Annual Death Penalty Report Finds Setbacks for a Handful of Countries but Progress Toward Abolition Across the Globe

Press Release
April 8, 2013

Annual Death Penalty Report Finds Setbacks for a Handful of Countries but Progress Toward Abolition Across the Globe

At Least 682 People Executed in 21 Countries in 2012, Excluding Thousands Believed Killed in China

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) – In its annual report today on executions and death sentences worldwide, Amnesty International found a handful of countries renewing executions after abandoning them for years it – notably India, Japan, and Pakistan – and an alarming escalation of executions in Iraq. But overall, progress toward abolition was seen across the globe – only one in 10 countries carry out executions – with the death penalty restricted to an isolated group of countries including the United States.

The top five executing countries in the world in 2012 were once again China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, with Yemen closely behind.

Despite setbacks in a couple of countries in 2012, Amnesty International found the global trend towards ending the death penalty continued. Only 21 of the world’s countries were recorded as having carried out executions in 2012 – the same number as in 2011, but down from 28 countries a decade earlier in 2003. Since 1990, over 50 countries have abolished the death penalty, including Haiti, Paraguay, Romania, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, and Rwanda.

In 2012, at least 682 executions were known to have been carried out worldwide, two more than in 2011. At least 1,722 newly imposed death sentences in 58 countries could be confirmed, compared to 1,923 in 63 countries the year before.

But these figures do not include the thousands of executions that Amnesty International believes were carried out in China, where the numbers are kept secret.

“In most parts of the world, executions are becoming a thing of the past,” said Brian Evans of Amnesty International USA's Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty. “Only one in 10 countries carry out executions. In the United States, those states that still execute people, while fewer in number, must ask themselves why they are continuing to apply the ultimate human rights abuse when the rest of the world is leaving this punishment behind. It is time for more states to join the 18 that already have abolished the death penalty.”

In the United States, 43 people were executed – the same number as in 2011. These executions occurred in nine states, a decrease from the 13 that carried out executions in 2011. Connecticut ended the death penalty in 2012 and Maryland in 2013, becoming the 18th state to do so. A referendum to end the death penalty in California was narrowly defeated last November. Delaware is the latest state to debate ending the death penalty, with the Senate voting to do so in March.

Over one-third of U.S. states have now abolished the death penalty, and over two-thirds of the world’s countries (140) have abandoned capital punishment in law or in practice.

Methods of executions worldwide in 2012 included hanging, beheading, firing squad, and lethal injection. In Saudi Arabia, the body of one man executed through beheading was displayed in what is known as “crucifixion.”

People faced the death penalty for a range of crimes including non-violent drug-related and economic offenses, but also for “apostasy,” “blasphemy,” and “adultery” – acts that should not be considered crimes at all.

In the Americas, the United States remains the only country to carry out executions. The Asia-Pacific region saw some disappointing setbacks in 2012, with India, Japan, and Pakistan resuming executions after long periods without any. In November, India carried out its first execution since 2004 when Ajmal Kasab, one of the gunmen involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was hanged. In Japan, three death row inmates were executed in March – followed by another four later in the year – ending a 20-month hiatus in executions there.

China once again executed more people than the rest of the world combined, but due to the secrecy surrounding the use of the death penalty in the country it was not possible to obtain accurate figures.

However, there were also positive developments in the region. Viet Nam did not carry out any death sentences, while Singapore observed a moratorium on the death penalty and Mongolia ratified a key international treaty committing the country to abolition.

Although the Middle East and North Africa saw a few positive developments, use of the death penalty in the region is still a cause of great concern. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen saw continued high levels of executions; 99 percent of all executions in the region were carried out in these four countries. In particular, there was an alarming rise in Iraq’s use of the death penalty, where at least 129 people were put to death – almost double 2011’s figure of 68.

Iran once again came second behind China when it came to the number of executions. 314 executions were officially acknowledged by the authorities, but the real number is almost certainly much higher as scores of other executions not officially acknowledged were also recorded.

The conflict in Syria made it impossible to confirm whether the death penalty was used there in 2012.

Belarus continued to be the only country in Europe and Central Asia to carry out executions, and did so under strict secrecy, with at least three men put to death in 2012.

Latvia was the 97th country worldwide to become abolitionist for all crimes, after removing the last capital crimes from its legislation during 2012.

Amnesty International views the death penalty as the ultimate human rights abuse and opposes it in all cases without exception as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists, and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth, and dignity are denied.

DEATH SENTENCES AND EXECUTIONS 2012