29 October 2018

Advocacy Condemning Bangladesh Law on Death Penalty for Drugs

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Parliament passes bills that bucks global trend toward abolition of the death penalty

LONDON (29 OCTOBER) – Bangladesh’s parliament passed a bill on 27 October that expands use of the death penalty for drug offenses in the country. The Narcotics Control Act 2018, an update to the 1990 Act, now makes the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine pills – known as ‘yaba’ – punishable by death.

Crimes related to other illicit substances, such as heroin and cocaine, already face the death penalty in Bangladesh under the 1990 Act. It is unclear if the country has ever executed anyone for drug offenses. Bangladesh’s government launched a brutal crackdown on the drug trade in May, which has resulted in the possible extrajudicial killings of over 200 people, and imprisonment of more than

Naomi Burke-Shyne, executive director of Harm Reduction International, said: “There is no evidence that imposing the death penalty for drugs offences has any impact on the drug trade. This punishment is in clear violation of international human rights law, and most often impacts upon the most poor and vulnerable people. Bangladesh’s violent drug war and regressive move to expand
the scope of its death penalty laws will only lead to a further breakdown of human rights in the country.” According to Harm Reduction International’s research, at least 33 countries have the death penalty for drugs in law, though only a handful – such as Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Indonesia and Singapore – have carried out executions in recent years. This year has seen a marked decline in the number of executions carried out for drug offences, primarily due to a 2017 law reform in Iran.

Burke-Shyne added: “There is a clear trend globally toward ending use of the death penalty for drugs, highlighted by Malaysia’s recent announcement of plans for total abolition. Our research shows that only those countries on the extreme fringe of the international community remain committed to executing people for drugs. Bangladesh’s move bucks the trend toward abolition, and risks placing the country firmly in the category of pariah state.”

Over 4,000 people have been executed for drugs in the past decade, while the UN Office on Drugs and Crime admitted in 2018 that “both the range of drugs and drug markets are expanding and diversifying as never before.”


  1. Harm Reduction International is a leading NGO dedicated to reducing the negative health, social and economic impacts of drug use and drug policy. We promote the rights of people who use
    drugs and their communities through research and evidence-based advocacy to help achieve a world where drug policies and laws contribute to healthier, safer societies.
  2. Harm Reduction International actively monitors use of the death penalty for drug offenses, and has published regularly on this subject since 2007.

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