Clash over death penalty at UN drug policy session

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By Cara Anna and Dave Bryan, AP

UNITED NATIONS — The first U.N. special session to address global drug policy in nearly 20 years bristled with tension Tuesday over the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses, as countries wrestled over whether to emphasize criminalization and punishment or health and human rights.

The outcome document adopted by member states included no criticism of the death penalty, saying only that countries should ensure that punishments are “proportionate” with the crimes.

“Disproportional penalties … create vicious cycles of marginalization and further crime,” Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto told the gathering. He also called for the decriminalization of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes and said the international community’s responses to drug issues is “frankly, insufficient.”

He said Mexico in the coming days would announce specific drug policies with an emphasis on health and human rights.

Indonesia, which last year executed 14 people, mostly foreigners, convicted of drug-related crimes amid an international outcry, defended its stance Tuesday, saying the death penalty is not prohibited under international law.

China, which along with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran carries out executions for drug offenses, signaled little flexibility on its approach.

“Any form of legalization of narcotics should be resolutely opposed,” Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun told the gathering.

Prior to this week’s three-day meeting, Democratic Party presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, rock star Sting and hundreds of others sent an open to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon letter saying the war on drugs has failed. It said that for decades, governments have focused resources on repressing drug use, resulting in the imprisonment of millions of people, mostly the poor and ethnic minorities, and mostly for non-violent offenses. The letter’s signers, including former presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Switzerland and others, joined a growing number of government officials and drug policy analysts calling for a shift in global drug policy from emphasizing criminalization to health and human rights.