KMMK-G Statement on the Drug trafficking and the death penalty: Fight trafficking without funding States that execute During the Fifth World Congress Against the Death Penalty Madrid, from 12th to 15th of June 2013

KMMK-G Statement on the Drug trafficking and the death penalty: Fight trafficking without funding States that execute

During the Fifth World Congress Against the Death Penalty  Madrid, from 12th to 15th of June 2013

The Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva (KMMK-G) would like to draw the attention of the Congress on the question of drug use as a tool of repression and political control by the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), resulting in the death penalty for persons accused of being drug offenses.  Iran is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country composed mainly of Persians, Kurds, Baluchis, Azerbaijanis, Turkmens and Ahwazi-Arabs. However only the Persian-Shiite group holds currently the State power and Article 1 of the IRI’s Constitution declares the Twelver Shi’a School of Islam as the formal religion of the State. According to UN Human Rights Committee and various credible NGOs reports, most of the public executions for drug issues are taking place in minority’s areas in Iran and the victims are members of ethnic minorities.

The context of Iran’s drug problems

The Islamic Republic of Iran has seen a sharp increase in the number of drug addicts in the last three decades.  Out of a population of 70 million people between 3.5 and 4 million are allegedly drug users-primarily of opium and heroin and, according to Mr. Moghaddam, the head of Iran’s anti-narcotics agency, every year more than 130, 000 persons become addicted.  More than 75% of the hangings in Iran are related to drug offenses, although the Iranian government does not provide statistics. The latest serious comprehensive study on drug abuse taking into consideration, the age, ethnicity, religious and the geographical dimension of the drug users in Iran, was concluded in 1976 during the former Monarchy regime which showed that virtually:  “All of the drug addicts were Shiite Moslems with a significantly larger minority of unregistered abusers being ethnic Turks.”  Under the Monarchy regime, the number of opium addicts was estimated at from 200,000 to 500,000 and the median age of drug addicts was between ages55-64 and the major substance was opium. Today, however, Iran has the world’s worst heroin problem and 80% of the drug users today are under 30 years old.

The 1979 Islamic revolution marked a new Islamic social order and a fundamental break in the approach to drug issue. Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of Iran’s 1979 revolution, blamed Iran’s drug use on the decadence of the West. Consequently, he ordered the end of all rehabilitation and drug maintenance programs and adopted a new policy: henceforth, drug users were perceived and framed as “deviants”, “danger”, “significant other” to the Islamic social order, and as evidence of “foreign conspiracies”, as well as a threat to the “national security.” The theorization of drug issue as foreign conspiracy, the securitization and criminalization of drug offenders have led to the incarceration and execution of thousands of drug users. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979 “over 10’000 drug users and dealers have been executed; many of them hanged in public in a Foucault display of state sovereignty.

Drug issue as a tool of repression and political control

The Iranian authority use drug issue to enforce its rule and repress ethnic nationalities and the members of opposition groups. Whenever it faces escalating crises, internally or externally, new and harsher laws against drugs and addicts are adopted and public hangings of members of ethnic nationalities increase dramatically. The following periods of hangings and drug laws illustrate this policy.

The 1979 revolution period and the start of Iran-Iraq war

In May 1980, Ayatullah Sadegh Khalkhali, the notorious revolutionary “hanging judge” in Tehran, became the head of the anti-narcotics campaign and was put in charge of the “purification” of drug users, leading to hundreds of executions. These efforts were undertaken simultaneously with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war (1980) and the “cultural revolution” of 1980-83.

The end of Iran-Iraq war in 1988

After the ceasefire between Iraq and Iran in 1988, there was a massive increase of execution of drug users. Punishment for drug use and dealing were reinforced in October 1988, when the Assembly for Discerning the Interests of the System of the Islamic Republic issued a decree enforcing the death penalty for possession of 30 gr. of heroin and 5 gr. of opium.  At that time the National Drug Headquarters, which monitors all drug-related policies, was established. In the period between January and July of 1989, nine hundred drug offenders were executed under the new law.  Furthermore, the hangings of drug users followed closely the 1988 wave of executions of political prisoners.

These crackdowns and repression on drug users, as well as opposition activists– especially the members of ethnic minorities –were legitimized with references to both moral depravation and national security.

Ahmadinezhad’s re-election’s period

The period before and after (2008-2011) the contested re-election of Ahmadinezhad, has also seen an increase of public hangings. This was also followed by a reinforcement of the law on drug use. As Christensen put: “Iran’s drug crises bring together a number of disparate policies, discourses and governmental actors, conducting what Foucault would call a strategic control of the population.”  This, of course, has had substantial negative impacts in regards to the affected minority groups. According to Human Rights Watch 70 % of executions in 2011 were drug-related.

However, The Iranian leaders not only use internally the drug issue to repress the political activists and the minorities, but they also use it internationally, to seek collaboration of Western countries and the UN, as they are aware of the potential benefits of this. For instance, it was through the drug discourse that president Khatami launched the “dialogue between civilizations” during the opening of an office of UNODC in Tehran in 2008.  Furthermore, the “securitization” of drug issue has been used as a venue for dialogue with the West by the regim, irrespective of the fact that the Iranian authorities, in their public discourses blame Western countries and, most absurdly, the “Zionists” Jews for their supposed involvement in the spread of drugs in Iran.  For instance, in June 25th 2012, during an international and UN anti-drug conference in Tehran, the Iranian Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi stated that the “Talmud”, (a sacred text of Judaism), was responsible for the spread of illegal drugs around the world. Once again the Iranian authorities use on anti-Semitism to defend themselves and to draw the attention on external factors in order to make others responsible for the problems faced by the country and its population.

UN & International Community aid to Iran’s drug policy

Internationally, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a party to the 1998 United Nation Drug Convention and it benefits from UN and international mechanisms and instruments to combat drug trafficking. Currently, Iran is benefiting from a program sponsored by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) and the European Union presidency.  Despite the criminalization of the drug addicts and the multiple programs supported by the international community to fight against drug problem, the above mentioned statistics show that the drug victims increase dramatically since the last three decades of the rule of Islamic Republic of Iran.

Regarding the international and UN aid to Iran, according to OCDE, the Iranian government has received USD 556.3 million of international financial aid between 2007 and 2011. It is also important to highlight that under the Islamic Republic of Iran’s regulation on civil society, receiving any financial aid from foreigners are strictly prohibited and all the foreign aid should be delivered through governmental channel.

The international community’s aid to Iran’s drug fighting policy through governmental channels is problematic and doesn’t reach the victims due to a complex and opaque system of governance of the country. For instance, in Iran, it is not the Ministry of Health or Social Welfare Organization that makes laws and guides lines about drug but the (markaz-e mobareeh ba mavad-e mokhader) the Center for Fighting Against the Drugs.  The main aim of this drug Watch-dog is to make policies, to adopt budget to fight drugs trafficking but not to treat the victims.

Some human rights advocates NGOs consider that the UN and International community’s aid to Iran  violates the humanitarian principles which are to alleviate human suffering due to  Iran’s repressive policy of execution and imprisonment of drug addicts and the targeting of ethnic nationalities. Significantly, according to UN Human Rights Committee and various credible NGOs reports, most of the public executions for drug issues are taking place in minority’s areas in Iran and the victims are members of ethnic minorities.

In sum, the former Monarchy regime, by endorsing the drug issue with the emphasis put on a massive drug maintenance program, rehabilitation, law enforcement and research efforts,  reduced the opium addicts from an estimated number of four millions people to an estimated number between 200,000 to 500,000 by 1976.

The current government endorses a repressive policy and regards the drug issue as a security issue, targeting primarily ethnic minorities ‘’ especially the Kurdish ethnic nationality.

To conclude Iran’s drug policy and approach which allows the execution of drug offenders constitutes an undeniable violation of international law particularly Article 6 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on the right to life to which Iran is a treaty party to. The international community must respond to this situation as one of the worst abuses of the death penalty, especially with it focus on oppressing the ethnic national communities such as the Kurdish people.

Taimoor Aliassi

UN Representative of the Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva (KMMK-G)

The Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva (KMMK-G)

Madrid, June 14th, 2013

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