Vietnam Is Executing Drug Offenders Thanks To UN Aid Fund

Drug laws in Southeast Asia have for a long time been regarded as the toughest in the world. In Vietnam, stories of drug users detained for years in treatment centers, where they are subject to torture and forced labor, are ordinary. Increasingly popular are, unfortunately, also the dramatic news of people who, when caught with large amounts of narcotics, have been executed on suspicion of drug trafficking. To this regard, the vast majority of those who died, experts argue, are “mules” who usually don’t have adequate legal representation and are coerced into smuggling by gangs.

However, only recently the draconian laws of Vietnam have finally attracted the interest of mainstream media across the world. In January, the announcement that 30 people were sentenced to die for drug trafficking triggered the reaction of human rights groups that started an investigation into the administration of drug-related issues in the country. As it emerged, the Vietnamese government has so far extensively enjoyed the UN drug enforcement support, which, with a budget of about $5 million for technical assistance and training, has de facto contributed to the conviction of these people.

The activist groups, in an open letter, asked the UN to freeze counter-narcotics aid to Vietnam, raising concern about the death sentence of so many people, which would controversially be linked to the UN and its aid fund. Death penalty is indeed the most severe form of punishment in the criminal justice system. Most UN states are great advocates of its abolishment and, despite their involvement in the War on Drugs, it is hard to believe that they would compromise their integrity this way.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) hasn’t yet provided a formal response, although a previous statement remarked the importance of the aid money in the fight against crime, which fuels underdevelopment across the country. From a human rights perspective, however, this strategy fails to assess its legal risks and several charities have therefore stressed that the funds should be invested in development projects, rather than in tackling drug smuggling.

The dangerous relationship between drug policy and human rights abuses is at the core of any critical analysis of current anti-narcotics approaches. In the Western world, it is usually recognized that coercive means to curb drug use undermine basic human rights, to the extent that they generally impose counter-productive restrictions on people’s lives. International organizations such as UNODC have repeatedly denied such views and continue to prioritize mass arrests, as those accused of drug offences see their freedom fade away in a jail cell.

In Vietnam, where hundreds of human lives are at stake, human rights abuses in the context of anti-drug policy are far more indisputable, and so is the tacit involvement of the international community. How long until this UN-sponsored massacre comes to an end?

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