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The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation’s opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now two states want to use the drug’s powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.
As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country’s first fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.
States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions.
The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this s…

EU funds support Iran executions through UN programme

Hassan Rouhani
President H. Rouhani - Iran is the world’s second most prolific executioner.
Concerns been raised over European Union funding for a counter-narcotics programme in Iran that could lead to executions for drugs offences.

The EU, which is the second largest donor to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), has spent more than €2m on the law enforcement arm of UNODC’s 2010-15 regional programme for “Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries” – an initiative which supports the activities of the Iranian drug police. The EU has also failed to rule out further contributions to similar operations via a new US$20 million deal with Iran. The deal – which effectively doubles the UN-administered aid available for drug raids in Iran – has caused concern amid a surge in drug-related executions in the country.

The fears have been raised ahead of a visit next week to France and Italy by Iran's President Rouhani – the first such trip by an Iranian President in over a decade. According to reports, Mr Rouhani is set to meet political and business leaders during the visit, which begins on Tuesday 26th.

Iran is the world’s second most prolific executioner, and human rights organization Reprieve has established that in 2015, the Iranian authorities hanged over 600 prisoners on drugs charges. The UNODC project’s 2014 report lists among its successes the arrests of ten people in Iran, who are thought to have since been sentenced to death. Others known to have been executed on drugs charges in Iran include Jannat Mir, who was 15 when he was arrested.

Speaking last October to the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, President Rouhani claimed that “if we abolished the death penalty we would enhance [Afghan] drug trafficking up to the European countries and that would be dangerous for you." However, a recent UN evaluation of the UNODC’s Country Programme found that support for Iranian counter-narcotics operations had failed to meet its primary objective of stemming the flow of drugs through the country, acknowledging that “drug trafficking is not reducing.”

Commenting, Reprieve caseworker Dan Dolan said: “Iran’s execution rate has skyrocketed, with hundreds sent to the gallows on drugs charges. The EU has no legitimate defence for supporting this, and it should reject the absurd claim by Iran’s President Rouhani that these executions are somehow in Europe’s interests.

“If the EU is to maintain any credibility in opposing the death penalty, it should end this grievous misuse of taxpayers’ money, and freeze counter-narcotics funding to states which sentence drug offenders to death – whether that’s Iran, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia. It should also review all EU funding for law enforcement programmes overseen by the UN’s drugs agency, which has shown a complete disregard for human rights.” 

Source: Reprieve, January 19, 2016. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.
  • Information about the UN-Iran deal has appeared in the Iranian press (see here) and in public remarks by the UNODC’s Executive Director (see here). 
  • Details of President Rouhani's trip were reported by Reuters, here.
  • The recent evaluation of the UNODC's counter-narcotics programmes in Iran and Afghanistan is available here.
  • Background on the EU's relationship to the UNODC is available here.
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