Amnesty: 21 Countries Used the Death Penalty Last Year

April 9, 2013 - China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States were the world’s top executioners last year, according to Amnesty International’s annual review of the use of the death penalty.

The organization recorded 682 executions in 21 countries in 2012, virtually unchanged from 2011, when it recorded 680 executions in 21 countries. The figures do not include the estimated thousands of executions carried out in China, which does not publicly release information on its use of the death penalty.

A U.N. push to end the death penalty seems to be gaining traction with no executions recorded in 174 of the U.N.’s 193 member states (the two U.N. non-member states that carried out executions last year were Palestine and Taiwan). 

A General Assembly vote in November 2012 on putting a moratorium on the death penalty passed by a vote of 110 in favor, 39 against and 36 abstentions, a slight improvement from the same vote in 2010 and six more in favor than in a 2007 vote. A diplomat involved with the text said the aim is now to encourage states that have declared a moratorium to abolish executions, citing strong progress in Africa on ending the death penalty.

The U.S. is the only country in the Americas to still use the death penalty, carrying out 43 executions last year, the same as in 2011, but in only nine states, compared to 13 in 2011. There are 3,170 people still on death row in the U.S., according to Amnesty.

Belarus is the only country in Europe to still use the death penalty, carrying out at least three executions last year.

At least 557 executions were carried out in Middle East countries last year. Iran put 314 people to death in 2012; Iraq, 129; and Saudi Arabia, 79. Yemen, where a minimum of 28 people were executed last year, was the sixth biggest executioner in 2012. Those four countries accounted for 99 percent of all executions in the region last year.

Japan, seven executions last year, and the U.S. are the only G8 countries to still apply the death penalty. In Japan, as well as Belarus, prisoners were not informed of their forthcoming execution, nor were their families or lawyers, according to the Amnesty report.

Hanging remains the most commonly used method of execution followed by shooting. The U.S. and China both use lethal injection while Saudi Arabia still practices beheading, often in public.

The Amnesty report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald