More Nations Reject Death Penalty, Even as Use Spikes in Shrinking Minority of Countries

The New York Times reports that the number of countries using capital punishment continued to shrink and its use became more isolated from 2013 to 2014, even as the number of death sentences worldwide rose. 105 countries have abolished the death penalty, most recently Suriname and Mongolia, and the United Nations lists 60 additional countries as “de facto abolitionist” because they have not had any executions in at least 10 years. That leaves just 28 countries that still practice capital punishment. However, the Times reports, the number of death sentences imposed around the world increased by 28%. Ivan Simonovic, the United Nations assistant secretary general for human rights, called it “a troubling paradox that while the majority of countries have abandoned the use of the death penalty, the overall number of those sentenced to death has been increasing recently.” He said, “Terrorism offenses and drug-related offenses seem to be the driving arguments behind this increase, although there is no evidence of its deterring effects.” China carries out more executions than any other country, estimated in the thousands, though the exact number is unknown. Saudi Arabia’s January 2 execution of a Shiite cleric sparked conflict between that nation and Iran; both countries have been criticized by human rights groups for using the death penalty for drug offenses and religious charges. The 5 countries that conducted the most executions were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Iraq. (Click image to enlarge.)

(S. Sengupta, “Death Sentences Surge, Even as More Countries Drop Capital Punishment,” The New York Times, January 4, 2016.) See International. Map reflects data from Amnesty International’s “Death Sentences and Executions 2014.”