The death penalty: fewer and fewer countries apply it but the number of executions is at its highest level in 10 years

The death penalty: fewer and fewer countries apply it but the number of executions is at its highest level in 10 years
The death penalty: fewer and fewer countries apply it but the number of executions is at its highest level in 10 years

Of all the executions recorded in Iran, at least 545 were linked to acts that should not carry the death penalty under international law, including drug offenses, theft and acts of espionage. Executions linked to drug offenses have increased; they represented 56% of the number of executions recorded in 2023, an increase of 89% compared to the 255 executions recorded in 2022.

Setbacks in the United States and sub-Saharan Africa

In the United States, progress was undermined by an increase in the number of executions, from 18 to 24. Bills to use firing squads were introduced in Idaho and Tennessee, and the Montana House of Representatives considered a measure intended to expand the list of substances used in lethal injections. In South Carolina, a newly enacted law allows the identity of people or entities involved in preparing or carrying out executions to be masked.

“A number of American states have shown their worrying attachment to the death penalty and their cruel intention to invest resources in taking human lives. Executions by nitrogen asphyxiation, a horrifying new method which has not even been not tested, are now also practiced in Alabama, where Kenneth Smith was shamefully put to death in this way in 2024, just 14 months after suffering a failed execution attempt.pointed out Agnès Callamard.

“President Joe Biden must finally keep his promise to abolish capital punishment at the federal level.”

There have also been setbacks elsewhere in the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where death sentences and executions have increased in 2023. The number of executions recorded in the region has more than tripled, going from 11 in 2022 to 38 in 2023, and the number of death sentences recorded there increased by 66%: it was 494 in 2023 compared to 298 in 2022. In addition, no country in the region has abolished the death penalty in 2023.

State secret

Due to state secrecy, the figures put forward by Amnesty International do not take into account the thousands of people believed to have been executed in China, which remains the country with the highest number of executions in the world. Likewise, the organization was unable to establish figures for North Korea or Vietnam, countries believed to carry out many executions.

However, the few official reports from these countries sent a clear message to the population that crimes or dissent would be punished with the death penalty, showing that this punishment was still part of the arsenal available to the country. state to maintain its control and repress the opposition.

In China, state media reports served to remind people that offenses such as drug trafficking and corruption would be punished harshly and result in execution, while North Korea enacted a new law which provides for capital punishment as a possible punishment for people who do not use the local Korean language. In Myanmar, military authorities continued to impose the death penalty in military-controlled courts with secret and grossly unfair procedures.

Despite setbacks, progress continued

Despite the actions of a few, progress continued. To date, 112 countries have completely abolished capital punishment and 144 have done so in law or in practice.

Executions were recorded in 16 countries, the lowest number ever recorded by Amnesty International. No executions were recorded in Belarus, Japan, Myanmar or South Sudan, although these were among the countries carrying out killings in 2022.

In Asia, Pakistan removed the death penalty for drug offenses, and mandatory death penalty was abolished in Malaysia. Sri Lankan authorities confirmed that the president did not intend to sign execution orders, easing concerns about a possible resumption of executions.

Although no country had abolished the death penalty in sub-Saharan Africa, draft laws to do so were still under consideration in Kenya, Liberia and Zimbabwe. In Ghana, Parliament voted in favor of two bills removing the death penalty from existing law, but as of the end of 2023, neither bill had been signed into law.

“The intrinsically discriminatory and arbitrary nature of the death penalty only adds to the human rights violations committed in our judicial systems. The handful of countries that persist in resorting to this punishment must live with the times and ‘abolish once and for all’, said Agnès Callamard.

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