Amnesty International: Death penalty on decline, US in top 5

A new Amnesty International report finds that the use of the death penalty is declining worldwide and that in a number of countries, even when death sentences are issued, they are not carried out.

Kiichiro Sato/AP
This November 2005 file photo shows the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Corrections Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.

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Around the world, the death penalty appears to be in decline. However, a new report by Amnesty International reveals that a handful of countries continue the practice.

China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen, and the United States lead the world in carrying out the most death sentences. And China is suspected of executing more people in 2010 than all other countries combined – although that number is uncertain because China does not disclose its death penalty information.

Although there has been a downward trend in executions, officials at Amnesty International have expressed concern over China’s reluctance to make its execution records public and a number of other countries who still issue death sentences for drug-related offenses.

“In spite of some setbacks, developments in 2010 brought us closer to global abolition,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general in an official press release. “For the third time and with more support than ever before, the UN General Assembly called for a global moratorium on executions. Any country that continues to execute is flying in the face of the fact that both human rights law and UN human rights bodies consistently hold that abolition should be the objective.”

Amnesty International estimates that China executed thousands of people last year and urged them to make their records public. Excluding China, the total number of executions fell from 714 in 2009 to 527 in 2010, reports the BBC. Around the world, there seems to be a general trend toward the abolition of the death penalty. Over the past decade 31 countries have eliminated the death penalty in law or practice. Gabon was the most recent country to end the punishment, making it the 139th country to do so.

Following China, the countries who have carried out the most executions are Iran (at least 252), North Korea (at least 60), Yemen (at least 53), the US (46), and Saudi Arabia (at least 27), reports The Independent. Meanwhile, 67 countries issued at least 2,024 death sentences in 2010

The report also raised concerns over countries that imposed the death penalty for drug-related charges or executed minors for various legal infractions, reports the Guardian.

In Malaysia, for example, more than half of the 114 people sentenced to death received this ruling due to drug-related charges.

A number of nations – including South Korea, India, Laos, Pakistan, Thailand, Algeria, Kuwait, Tunisia, Cameroon, and the Maldives – issue death sentences but do not conduct executions, making it a "de-facto 'death penalty state'." In South Korea it appears that government officials are “at the crossroads” in their decision whether to keep or abolish the death penalty, reports The Korea Times.

“Many lawmakers are for the abolishment of capital punishment. Three bills on the abolishment are pending, and dozens of lawmakers announced a statement for the issue last October,” said an Amnesty International Korea official in Seoul.

Although 16 states in the US have abolished the death penalty, the country has the fifth highest execution rate in the world. CNN reports that polling indicates the US position on the death penalty is unlikely to change much in the coming years, with only about 3 in 10 people opposed to executions and 64 percent of Americans supporting the death penalty in murder cases.

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