THE DEATH PENALTY FOR DRUG OFFENCES: GLOBAL OVERVIEW 2022 (HARM REDUCTION INTERNATIONAL)
March 20, 2023:
As of December 2022, Harm Reduction International (HRI) recorded at least 285 executions for drug offences globally during the year, a 118% increase from 2021, and an 850% increase from 2020. (Source: Harm Reduction International)
Executions for drug offences are confirmed or assumed to have taken place in six countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, plus in China, North Korea and Vietnam - on which exact figures cannot be provided because of extreme opacity. Therefore, this figure is likely to reflect only a percentage of all drug-related executions worldwide. Confirmed death sentences for drug offences were also on the rise; with at least 303 people sentenced to death in 18 countries. This marks a 28% increase from 2021.
While more countries abolished the death penalty in 2022, the use of capital punishment for drug offences is going in a markedly different direction, impinging on the likelihood of achieving global abolition. Despite the adoption of a new UN General Assembly Resolution for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, with historic support from 125 countries (compared to 123 in 2020), known executions for drug offences are back to amounting to over 30% of all global executions - the highest recorded figures since 2017.
35 countries retain the death penalty for a range of drug offences worldwide. In 2022, drug-related executions were confirmed in four countries (China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Singapore). Executions are assumed to have been carried out in North Korea and Vietnam, but state secrecy and censorship in these countries does not enable confirmation of a minimum figure.
Two countries resumed drug-related executions after a short hiatus: Singapore, after a two-year pause, and Saudi Arabia, which reneged on its 2021 declaration of a moratorium on executions for non-violent offences.
Almost nine out of ten confirmed executions for drug offences took place in Iran.
303 death sentences for drug offences were confirmed in 18 countries (dozens more are likely). This represents a 28% increase in reported sentences from 2021.
At least 3700 people are currently on death row for drug offences in 19 countries.
As for drug-related executions in 2022, Iran carried out at least 252 (44% of total), Saudi Arabia at least 22 (15% of total); Singapore 11 (100% of total).
People who are marginalised, including because of their socioeconomic status, ethnicity, drug use, mental and/or intellectual disability, and nationality, continue to be disproportionately impacted by the death penalty for drug offences. For example, In Iran, 40% of those executed for drug offences identified as Baluchi. This ethnic group represents around 2% of the total population.
Two countries (Cuba and Sri Lanka) expanded the applicability of the death penalty for drug offences in law in 2022.
Harm Reduction International (HRI) is an NGO with Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.