UN finances Iran’s bloody ‘war on drugs’


iran_execution By Mosa Zahed This article was originally published on 27 January 2013 Iran’s bloody ‘war on drugs’ has led to hundreds of executions and thousands on death row. Yet the United Nations and the West continue to finance it. Iran is one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Their inhumane policies are met with worldwide condemnation, as their judiciary ignores international standards and humanitarian law. Yet little attention is paid to the fact that the United Nations and Western governments have helped finance the regimes bloody “war on drugs”, accounting for an untold number of executions in a country which lacks proper rule of law or judicial oversight. The war on drugs remains one of the pre-eminent conflicts in the world, requiring massive budgets, governmental bureaucracy and cross border cooperation. In a world of increasing globalisation, it is unthinkable for a central government to ignore the problems of its neighbours in tackling the drug trade. A transnational framework was needed for a global dilemma and thus the UN founded the United Nations Drug Control and the Center for International Crime Prevention (UNODC) in order to assist Member States in their struggle against illicit drugs and international crime. Up to 90% of the UNODC budget is provided through Member States, with the hope of combating the drug trade. However, recent reports in the media have indicated a controversial side of this UN drug control programme. The UK based Reprieve stated in its latest report that the “UK aid for Iran’s ‘war on drugs’ is helping to send hundreds of people to death row”. According to Reprieve.org “British aid provided to Iran’s counter-narcotics programmes, both bilaterally and via the UNODC amount to millions of pounds and includes night vision equipment, GPS and training for Iranian enforcement agencies”. The UK and Iran are both parties of the Paris Pact, which is an initiative of 55 counties launched in 2003 and aims to limit the flow of opiates from Afghanistan. Geographically, Iran is located on a key drug route between Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe. The initiative includes a programme, called ‘Triangular Initiative Program’ (TIP), which is focused on improving the cooperation among Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan on border management issues. The TIP is also sponsored by the UNODC. Disenfranchised and Poor Bear Brunt of Executions In an effort to curtail the major drug problem, the Iranian regime has carried out “a killing spree of staggering proportions” according to Amnesty International. Amnesty has found that since 2010, a wave of drug offence executions was taking place in Iran, involving secret mass executions. In 2011, the Iranian authorities executed 600 people, 81% for drug-related offences. To complicate matters, there have been ongoing reports that some political prisoners have been executed after being charged with drug related crimes in an effort to tarnish their names, or tie them to immoral activity. Amnesty reported that “in most cases executions have followed grossly unfair trials, and the families and lawyers of those accused have not often received little or no warning that executions were imminent”. The group argues in addition that “members of marginalised groups – including impoverished communities, ethnic minorities suffering discrimination, and foreign nations, particularly Afghans – are most at risk of execution for drugs offences”. Despite its record number of executions, the number of prisoners on death row continues to grow. It is estimated that as many as 4,000 Afghans alone await execution for drugs offences. There continues to be reports that individuals are executed without a trial and while some are executed while under the age of 18. Sistan Balochistan, Iran’s poorest province, is one of the focal points of the “war on drugs”. Ethnic Baloch who reside in the state face systematic discrimination in Iranian society, and many who live in poverty resort to smuggling in order to make a living. According to figures from Amnesty International, Iran executed at least 1,481 people from 2004 to 2009. The London-based International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons claiming that about 55 percent of these were ethnic Baloch. The organization claims that the Baloch population in Iran face the world’s highest number of death sentences in proportion to their population. Drug crimes and cases involving smuggling, are tried in the Revolutionary Court system- a special court that handles cases relating to national security. In 2011, the right of appeal was revoked for certain drug crimes, requiring that the case be appealed to the Prosecutor-General of Iran. Shaking hands covered in blood UNODC emphasizes on its official page that it “promotes the use of training manuals and the adoption of codes of conduct and standards and norms that aim to guarantee that the accused, the guilty and the victims can all rely on a criminal justice system that is fair and grounded on human rights values. It further argues that “strong rule of law will also instil confidence among citizens in the effectiveness of the courts and the humanness of the prisons”. In the Islamic Republic of Iran however, none of the above mentioned criteria or values have been upheld within the justice system. In fact, the Iranian authorities have systematically breached the right to judicial due process or impartiality for the past three decades by executing the ‘offenders’ without offering them the chance to defend themselves. Given the poor human rights record of the Iranian regime, it is not unreasonable to assume that Iranian citizens have no confidence whatsoever in the effectiveness of the courts, let alone the humaneness of the prisons. Despite these issues, European states such as Britain, France and Ireland gave the UNODC millions of pounds over the past six years in order to fund Iranian drugs projects. This has, statistically, led to more drug related arrests, but by no means indicates that drug trafficking has been reduced. Nawaz Hanif argues on Reprieve.org that “those who are arrested are very rarely those at the top of the chain of drug cartels; instead, vulnerable mules and innocent scapegoats end up paying the price for the criminal activity this aid is intended to combat. And they pay with their lives”. To add to the folly of partnering with the Iranian regime in the drug trade are accusations that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard itself has been linked to underground drug trade, profiting from the practice while using executions to terrorize the domestic population into submission and obedience. The Executive Director of the UNODC, the very same organisation that is ‘dedicated’ to promote a fair criminal justice system based on human rights values, praised Iran’s counter-narcotics work during a trip to the country in 2011. No mention was made of the lack of due process or the policies which make Iran second only to China in executions each year. Instead, the UNODC officially gave its blessing to the Iranian regime for carrying out the death penalty with the help of UNODC funds. Financing Death Iran leads the world in per capita execution rate, and the so called “war on drugs” is one of the main reasons. The practice of funding a regime that implements the death penalty at such a devastating rate, with little judicial oversight or transparency is outrageous and ineffective and should stop immediately. The fact that the UN and other western democracies are lending their financial support to this program is both shocking and disturbing. Though many Western countries are proud for having abolished the death penalty decades ago, their financial backing of Iran’s death row policies leaves their hands stained with the blood of the people of Iran, and enables one of the worst human rights offenders in the world to legitimize its inhumane programs and policies. International cooperation is a necessary part of a globalized world. A rational policy on the problem of illicit drugs should include a multinational effort that addresses issues of addiction, poverty, border security and cooperation. It should not seek to stem the drug trade by taking the lives of low level traffickers, many of whom come from regions with little economic opportunity, while ignoring those make substantial profits from the trade. It is time to end support for Iran’s blood bath. Iran has consistently defied the international community in many arena’s and has shown little interest in observing International humanitarian law. Surely there are more effective ways to fight the war on drugs than supporting Iran’s reign of terror against its own population.   Mosa Zahed is the founding director of the London based Middle East Forum for Development

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