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Amnesty International Report: U.S. Falls to 7th in Executions Amidst 37% Global Decline

Executions worldwide fell by 37% last year, according to the 2016 Amnesty International Global Report on Death Sentences and Executions, released on April 11. With 20 executions in 2016, the United States ranked seventh in the world among confirmed executions, the lowest it has ranked since at least 2005. For the 8th consecutive year, the U.S. was the only country in the Americas to conduct any executions, and the only Western democracy in the world to do so. Amnesty International confirmed that at least 1,032 people were executed worldwide in 2016, not including the estimated thousands executed in China, which classifies information on the death penalty as a state secret. Vietnamese media uncovered secret executions in that country, revealing that Vietnam had carried out 429 executions since August 2013, making it the world's third biggest executioner in that period, following China and Iran. The report found that 23 countries carried out executions in 2016, with 87% of the known executions occurring in just four countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan). Iran's 567 executions accounted for 55% of all documented executions worldwide. Death sentencing trends were mixed worldwide, with improved data collection documenting 3,117 death sentences in 2016—a record number for a single year—but those death sentences were concentrated in a smaller number of countries (55). Benin and Nauru abolished the death penalty for all crimes—bringing to 104 the number of countries to have done so—and Guinea abolished it for ordinary crimes. 141 countries worldwide, more than two-thirds, have now either abolished the death penalty in law or not executed anyone in more than a decade. Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International, summarized the international trends in the death penalty, saying, “Just a handful of countries are still executing people on a large scale. The majority of states no longer condone the state taking human life. With just four countries responsible for 87 percent of all recorded executions – the death penalty is itself living on borrowed time.” (Click image to enlarge.)


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Fifty Years After Australia's Controversial Final Execution, Opposition to Death Penalty Is Strong

On February 3, Australia marked 50 years since its last execution. That execution—the hanging of Ronald Joseph Ryan on February 3, 1967 for the murder of a prison guard during an escape attempt—came at a time in which support for capital punishment in the country was already waning. The state of Victoria, where Ryan was executed, had not had an execution since 1951. Though certain crimes carried a mandatory death sentence, the state government cabinet had commuted 34 of the other 35 death sentences imposed in the intervening 16 years. The Australian High Court had overturned the one other death sentence. A man who served on Ryan's jury said none of the jurors believed he would actually be executed, and seven of them wrote to the cabinet in favor of clemency. The Melbourne Herald, a conservative-leaning newspaper, editorialized against the execution in January 1967, saying, "The state government's insistence on this final solution is causing the deepest revulsion. It is punishment in its most barbarous form. And experience has shown it gains nothing but dishonour for the community which inflicts it." Eight years later, Victoria abolished the death penalty, and every Australian state repealed it by 1985. Since that time, Australians have grown more opposed to the death penalty. According to the BBC, the most recent national poll, conducted in August 2009, found 23% of Australians support the death penalty and 64% oppose it. In 2010, the national government, in keeping with an international treaty, passed laws banning the reintroduction of capital punishment. The Australian giovenment has been active in calling for the global abolition of capital punishment. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company at the time of the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo, Norway in June 2016, Australia's Special Envoy for Human Rights, Philip Ruddock, described his efforts to persuade U.S. and Chinese officials to move away from capital punishment. "I believe when your friends suggest that maybe there's time for a change, you do start to think a bit more seriously about it," he said. "I think many Americans are embarrassed that they continue to have some states that maintain capital punishment." 


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INTERNATIONAL: Human Rights Group, Reprieve Issues Report on Global Executions in 2016

Despite a sharp drop in executions, the United States ranked sixth among the world's executioners in 2016 behind only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan, according to a report by the British-based international human rights group, Reprieve. Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said "[i]t is alarming that countries with close links to the UK and [European Union] continue to occupy the ranks of the world's most prolific executioners in 2016." Questions of innocence, execution of juvenile offenders, and use of the death penalty for non-lethal drug offenses were among the top worldwide problems in the administration of the death penalty cited by Reprieve in the report. "[W]e have found children on death row, innocent people hanged, drugs offences dealt with as capital crimes, and torture used to extract false confessions," Foa said. "Countries that oppose executions must do more in 2017 to ensure that their overseas security assistance does not contribute to others states use of the death penalty.” Reprieve's analysis of global executions in 2016 found that China continues to carry out the most executions of any country, though the exact number is a state secret. Nearly half of the more than 500 prisoners executed in Iran were killed for committing drug offenses. In Saudi Arabia, those executed included juvenile offenders and political protestors. The ongoing armed conflict in Iraq made information on the country's executions difficult to obtain. Pakistan lifted a moratorium on executions in 2014, ostensibly in response to terrorism. But Reprieve found that 94% of those executed had nothing to do with terrorism. The Pakistan Supreme Court found in 2016 that two men who had been hanged were innocent. The Reprieve report also raised concerns about Egypt's high rate of death sentencing -- more than 1,800 people have been sentenced to death in that country in the last three years.


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