UN urged to freeze anti-drug aid to Vietnam over death penalty

VIENNA (REUTERS) - Three groups campaigning against the death penalty called on the United Nations to freeze counter-narcotics aid to Vietnam after it sentenced 30 people to die for heroin trafficking.

Judges in northern Vietnam condemned 30 people to death and jailed dozens more on Jan. 20 for trafficking over 12 tonnes of heroin, in the Communist country's biggest-ever drugs trial.

Vietnam has long been used as a connecting point for moving heroin from Laos, Myanmar and China to other Asian countries and Australia. Its courts hand out harsh sentences to traffickers, which until recently included death by firing squad. It now uses lethal injection.

Harm Reduction International, Reprieve and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty said UN drug enforcement support in Vietnam was extensive, with a 2012-17 budget of more than $5 million for technical assistance, equipment, training and other assistance.

In a letter to the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), they said they had raised concern for several years about UN support for countries that impose the death penalty for drug offences.

The UNODC had no immediate comment on Wednesday. It has said before that, as part of the United Nations, it "advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon member states to follow international standards concerning prohibition of the death penalty for offences of a drug-related or purely economic nature." Harm Reduction International, Reprieve and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty said the UNODC had internal human rights guidance which required it "to cease support for a country if it is feared the support may facilitate executions".

"If law enforcement aid cannot be provided with the assurance that it will not contribute to human rights abuses, it can be redirected to health services instead," they said.

Vietnam had about 180,000 drug addicts as of September 2013, according to government statistics. Trafficking of more than 100 grams of heroin is punishable by death or life imprisonment in Vietnam.

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