• Press Release

U.S.: Five Countries Defy Sea Change In Global Execution Practices, According to New Amnesty International Report

April 14, 2011

Press Release
For Immediate Release
Monday,March 28, 2011

Five Countries Defy Sea Change in Global Execution Practices, According to New Amnesty International Report

Globally: Number of Executions Dropped; In United States: Momentum Against Death Penalty Grows Middle East: Five Nations With Unrest Among Top Ten Executing Countries

Report Includes Online Geographic Timeline Demonstrating Sea Change in Global Execution Practices,


Contact: Sharon Singh, 202-509-8188, [email protected] OR Laura Moye, 202-675-8582, [email protected]

(WASHINGTON, DC) A small number of countries are defying a global, decade-long trend toward death penalty abolition, Amnesty International said today in its new report Death Sentences and Executions in 2010.

A total of 31 countries abolished the death penalty in law or in practice during the last 10 years, but China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Yemen carried out the most executions—in direct contradiction of international human rights law.

Amnesty International is gravely concerned that states in the Middle East continue to use the death penalty against political opponents during this climate of political upheaval. Iran, Libya and Yemen experienced a worrying upsurge in executions (Iran in early 2011), and there are fears of mass executions in Libya as the conflict there deepens. Meanwhile in Egypt, the path to democracy may herald a decrease in the use of the death penalty.

Many of countries that are currently undergoing political upheavals carried out executions in 2010, Iran (252), Libya (18), Saudi Arabia (27), Syria (17), Yemen (53) [numbers in parenthesis are minimal numbers of execution AI verified]. In these countries, the death penalty was frequently imposed after unfair trials and for offenses, such as drug-trafficking or adultery, that are not recognized as the “most serious crimes” and therefore in violation of international law.

Around the world, the total number of executions officially recorded by Amnesty International in 2010 decreased from at least 714 people in 2009 to at least 527 in 2010. China is believed to have executed thousands in 2010 but continues to maintain secrecy over its use of the death penalty. In 2010, at least 17,833 people worldwide were sentenced to death.

While the United States remains among the top global executioners, the momentum toward abolition in the country mirrors a similar global trend. Four states, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and Illinois, have ended capital punishment in the last seven years. Bills to repeal the death penalty are viable in three state legislatures this year. Additionally, death sentences have declined to historic lows in recent years across the country.

“The minority of countries that continue to systematically use the death penalty were responsible for thousands of executions in 2010, defying the global anti-death penalty trend,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “While executions may be on the decline, a number of countries continue to pass death sentences for drug-related offenses, economic crimes, sexual relations between consenting adults and blasphemy—violating international human rights law forbidding the use of the death penalty except for the most serious crimes.”

Laura Moye, death penalty abolition campaign director for AIUSA, said, “The facts are making an impact in a very emotional debate: the death penalty does not deter murder, it costs millions and the system is riddled with bias and error. More and more Americans are wondering if we can afford the financial and moral costs of the death penalty.”

Moye pointed to the impact of the global human rights movement, which, for decades, has been actively educating people around the world and demanding an end to the barbaric practice.

“Today, it is not just civil society that is demanding an end to the death penalty,” said Moye.”Many governments have not just abolished the death penalty, but are now advocating its further abolition in their communications with other countries as part of their human rights foreign policy agendas. A growing body of resolutions, recommendations and statements have been made in international and regional intergovernmental systems.”

The rapid abolition of death penalty is depicted in a dramatic new, online geographic timeline. When Amnesty International began its global campaign against the death penalty in 1977, only 16 countries had abolished capital punishment. 139 countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. See https://www.amnestyusa.org/abolish/worldmap/.

Two regions are responsible for most executions worldwide: Asia and the Middle East. China used the death penalty in 2010 against thousands of people for a wide range of crimes that include non-violent offenses and after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards. China has reduced the number of offenses categorized as capital crimes in recent years, which may be having a positive impact on reducing death sentences; however, the lack of published statistics make this impossible to know.

Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates ignored international prohibitions in 2010 and imposed death sentences on individuals who were below 18 years of age when the crimes were committed.

Amnesty International’s report highlights a number of setbacks during 2010, such as when six other countries and territories resumed executions after a hiatus and one country expanded the scope of the death penalty.

“In spite of some setbacks, developments in 2010 brought us closer to global abolition,” said Shetty. “The president of Mongolia announced a moratorium on the death penalty, an important first step since capital punishment is still classified as state secret. For the third time, and with more support than ever before, the United Nations General Assembly called for a global moratorium on executions. Any country that continues to execute is flying in the face of the fact that both human rights law and United Nations human rights bodies consistently hold that abolition should be the objective.”

“A world free of the death penalty is not only possible, it is inevitable,” said Shetty. “The question is how long will it take?”



  • In the United States at least 110 death sentences were imposed during 2010. This represents only one-third of the number of death sentences imposed in the mid-1990s and is lower than in any year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. In March 2011, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty.


  • In 2010 Amnesty International was not able to confirm comprehensive figures on the use of the death penalty in China, Malaysia, North Korea, Singapore and Viet Nam, although AI can confirm that all of these nations carried out executions. Available information from five other countries in the region confirmed at least 82 executions in Asia.
  • Eleven countries imposed death sentences but continued not to carry out executions in 2010: Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, India, Indonesia, Laos, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
  • n January 2010 the president of Mongolia announced a moratorium on executions with a view to abolition of the death penalty.

Europe and Central Asia

  • After a year-long hiatus in 2009, when for the first time no executions were recorded in Europe and the former Soviet Union, the Belarusian authorities carried out two executions in March 2010. Three new death sentences were imposed in Belarus in 2010.

Middle East and North Africa

  • Fewer death sentences and executions were recorded in total in the Middle East and North Africa in 2010 than in 2009. However, where the death penalty was imposed it was frequently used after unfair trials and for offenses, such as drug-trafficking or adultery, which are not recognized as the “most serious crimes” and therefore in violation of international law.
  • The authorities of Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco/Western Sahara, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates imposed death sentences but continued to refrain from carrying out executions.
  • The Iranian authorities acknowledged the execution of 252 people, including five women and one juvenile offender in 2010. Amnesty International received credible reports of more than 300 other executions that were not officially acknowledged, mostly in Vakilabad Prison, Mashhad. Most were of people convicted of alleged drug offenses. Fourteen people were publicly executed. Iranian authorities continued to impose death sentences in large numbers.

Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Gabon abolished the death penalty in 2010, bringing the number of abolitionist countries among African Union members to 16. § Four countries in sub-Saharan Africa carried out executions in 2010: Botswana (1), Equatorial Guinea (4), Somalia (at least 8) and Sudan (at least 6).



For a copy of the full report and other information, please contact the AIUSA media office at 202.509.8188 or [email protected] or visit www.amnestyusa.org.