now and avoid the whole mess, don’t ‘ya think it would be prudent to prepare JUST IN CASE we’re really that fucked? We prepare for earthquakes, floods, we buy insurance to cover some of the most absurdly unlikely scenarios…..and for something of this potential gravity we “wait and see”?
    Tell ya what, I ain’t waitin’ to see, neither are most of my educated cohort….I just bought fifteen acres of mountainside property. Water by well, no power, no sewer, and my neighbors are a geophysicist, and a senior electrical engineer who spent his career building the infrastructure he’s now betting will fail. We’ve (my wife and I) surveyed a foundation and are building a generator shack and ordering a wind turbine and solar panels so there’ll be no connection to the grid. Another friend of mine, who I’ve mentioned previously on this site has moved into a missile silo, along with his business and his foundation (yes, he’s that rich).
    Twenty years ago I was totally on board with ridiculing survivalists and their mentality. Now you’ll find a different breed in these parts, but with the same aim and armed with alarming facts instead of paranoid fantasies of U.N. soldiers and such..

  27. darkcycle says:

    As an aside, Tom , my geophysicist neighbor-to-be spends the Winter in Patagonia and/or Antarctica studying Volcanoes. He reports the weed in Antarctica is fantastic, and availability and price is great. And the only place that it is illegal there is the McMurdo American Research station. The Promised Land? I’m going to need more convincing….

Comments are closed.