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Is EU Funding Supporting Drug Executions in Iran?

According to The Independent, the Human Rights charity, Reprieve, raises concerns the EU and member states as part of a ‘new page’ in EU-Iran relations that was announced earlier this year, might be funding support for Iran’s drug police, a body responsible for hundreds of executions in the country, following deeply concerning” Iranian media reports that a senior official in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) claimed the EU is actively supporting Iranian drug enforcement operations. 

In a letter addressed to EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini and co-signed by NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Iran Human Rights, Reprieve called for urgent clarification of the European Commission’s policy on funding counter-narcotics operations in Iran”.  The letter cites a report in the Iran Daily, where Alex P. Schmid, UNODC official, stated 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 added,Countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway are ready to allocate the credit to Iran.” 

According to a report from the United Nations investigator, Ahmed Shaheed, an estimated 1,000 people were executed in Iran last year, but the unofficial number is believed to be higher. The majority of the executions are linked to drug trafficking and non-lethal drugs offenses. 

The Iranian government executed 474 drug offenders in 2014, 682 drugs offenders were hanged in 2015, and around 189 drug offenders had been hanged as of September 2016, according to Reprieve.  Despite such measures, Mohammad Bagher Olfat, the deputy head of the judiciary, said in August that the death penalty had not had a dissuasive effect” on drug trafficking through Iran, one of the main routes for Afghan heroin heading for Europe. 

Sims writes, “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.” 

Reprieve’s letter reads, 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 European Parliament’s draft resolution 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”, and the EU’s 28 member states made a joint statement to the UN General Assembly in April saying that imposing the death penalty for drug offences is against the norms of international law”.   

When Ms. Mogherini visited Iran to announce the EU and Iran had turned a new page” in their diplomatic relations, she also said “it is not a secret we have some concerns” over the question of human rights in Iran.  

The UK, Italy, Germany and Austria have previously indicated they will not contribute to Iranian counter-narcotics programmes overseen by the UNODC. 

A director at Reprieve, Maya Foa, 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.”  She added, 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.” 

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.” an EU spokesperson stated.  

The UNODC declined to comment, saying they were unable to verify the Iranian media reports.

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