10 October is the World Day Against the Death Penalty, a day when people around the world speak out together to condemn this punishment for what it is – a brutal sanction that violates the right to life.
More than half the world’s countries agree with them. But a minority of countries do not, going to great lengths to justify their continued use of it. Among the many justifications they use is that the death penalty deters drug trafficking.
But is the death penalty really the answer to drug crime – or any crime, in fact? Here are eight facts that should convince you it’s not.
1. Drug offences can still get you the death penalty in over 30 countries.
If you’re convicted of a drug-related offence, you face the death penalty in more than 30 countries around the world. A drug offence can include anything from trafficking heroin to being caught carrying a small amount of marijuana. So far in 2015, China, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Viet Nam have all sentenced people to death for drug-related crimes.
2. In some countries, if you are convicted of drug crime, the only sentence the judge can give you is death.
Death is the only legal punishment allowed for certain drug offences in several countries, including Iran, Malaysia and Singapore. In these countries, these offences carry what’s known as a mandatory death sentence. This means that judges can’t take the accused’s personal circumstances or anything else into consideration when making a decision (see Shahrul Izani’s case under Malaysia below).
3. You may be assumed guilty of drug trafficking, even if all that’s found on you are keys to a place containing drugs.
This year, in at least three countries: Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Singapore – people found with a certain amount of drugs, or even simply with keys to a building or vehicle containing a certain amount of drugs, were presumed guilty of drug trafficking. This violates a person’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty – a right that is essential to the principle of fair trial.
4. In January 2015, Indonesia started executing people in part to address what the President called a “national emergency” on drug-trafficking.
As of the end of December 2014, 64 people were on death row for drug offences. In January 2015, Indonesia carried out its first executions since 2013, under the then newly sworn-in President Joko Widodo. The President has said there will be no clemency for those facing execution for drug crime. So far in 2015, 14 people have been executed by firing squad, all for drug-related offences.
5. Iran has executed thousands of people in a bid to deter drug trafficking in the country, even though the authorities have admitted it doesn’t work.
Thousands of people have been executed for drug offences since 1959, when this type of crime was made punishable by death. There have been at least 829 executions from January to 20 September this year in Iran. Of these, at least 571 have been for drug-related offences. People most likely to be accused, sentenced and executed are those from disadvantaged groups like foreign nationals and poor people, including ethnic minorities. The authorities themselves have admitted that the death penalty has done little to tackle Iran’s drug problem. According to an expert at Iran’s Centre for Strategic Research, the death penalty has failed to reduce drug trafficking in the country.
6. You will be sentenced to death in Malaysia if you’re caught with as little as 200g of drugs – that’s about 2/3 of a can of Cola.
If you’re found guilty of trafficking drugs in Malaysia, death is the only punishment the judge can give you. Anyone found carrying 200g or more of cannabis is automatically presumed guilty of trafficking. This is what happened to Shahrul Izani. Found with 622g of cannabis in 2003, the then 19-year-old was convicted of drug trafficking and given the death penalty. He could be hanged any day now. Malaysia keeps its execution numbers secret, but credible sources suggest that about half of all death sentences carried out in recent years have been for drug convictions.
7. So far, almost half of all executions in Saudi Arabia are for drug crime.
The number of people executed for drug offences in Saudi Arabia is among the highest in the world, according to Amnesty’s figures. Executions for drug related offences rose from just 4% in 2010 and 2011 to 32% in 2013. By June 2015 this percentage had risen to 47%. Execution is usually carried out by the sword: people are beheaded, often in public.
8. Sentencing people to death for drug offences is a violation of international law.
International law says that the death penalty can only be used for the “most serious crimes”, like murder. Drug crime does not meet that threshold: UN bodies have repeatedly said that drug crime falls short of the “most serious crimes”.
Although international law allows for the use of the death penalty for exceptional crimes like murder, Amnesty International opposes its use in all cases. There is no evidence that the death penalty is more effective at deterring drug crime – or any other crime – than a prison term.
Take action and find out more
UPDATE: Check out our new infographic with awesome essay topics for 2014!
There is nothing like a controversial topic to get the blood flowing through your veins, and nothing like defending your corner of the moral landscape against the opinions of others who “just don’t get it!” Controversy lights up tired lecture halls, and treads provokingly through the pages of dissertations the world over. Controversy swings with the times, as one issue fades into the background to make way for something more relevant, only to reemerge upon the slip of a tactless politician’s tongue.
If you’re desperately seeking an essay subject matter that will propel you from class rogue to lecturer’s favorite, then consider drawing for one of the 10 most controversial essay topics of 2013.
Are you pro-life or pro-choice, or somewhere in the middle? Does banning abortion infringe on women’s rights? Should abortion be banned except where cases of rape are concerned? Ever since the Roe vs. Wade court case this controversial subject matter has become a staple political and religious hot potato. Handle this controversy with extreme care – you will upset someone, guaranteed.
9. Capital Punishment
Forty countries (20% of the world) maintain the death penalty in both law and practice. These countries made up approximately 66% of the world’s population in 2012. (Wikipedia 2013). But which is the correct pathway for humanity: an eye for an eye, or forgiveness regardless of the crime? What does the checklist look like for deciding whether a murder deserves the death penalty, and how can we ensure innocent people aren’t executed? This is a big essay with some life or death questions to explore!
8. Animal Testing
Should animals be used to make skin and hair products safer for humans? Why don’t we simply use natural products instead of chemical-laden products to avoid hurting animals? Should animals be considered lesser beings? Shouldn’t their vulnerability prompt us to treat them with love and protection at all times? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) firmly believe animals have every right to be treated as well as humans, and their raiding of labs and picketing on the steps of Congress in recent years has reinforced the presence of this controversial topic.
7. Genetic Cloning
At one time the cloning of a human being was the stuff of fiction movies; that was until 1996 when Dolly the sheep became the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer. Since then, further research has made genetic human cloning a very real prospect, prompting huge debate over whether man is going too far in trying to play God. What’s your take on interfering with Mother Nature?
6. Human Trafficking
The buying and selling of humans like a commodity is a lingering stain on the conscience of humanity. But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of human trafficking is that a significant percentage of trafficked peoples end up working in first world countries for extremely low wages in unacceptable working conditions. How can this be allowed to happen in the supposedly civilized world?
5. Ethnic Adoption
On the face of it, offering a better life to a child born into underprivileged circumstances is a wonderful act of human kindness. But what if the child is of a different ethic heritage to his or her adoptive parents? Will the inevitable acculturation negatively impact on the child’s development? Write the essay and let us know!
4. Plastic Surgery
A notable proportion of society has become grossly fixated on plastic surgery, with people attempting to buy back their youth, or to buy a similar face/body to that of their superstar idol. Surgeons are cashing in on people’s insecurities, using the knife as a magic wand for superficial happiness. With an increase in the number of deaths attributed to plastic surgery, and a massive rise in Botox addiction, unnecessarily altering ones appearance on the operating table is a contentious topic of moral debate.
3. The Pharmaceutical Industry (Pills)
Pills, pills, pills! It seems like there’s a pill for everything these days: Pills for headaches, pills for sleep, pills for sexual arousal, pills for slimming, pills for sickness, even pills to prevent further sickness in the event that you do get sick. But do we really need all these pills, and are these pills doing us more harm than good? The pharmaceutical industry has come under heavy fire in recent years for the marketing of pills without proper trials, and for promoting products to people who don’t really need them – Viagra being a prime example. But then can pharmaceutical companies be held responsible for what is essentially a personal choice? No one forces us to us to take pills. We are presented with solutions to ill health, and provided with a list of possible side effects if we decide to take up the doctor’s advice. Moreover, we are living longer, and arguably healthier, lives. So, is the pill friend or foe?
2. The Right to Die
Assisted death is a topic causing hot debate among religious leaders, governments and ordinary folk the world over. Since the Swiss group Dignitas – an organization that helps those with terminal illness and severe physical and mental illnesses to die assisted by qualified doctors and nurses – was founded by lawyer Ludwig A. Minelli in 1998, a number of terminally ill people people, particularly in the UK, have been inspired to fight the courts for their right to an assisted death. It seems perfectly reasonable that humans should be allowed to decide their own fate. The problem, however, is that often terminally ill people aren’t capable of ending their life in a painless, dignified manner, and therefore require the help of a family member of close friend. And so the debate ensues: should a person who assists the death of a loved one suffering a terminal illness be subjected to the same legal charges as a murderer? And how sick does a person need to be before they should be allowed an assisted death? Tricky, huh?
With domestic security on constant high alert due to the fear of reprisal for wars in foreign lands, and far-right (anti-immigration) organizations forming all over the western world, immigration is without doubt the most controversial topic in debate today. As people free oppressive regimes, war zones and poverty to find a better life in a more developed, stable country, they are met by opposition from those who believe multiculturalism has its pitfalls for both host and guest, claiming that integration is problematic due to fundamental differences in morals and values. But is it not just poor government planning that prevents successful immigration? Aren’t all great nations built on the hard work of immigrant communities? You decide!
* A topic’s level of controversy is not necessarily reflected by its placement within the list. The numbers just make it that little bit more interesting!
Enjoyed this post? Here’s what you can do next: