By Tom Esslemont
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations will go ahead with a multi-million dollar funding package to tackle drug trafficking in Iran despite criticism by rights groups over the use of the death penalty for offenders, a U.N. insider said on Thursday.
Data gathered by human rights campaigners shows nearly half of 753 documented executions in Iran in 2014 were for narcotics-related offences.
In 2012, Iran seized 388 tonnes of opium, the equivalent of 72 percent of all such seizures around the world. The country shares a long border with Afghanistan, which supplies about 90 percent of the world's opium, from which heroin is made.
Funding anti-drug programs in Iran has become a controversial issue in recent years with some countries, including Britain and Denmark, withdrawing support fearing that the money could be directly linked to arrests and executions.
"This is an extremely complex issue in which you have to confront the demand and supply side," said the U.N. staff member, who requested anonymity.
"To not confront the supply side would be like opening the gate and leaving the bull to rampage and then saying, 'Let's confront the problem'," the staffer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Details of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) five-year funding package is expected to be finalised in the coming weeks.
Last year, in a letter to human rights organizations, the executive director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov, said the agency had spent $5.5 million on combating illicit trafficking and border management in Iran between 2011 and 2014.
He said he had expressed the agency's concern over the use of capital punishment for drug trafficking crimes to the Iranian authorities.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced the new proposed funding.
"The UNODC should publicly criticize Iran's flagrant and continuing violation of international law, and impose a temporary freeze or full withdrawal of support," Faraz Sanei, Iran researcher for HRW, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
(Reporting By Tom Esslemont, Editing by Katie Nguyen)