The European Union has been urged to urgently clarify whether it is helping to fund Iranian anti-narcotics programmes linked to mass executions.
In a letter seen by The Independent, human rights charity Reprieve raises concerns that as part of a “new page” in EU-Iran relations announced earlier this year, the EU and member states could be actively seeking to fund UN programmes linked to support for Iran’s drug police – a body responsible for hundreds of executions in the country.
Reprieve has called for “urgent clarification of the European Commission’s policy on funding counter-narcotics operations in Iran”, following “deeply concerning” reports in the Iranian media that a senior official in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the EU was actively seeking to provide support for Iranian drug enforcement operations.
The letter, addressed to EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini and co-signed by NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Iran Human Rights, cites a report in the Iran Daily stating a UNODC official named Alex P Schmid confirmed “the European Union has positive evaluation of Iran’s performance in the anti-narcotics fight,” and the “European Commission is eager to earmark new funds to Iran for the purpose”.
He reportedly added: “Countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway are ready to allocate the credit to Iran.”
The majority of these executions are linked to drug trafficking and non-lethal drugs offences.
According to Reprieve, in 2014 the Iranian government executed 474 drug offenders, in 2015 682 drugs offenders were hanged and around 189 drug offenders had been hanged as of September 2016.
Despite these statistics, the deputy head of the judiciary, Mohammad Bagher Olfat, said in August that the death penalty had not had a “dissuasive effect” on drug trafficking through Iran, which is one of the main routes for Afghan heroin heading for Europe.
The EU is the second largest donor to the UNODC, spending more than €2 million (£1.6 million) on the law enforcement arm of UNODC’s 2010-15 regional programme for “Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries” – an initiative alleged to support the activities of the Iranian drug police, according to reports from Reprieve.
“Counter-narcotics support programmes in Iran risk enabling death sentences by urging Iranian drug police to demonstrate increased arrests, higher conviction rates, and larger seizure sizes – all of which end up encouraging capital convictions in a judicial system that fails to meet the minimum standards of due process and where the death penalty is one of the required punishments for seizures of more than 30g of illegal drugs,” the letter reads.
A draft resolution by the European Parliament published in October called on the European Commission to “ensure that any technical or other assistance offered to Iran is not used to commit human rights violations”.
The EU’s 28 member states made a joint statement to the UN General Assembly in April confirming that “imposing the death penalty for drug offences is against the norms of international law”.
During the same month, Ms Mogherini visited Iran to announce the EU and Iran had “turned a new page” in their diplomatic relations, but also said "it is not a secret we have some concerns" over the question of human rights in Iran.
Countries including the UK, Italy, Germany and Austria have previously indicated they will not contribute to Iranian counter-narcotics programmes overseen by the UNODC.
Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “Iran continues to hang hundreds of alleged non-violent drug offenders every year in a brutal and ineffective war on drugs. In light of these abuses, many national Governments across Europe have refused to provide support for Iran’s anti-narcotics efforts – rightly acknowledging that this would put them at risk of complicity in the country’s execution spree.
“Given many member states' refusal to fund such raids, and the EU’s clear and categorical opposition to the death penalty, it would be hypocritical and unacceptable for the EU to provide support to Iran’s execution machine. The EU should urgently disavow comments by the UN drugs agency that it is willing to do just that”.
An EU spokesperson said: “We do not comment on comments neither on reported comments. No decisions on new funding have been taken on the matter. We are in a stage of launching a dialogue with the Iranian authorities. Any EU-Iran cooperation on the fight against drugs is done in a manner fully consistent with the respect of human rights."
The UNODC declined to comment and said they were not able to verify the Iranian media reports.
The Independent has contacted the Iranian Embassy for comment.
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