Death Penalty In 2020

"The significant reduction in drug-related executions is undoubtedly a positive development - an opportunity for countries to rethink the necessity and effectiveness of this policy, and for advocates to further intensify their calls for abolition. Nevertheless, there is more to the death penalty than executions themselves. In times of COVID-19, the operation of a justice system may make it difficult or near impossible to carry out executions, but it does not necessarily stop the imposition of the death penalty. Notably, at least ten countries sentenced a minimum of 213 people to death for drug offences in 2020 - a 16.3% increase from the 183 confirmed in 2019.12 This upward trend was particularly significant in some countries, such as Indonesia, where 77 people were sentenced to death for drug trafficking in 2020 (a 79% increase from 2019). Conversely, substantial numbers of death sentences contribute to the growing number of people on death row, where many have spent more than a decade. This unwavering reliance on the death penalty – even in times of exceptional challenges – is as troubling as the executions themselves.

"It is essential to note that there remains a pervasive and systemic lack of transparency around the death penalty, which is in violation of clear international standards.13 The issue of transparency was exacerbated in 2020, when collecting information about the use of the death penalty for drug offences was even more challenging than in previous years. This is likely due to COVID-19 dominating the news, restrictions imposed upon movement, and the shrinking of civil society space; all of which negatively impacted independent monitoring of the death penalty. At the same time, several UN human rights processes, such as country reviews by Treaty Bodies and country visits by Special Procedures, came to a halt or were delayed, resulting in an even lower number of available resources to track the application of the death penalty. This signals a pressing need for monitoring processes to resume, to ensure that violations and trends are documented and addressed. Well-integrated human rights monitoring and documentation should become an essential component to prevent further and future violations of human rights.

"Finally, 2020 also witnessed the regression of some countries, with plans to apply harsher punishment to drug offences. For example, the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has continued pushing to reintroduce the death penalty as part of his ‘war on drugs’. At the time of writing, a bill that would re-impose the death penalty has been adopted in the lower house of Congress, and is due to be discussed in the Senate."


Ajeng Larasati and Giada Girelli, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2020," Harm Reduction International, 2021.