Should the UN be funding Iran’s anti-drug programme?
News that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is finalising a new multimillion-pound funding package using a large portion of European donations to support Iran’s anti-narcotic programme has been met with widespread criticism from international human rights groups.
Statistics reported by the human rights group Reprieve that between 70 and 80 per cent of Iranian executions in the last five years alone were for drug offences, raises serious questions for a UN programme which sustains, and even allows, for the increasing frequency of harsh anti-drug policies and practices. What would be considered as minor- drug offences in Europe is awarded the death penalty in Iran and the country’s hard-line tactics directly contradict Europe’s collective ratification of protocols which ban capital punishment on the continent.
Support for the UNODC programme was notably withdrawn by Ireland in 2011 and Denmark in 2013, with the UK shortly following. Given Iran’s geographical position bordering Afghanistan, the world’s leading opium producer, tackling the region’s drug trafficking and consumption epidemic has long been a critical priority encouraged by European nations in order to stem the flow of drugs to their own territories. Yet Denmark and Ireland have shown great concern over Iran’s use of the death penalty which has warranted full withdrawal of their funding.
Referring to the action of Denmark and Ireland, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg stated: “I would like to reassure you that we no longer fund UNODC programmes in Iran because we have the exact same concerns.” And in light of this, evidence fails to deny the draconian actions employed by Iran’s anti-narcotics system whereby those arrested on suspicion of drug offences, no matter how small, are denied basic rights through proper judiciary trial and appeal.
UNODC executive director Yuri Fedotov stated in 2011 that Iran had “one of the world’s strongest counter-narcotics responses” and that its good practices “deserve the acknowledgement of the international community”.
Indeed supporting a country that has 1.2 million dependent drug users, a police force ravaged by drug-related killings, and soaring HIV rates, is without doubt a worthy destination for UN funding, but overlooking the abuse of power that runs in tandem with this battle casts a dark shadow over the organisation’s seemingly good intentions.
Perpetuating the implementation of laws, policies and practices that are clearly in violation of arrestees’ human rights widely contradicts UN efforts to uphold rights as it does in countless other ways around the world. As Rebecca Schleifer from Human Rights Watch stated: “Donors are effectively supporting prosecutions in a judicial and legal system that they themselves regard as unjust.”
Sharing the responsibility for tackling the international drug trade is highly commendable but stringent processes need to be demanded by all donors to ensure human rights are not sacrificed in this battle. The abolition of the death penalty and fair judicial processes seem to be the unquestionable requisite for any further funding, but whether all European donors will rally for this remains to be seen.