Amnesty: Fewer Nations Executing More People

Posted March 27th, 2012 at 5:00 am (UTC-5)
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Amnesty International says a declining number of mainly Asian countries continued to carry out the death penalty at an “alarming rate” in 2011.

The rights group said Tuesday that only 10 percent of the countries in the world now employ capital punishment. That represents a decline of more than a third from a decade ago.

But Jose Luis Diaz, the head of Amnesty International's U.N. office, says those countries continue to go against the global trend, having putting to death 676 people in the past year.

“A small, we believe, increasingly isolated number of countries are carrying out the bulk of the executions. The states that year-on-year are consistently among the highest executioners include China, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the U.S. and Yemen.”

The group's figures do not include the “thousands” of executions that it estimates were carried out in China, where capital punishment figures are not released. It says more people were likely executed last year in China than the rest of the world combined, despite Beijing's publicly announced intention to reduce the figure.

Diaz said many countries are increasingly executing criminals for non-violent crimes, often after trials that do not meet international standards.

“Adultery and sodomy in Iran, for example. Blasphemy in Pakistan. Sorcery in Saudi Arabia. The trafficking of human bones in the Republic of the Congo. And drug offenses in over 10 countries — a number of these in Southeast Asia. … I would challenge anyone to really justify these as being the most serious cases for applying the death penalty.”

In the Asia-Pacific region, Amnesty said seven countries carried out executions and more than 800 new death sentences were imposed in the last year.

The Middle East also saw an increase of almost 50 percent for 2011. It said Iran executed 360 people, not counting secret executions that could double that figure.

The U.S. ranked fifth on Amnesty's list, having carried out 43 executions. It is the only member of the Group of Eight leading economies that puts prisoners to death.

Overall, nearly 19,000 people worldwide were under a death sentence at the end of last year.

Amnesty International is calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty, which it says it cruel and inhumane.