VIENNA (Reuters) - Six rights groups urged the United Nations anti-drugs agency on Wednesday to stop funding counter-narcotics police operations in Iran until Tehran ends the death penalty for such offences.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) confirmed it had received a letter from the groups, including U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, but had no comment on it.
Because of a large number of executions, some countries, including Britain and Denmark, have in recent years stopped providing funding for UNODC drug control programs in Iran.
Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan, which supplies about 90 percent of the world's opium, from which heroin is made. Tehran, which rejects Western criticism of its human rights record, says it has lost many security personnel in skirmishes with drug traffickers in border regions.
In March, UNODC chief Yury Fedotov praised Iran's fight against narcotics trafficking, noting it had seized 388 tonnes of opium in 2012, some 72 percent of all such seizures globally. But he said the Vienna-based agency opposed the death penalty and he planned to raise the issue with Iran.
In Monday's statement, the six rights groups said 18 alleged traffickers were hanged on Dec. 3, bringing the number of drug offenders executed in Iran to at least 318 this year.
UNODC "should follow its own human rights guidance and impose a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support if ... executions for drug-related offences continue," they said.
They said UNODC had given more than $15 million since around 1998 to "supply control" operations by Iran's anti-narcotics police, including training and equipment such as body scanners and night vision goggles as well as drug detection dogs.
"This is the funding that primarily goes to Iranian security forces and leads to arrests of alleged drug traffickers and, in many cases, their eventual execution," Faraz Sanei of Human Rights Watch said in an email.
"We generally don't have a problem with demand-side drug funding programs that do not raise rights concerns and have been effective, such as harm reduction schemes like HIV-prevention, or rehabilitation and treatment of drug users," he added.
The other groups behind the letter to UNODC were Reprieve, Iran Human Rights, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Harm Reduction International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation.