UN drugs agency accused of contributing to rise in Saudi Arabia executions

Charity claims the UN has supported the Saudi authorities in making arrests on drugs offences – for which those convicted can face the death penalty

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The Independent Online

The UN’s drugs agency has been accused of contributing to Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented rate of state executions by helping the kingdom arrest offenders.

Under the Saudi justice system the most serious drugs offences remain punishable by the death penalty, and according to the legal charity Reprieve such convictions made up around half of the country’s 48 executions so far this year.

The charity, which represents the interests of people on death row all over the world, said documents from September 2013 showed the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had “agreed to cooperation with the [Saudi] General Directorate of Narcotics Control on drug control- related matters, including support to law enforcement efforts to combat illicit drug trafficking”.

Responding to Reprieve, the UNODC’s deputy executive director Aldo Lale-Demoz denied that the agency had “a programme of assistance on counter-narcotics law enforcement” with the Saudi government.

“Cooperation with Saudi Arabia is focused on technical assistance and capacity building in the many different thematic areas that full under UNODC’s mandate,” Lale-Demoz said.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said the UNODCs’ response failed to address many of the concerns raised in the charity’s original letter, which said “it appears all too likely… that the UNODC’s counter-narcotics support contribute[s] to increased numbers of executions.

She said: “2015 has seen Saudi Arabia carrying out executions at an alarming rate – around half of which appear to be for non-violent drugs offences.

“This must ring alarm bells for those supporting counter-narcotics policing in the Kingdom. The UNODC must stop helping countries like Saudi Arabia send ever greater numbers to the swordsman’s blade.”