New report examines execution rates around the world

As more nations abandon capital punishment, Amnesty International’s 2016 report sheds light on the world’s remaining executioners and situates the US’s falling use in a global context.

A new report from our friends at Amnesty International captures the use of the death penalty around the world in 2016. It shows that for another year capital punishment continued its incremental global decline.


Some key takeaways:

  • United States
    • Amnesty’s annual reports are useful for situating capital punishment in the US in the global context.
    • The number of death sentences and executions hit record lows in 2016, so low, in fact, that the USA dropped out of the so-called “top 5” executioner nations. This is only the second year since 1991 that the US has not been among the five nations that carried out the most executions.
    • US States executed 20 people in the past year, the lowest number of executions since 1991. The drop in new death sentences was even starker—32 people were added to the nation’s death rows, which was the lowest annual number since 1973.
    • Mirroring the decline in total executions and sentencing, the number of states carrying out executions remains small at just 5. Florida and Missouri each executed one person, Alabama executed two people, Texas executed 7 people, and Georgia executed 9 people.
    • 19 US states do not authorize executions, and, of those that do, 12 of them have not put anyone to death for at least a decade.


  • China
    • While the figures of the United States show progress, the information Amnesty was able to gather about China was as grim as ever.
    • The report estimates that, excluding China, there were 1,032 people executed around the world in 2016. China, Amnesty estimates, put to death more people than the rest of the world combined during the same period of time.
    • The rise of exonerations may have an effect on the number of death sentences and executions in the future. In the last year, there were at least 4 death penalty exonerations in China, and the Supreme People’s Court overturned the conviction of someone who had been executed 21 years ago in a profound miscarriage of justice.
  • Other important developments
    • More than half of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty, with Benin and Nauru as the most recent additions.
    • There was a sizeable drop (37%) in the number of executions in comparison to 2016, but the total number of people put to death remained above average for the decade.
    • The fall in executions was mostly due to declining use in Iran and Pakistan. Iran executed 42% fewer people than it did in 2015 (from approximately 977 to approximately 567). Pakistan executed 326 people in 2015 and 87 people last year—a 73% decrease.
    • Despite the relative decrease in execution rates in Pakistan and Iran, the Middle East was home to the vast majority of recorded executions in 2016. Iran, even at a reduced rate, accounted for 55% of recorded executions on its own. Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia taken together accounted for 87% of the total recorded executions around the world. (Note: these figures refer to documented judicial executions. China remain the leader in executions, but the official number is a state secret.)

The full report is available here.

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