Number of death penalty states declining but surge in executions in 2011

27 March 2012

The number of countries carrying out executions is down by more than a third compared to a decade ago, but Amnesty International's annual death penalty report found there was a steep rise in executions in the Middle East last year.


Death Sentences and Executions 2011 reveals that only 20 of the world’s 198 countries carried out executions in 2011. Some 18,750 people remained under sentence of death at the end of 2011 and at least 676 people were executed worldwide.


China remains the world’s number one executioner. Thousands of people were executed in China in 2011, more than the rest of the world put together. Figures on the death penalty are a state secret. Amnesty International has stopped publishing numbers it collects from public sources in China as these are likely to grossly underestimate the true number.


Figures published with the report show that joining China in the top five death penalty States are Iran (360), Saudi Arabia (82), Iraq (68) and the USA (43). The figures for Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are only of confirmed executions that Amnesty International has been able to verify. Credible reports of unconfirmed and secret executions, particularly in Iran, mean the real figures may be much higher. 


Isolated group

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “The vast majority of countries have abandoned the death penalty. A tiny, and increasingly isolated, group of governments continue to put their own people to death. 


“Even among the small group of countries that executed in 2011, we can see gradual progress. The number of crimes for which you can receive the death penalty in China decreased. The US state of Illinois became the 16th US state to abolish the death penalty.


“The momentum around the world is towards ending executions. The leaders of the death penalty states must end the use of the death penalty and the international community must keep up the pressure on those governments to abandon this cruel and inhuman punishment.”

Find out more about the death penalty from this short animated film: 

Sorcery and blasphemy

People were executed or sentenced to death for a range of offences including adultery and sodomy in Iran, blasphemy in Pakistan, sorcery in Saudi Arabia and the trafficking of human bones in the Republic of Congo. Methods of execution in 2011 included beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting. 


In the Middle East there was a steep rise in recorded executions – up almost 50 per cent on the previous year. 


This was due to four countries – Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – which accounted for 99 per cent of all recorded executions in the Middle East and North Africa. The increases in Iran and Saudi Arabia alone accounted for the net rise in recorded executions across the world of 149, compared to 2010. 


The United States was again the only country in the Americas and the only member of the G8 group of leading economies to execute prisoners. Europe and former Soviet Union countries were capital punishment-free, apart from Belarus where two people were executed. 


Public judicial executions were known to have been carried out in North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia, as well as in Iran. 


In the majority of countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the trials did not meet international fair trial standards. In some, this involved the extraction of ‘confessions’ through torture or other duress including in China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.


Some progress 

But even in those countries that continue to execute at a high level some progress was made in 2011. 


In China, the government eliminated the death penalty for 13 mainly ‘white collar’ crimes. Measures were also put forward to the National People’s Congress to reduce the number of cases of torture in detention, strengthen the role of defence lawyers and ensure suspects in capital cases are represented by a lawyer. 


In the USA, the number of executions and new death sentences has continued to decrease. Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty. A moratorium was announced in the state of Oregon. 


In other good news Latvia became the world’s 97th abolitionist country. Official moratoriums on executions were declared in Sierra Leone and confirmed in Nigeria. There were no executions last year in Singapore or, for the first time in 19 years, in Japan. 


Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception and regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender or the method used. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. 


Read Death Sentences and Executions 2011.


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