"The right to life precedes everything. The primary aspect of human rights is the right to life. There is no correlation between the death penalty and decreasing crime rate."
Shakib Qortbawi, former Minister of Justice of Lebanon, 11 October 2013
2013 was marked by some challenging setbacks on the journey to abolition of the death penalty. Four countries – Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Viet Nam – resumed executions and there was a significant rise in the number of people executed during the year compared with 2012, driven primarily by increases in Iraq and Iran.
Executions were recorded in 22 countries during 2013, one more than in the previous year. As in 2012, it could not be confirmed if judicial executions took place in Egypt or Syria. The overall number of reported executions worldwide was 778, an increase of almost 15% compared with 2012. As in previous years, this figure does not include the thousands of people executed in China; with the death penalty treated as a state secret the lack of reliable data does not allow Amnesty International to publish credible minimum figures for China.
Despite these worrying developments, the overall data demonstrate that the trend is still firmly towards abolition. Excluding China, almost 80% of all known executions worldwide were recorded in only three countries: Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Progress towards abolition was recorded in all regions of the world. Although the USA remained the only country in the Americas to carry out executions in 2013, the number of executions in the country continued to decrease. Maryland became the 18th abolitionist US state in May. No executions were reported in Europe and Central Asia last year. Constitutional and legal review processes in several West African countries created real opportunities for the abolition of capital punishment. For the first time since Amnesty International began keeping records there were no prisoners on death row in Grenada, Guatemala and Saint Lucia.
Pakistan suspended once again its application of the death penalty, and no death sentences were implemented in Singapore, where six people had their cases commuted following the review of the country's mandatory death penalty laws in 2012. In China, the Supreme People's Court issued legal guidelines aimed at ensuring greater procedural protections in death penalty cases.
Common to almost all executing countries was again the justification of the use of death penalty as an alleged deterrent against crime. But this position is becoming increasingly untenable and discredited. There is no convincing evidence that capital punishment is a particular deterrent to crime; mounting recognition by political leaders of this fact is reflected in this report.
Many of those states that retain the death penalty continue to flout international standards and safeguards in relation to its application. Grossly unfair trials and the execution of people who were under the age of 18 at the time they allegedly committed the crime were again reported in 2013. The report also highlights the secrecy that surrounds the use of the death penalty in many countries. Numerous governments continue to ignore international legal standards that require family members and lawyers to be notified about executions in advance.
Note on Amnesty International figures on the use of the death penalty
This report covers the judicial use of the death penalty for the period January to December 2013. Amnesty International records figures on the use of the death penalty based on the best available information. As in previous years, information is collected from a variety of sources, including official figures; information from individuals sentenced to death, and their families and representatives; reporting by other civil society organizations; and media reports. Amnesty International only reports figures on the use of the death penalty which can safely be inferred from its research.
In some countries, it is not possible to obtain reliable data because governments do not make figures for death sentences and executions available, while others actively conceal death penalty proceedings. In countries affected by conflict it is often not possible to obtain sufficient information to confirm whether any executions have taken place.
Since 2009, Amnesty International has stopped publishing estimates on the use of the death penalty in China, where data on the use of the death penalty is considered a state secret. The lack of reliable data does not allow Amnesty International to publish credible minimum figures for the use of the death penalty in the country; however, available information strongly indicates that China carries out more executions than the rest of the world combined.
The global figures in this report are minimum figures, meaning that the number of executions, new death sentences, and people under sentence of death is likely to be higher. The number of countries carrying out executions and imposing death sentences may also be higher. Where Amnesty International receives and is able to verify new information after publication of this report, the organization updates its figures online at www.amnesty.org/deathpenalty.
Where "+" appears after a figure next to the name of a country – for instance, Yemen (13+) – it means that this is the minimum figure calculated by Amnesty International. Where "+" appears after a country name without a figure – for instance, death sentences in Myanmar: (+) – it means that there were executions or death sentences (more than one) in that country but insufficient information to provide a credible minimum figure. When calculating global and regional totals, "+" has been counted as 2, including for China.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The organization campaigns for total abolition of capital punishment.