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The UN Might Spend Millions on Iran's Drug Program Even Though Offenders Are Being Executed

At least 141 people were hanged for drug offenses in Iran in the first two months of 2015 alone, human rights campaigners say. Now it might sign a multi-million dollar deal with the UN.

by Ben Bryant
Mar 19 2015, 5:31pm

Iran is in line to receive a multimillion-dollar, five-year funding package from the United Nations, in spite of zero-tolerance drugs laws that have seen at least 141 drug offenders hanged in the first two months of 2015, according to death penalty abolition campaigners Reprieve.

Funds from European states could contribute to training, border posts, and equipment for Iran's uncompromising anti-drug police, however, if a deal with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is finalized, say Reprieve. 

Meanwhile, UNODC's own humans rights guidance states that a temporary freeze on funding is required after continued executions for drug-related offenses and serious cases of rights violations.

On a trip to Iran in February, however, UNODC chief Yury Fedotov commended its drug program, stating: "No country can compete with Iran when it comes to the amount of narcotics discovered and seized." He said that the deal would be completed "in the next two months."

Related: Global drug policy is still deadly and ineffective. Read more here. 

David Dadge, a UNODC spokesman, told the Guardian on Thursday that the funding would be used for "strengthening the capacities to interdict the illicit drugs," but added that "the country partnership program also has a very strong social component. The focus is on prevention and treatment and that's got the support of numerous NGOs as well." 

When contacted by VICE News, Dadge stated that he had no further comment on the issue at the current time.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve's death penalty team, pointed out in a statement that the UN has responded to the execution of more than 100 people on drug offenses by "praising the efficiency of the Iranian drug police and lining them up a generous five-year funding deal."

'This is a costly and untenable hypocrisy.'

She continued: "The lion's share of this funding is set to come from European governments, who continue to condemn the death penalty while funding drug raids where those caught are hanged from cranes in public." 

Foa concluded that: "This is a costly and untenable hypocrisy, and the time has come for European countries to make their counternarcotics assistance strictly conditional on the states which receive it abolishing the death penalty for drug offenses."

UNODC has not revealed which countries will be contributing to the new aid package. The UK, Denmark and Ireland have stopped funding the campaign in light of human rights concerns, but countries including France and Norway continue to contribute, according to Reprieve.

Related: Inside the British study where volunteers mainline LSD. Read more here.

News of the deal comes just weeks after Iran's interior minister reportedly said that drug traffickers should be shown no pity. "Drug traffickers must be hanged and the judiciary should not have any mercy in dealing with these individuals," Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said, according to state-run news agency Tasnim.

Fazli also alleged that $3 billion of drug money has entered Iranian politics — the equivalent of two thirds of the country's developmental budget. "Without a doubt, some of the dirty money from the smuggling of illegal drugs enters the political field, the elections and the transfer of power," he said.

Iran lies at the center of one of the world's busiest drug routes. UNODC figures show an estimated 105 tons of heroin crosses the border annually from Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer, to the Middle East and into Europe, and 74 percent of the world's opium seizures happen in Iran. 

Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant