Amnesty: U.S. falls from death penalty top five in 2016, but upcoming Arkansas executions could hinder progress
Report also calls on China, the world’s biggest executioner, to come clean about level of capital punishment
For the first time since 2006, and only the second time since 1991, the United States is not among the world's five biggest executioners, Amnesty International said in its 2016 global review of the death penalty published today.
The number of executions (20) in 2016 reached the lowest level recorded in any year since 1991, half what it was in 1996, and almost five times lower than in 1999. The number of executions has fallen every year since 2009, (except 2012 when it stayed the same).
While the debate is clearly shifting, the fall in executions was due partly to litigation on lethal injection protocols and challenges in sourcing chemicals in several states. However, the possible resolution of some lethal injection challenges could see the level of executions start to rise again in 2017, with eight scheduled executions in Arkansas.
“The scheduled executions in Arkansas stand in stark contrast to the momentum that has been building against the death penalty in the United States,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “The US must not backslide on progress when it comes to the death penalty and must do away with this cruel and inhumane practice once and for all.”
The number of death sentences (32) was the lowest since 1973, a clear sign that judges, prosecutors and juries are turning their back on the death penalty as a means of administering justice. However, 2,832 people are still on death row in the U.S.
Only five states executed people in 2016: Alabama (2), Florida (1), Georgia (9), Missouri (1), Texas (7), with Texas and Georgia, accounting for 80 percent of the country’s executions in 2016. Meanwhile, 12 states, including Arkansas, that have yet to abolish the death penalty have not executed anyone for at least 10 years.
“Use of the death penalty in the USA is at its lowest since the early 1990s. But we have to fight to keep it that way. Executions could return with a vengeance in 2017. The shocking number of executions scheduled over a ten-day period in Arkansas this April is a clear example of how quickly the picture can change,” said Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International.
“The steady decline in the use of the death penalty in the USA is a sign of hope for activists who have long campaigned for an end to capital punishment. The debate is clearly shifting. Politicians should steer clear of the ugly ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric that helped drive a spike in executions in the 1980s and 1990s. The death penalty is not going to make anyone any safer.
“The five isolated states that carried out executions last year are behind the times. Not only are they against a national trend, but also a regional one. For eight years now the USA has had the shameful distinction of being the only country in the Americas that carries out executions.”
China remains world’s biggest executioner
China's horrifying use of the death penalty remains one of the country’s deadly secrets, as the authorities continue to execute thousands of people each year.
A new in-depth investigation by Amnesty International, also published today, shows that the Chinese authorities enforce an elaborate secrecy system to obscure the shocking scale of executions in the country, despite repeated claims it is making progress towards judicial transparency.
Excluding China, states around the world executed 1,032 people in 2016. China executed more than all other countries in the world put together, while the USA reached a historic low in its use of the death penalty in 2016.
“China wants to be a leader on the world stage, but when it comes to the death penalty it is leading in the worst possible way - executing more people annually than any other country in the world,” said Salil Shetty.