On behalf of the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), I welcome the editorial published in Addiction calling for the abolition of the death penalty for drug offences .
The IHRA has been campaigning on this issue at the United Nations (UN) level since 2007, when we published our report The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: A Violation of International Human Rights Law, which is referenced in your Editorial. We are pleased to add Addiction to the growing list of voices calling for an end to executions for drugs world-wide.
While the Editorial rightly refutes claims that the death penalty is an effective deterrent, it must be emphasized that even if capital punishment for drugs were found to reduce drug-related offences, such executions would still be illegal under international law.
Article 6  of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a major human rights treaty ratified by 164 nations world-wide, states that the death penalty many only be applied legally in the cases of ‘most serious crimes’. The UN Human Rights Committee, the independent expert panel mandated to interpret the meaning of the treaty's provisions and monitor country compliance with its terms, has stated definitively on more than one occasion that drug offences do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ under the treaty [4,5]. Therefore, executions for drug crimes are not, under any circumstances, legal under international law.
Efficacy—whether real or imagined—does not exempt State practice from human rights scrutiny. Nor is it a licence for governments to violate international human rights law.