By Richard Howitt MEP
“Killing people to show people that killing people is wrong.”
It should be the very definition of insanity but it is, in fact, a criminal punishment that remains on statute books around the world.
But it gets worse, because the death penalty is used in Saudi Arabia for adultery, in North Korea for theft and in numerous countries, from Pakistan to Indonesia, as a punishment for drugs offences.
This is despite the fact that use of the death penalty for anything less than “serious offences” is illegal under international law.
The EU has continually reiterated its opposition to the death penalty and no European state currently carries out this abhorrent punishment except Belarus.
Vice President / High Representative Federica Mogherini rightly stated this year:
The EU is opposed to capital punishment in all cases and without exception, and has consistently called for its universal abolition. The death penalty is a cruel and inhumane punishment, which fails to act as a deterrent and represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity.
I am proud that the European Union has sponsored and led the debate annually in the United Nations calling for worldwide abolition of the death penalty.
And yet the shocking truth is that the EU could actually be funding use of the death penalty on drugs offenders in many third countries, as a result of its donations to anti-drugs operations.
The EU is the world’s second largest donor to the UNODC, which oversees anti-drug operations in countries which apply the death penalty for drug offences.
The EU has contributed over £50 million to UNODC projects focused on ‘organised crime and drug trafficking’. This money has paid for equipment and training for the narcotics forces in Iran and Pakistan, both of which ascribe the death penalty for non-violent drug offences.
Besides donating to UNODC projects, the EU also funds counter-narcotics operations in these countries through its own £12 million initiative aimed at tackling heroin trafficking.
Let me be clear, it is important for the safety and security of our own citizens to combat the drugs trade worldwide, which eventually reaches within our borders and causes such suffering at home.
But it is unacceptable that the killing of Britons such as grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, who is due to be taken to a clearing and shot dead by an Indonesian firing squad, could be paid for by the very taxpayers that object to such a disgusting punishment.
I have been happy to raise this issue with those responsible, recently submitting a Parliamentary Question to Ms. Mogherini asking her to set out plans for ensuring EU money does not fund the death penalty.
Over the last week I was proud to help push for a resolution in the European Parliament to draw attention to this hypocrisy. I was pleased to see that resolution voted through the Parliament with a huge majority of 569 votes for (and only 38 against).
It is deplorable that amongst just 54 Members of the European Parliament abstaining were several members of UKIP.
Nevertheless, today, on the World Day Against the Death Penalty, I am delighted that the European Parliament has delivered a strong voice calling on the European Commission to make all such support for anti-drug operations strictly conditional on recipient states abolishing the death penalty for drug crimes.
Remember that it was only last year that I took the evidence that chemicals were being exported from the European Union to be used to administer lethal injections in the USA.
We succeeded in getting the European Commission to put in place restrictions to control these exports, but human rights organisations now tell me this could be further strengthened, both to include additional pharmaceutical substances on the list of controlled items as well as to give authority to EU countries to immediately suspend a specific transfer of a chemical where there is evidence it would be used to inflict the death penalty.
We must continue to make every effort to ensure there is no European Union complicity in the use of the death penalty in any country worldwide.
On anti-drugs programmes, EU funding is allocated with much thought and good intentions, but we must follow the journey of the money we give and ensure that we cannot be open to charges of hypocrisy or a lack of due diligence; especially, when the lives of EU citizens are at stake.
Killing people to show people that killing people is wrong is insane. Funding these killings whilst calling for their abolition is foolish. In a time when the EU cannot afford to be open to such easy criticism, I argue that we also cannot afford to suffer fools gladly.
Richard Howitt MEP is Socialist and Democrat Group Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament and a member of parliament’s Human Rights Sub-Committee.