2012 saw the resumption of executions in several countries that had not used the death penalty in some time, notably India, Japan, Pakistan and Gambia, as well as an alarming escalation in executions in Iraq.
But the use of the death penalty continues to be restricted to an isolated group of countries, and progress towards its abolition was seen in all regions of the world.
Only 21 of the world’s countries were recorded as having carried out executions in 2012 – the same number as in 2011, but down from 28 countries a decade earlier in 2003.
In 2012, at least 682 executions were known to have been carried out worldwide, two more than in 2011. At least 1,722 newly imposed death sentences in 58 countries could be confirmed, compared to 1,923 in 63 countries the year before.
But these figures do not include the thousands of executions that Amnesty International believes were carried out in China, where the numbers are kept secret.
“The regression we saw in some countries this year was disappointing, but it does not reverse the worldwide trend against using the death penalty. In many parts of the world, executions are becoming a thing of the past,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“Only one in 10 countries in the world carries out executions. Their leaders should ask themselves why they are still applying a cruel and inhumane punishment that the rest of the world is leaving behind.”
The top five executing countries in the world were once again China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and USA, with Yemen closely behind.
Methods of executions in 2012 included hanging, beheading, firing squad and lethal injection. In Saudi Arabia, the body of one man executed through beheading was displayed in what is known as “crucifixion”.
People faced the death penalty for a range of crimes including non-violent drug-related and economic offences, but also for “apostasy”, “blasphemy”, and “adultery” – acts that should not be considered crimes at all.