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Death penalty: Amnesty, sentences and executions decline. Hope from Africa

Death executions worldwide declined by 4%, while death sentences decreased from 3.117 in 2016 to 2.591 in 2017. The most significant decrease was registered in Africa, with Guinea becoming 20th state in the Sub-Saharan region to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. More than 50% of world countries support the abolition of the death penalty while China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan carried out more than 51% of the global total. Amnesty International’s Global Report on Death Penalty released the latest facts and figures

The capital-punishment trend is finally reversed, with a significant decline in death sentences and executions worldwide. The most significant decline was registered in Africa, with Guinea becoming the 20th state in the Sub-Saharan region to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. According to the Death Penalty Report released today by Amnesty international, at least 993 executions in 23 countries were recorded in 2017, (1.032 in 2016, down by 4%), 39% less than in 2015 (1.634 the highest number ever). At least 2,591 death sentences were issued in 53 Countries, a significant drop from the record-high of 3,117 in 2016. In addition to Guinea, Mongolia joined the group of abolitionist countries in 2017 thereby totalling 106 abolitionist countries, over 50% of world Countries. After Guatemala became abolitionist for ordinary crimes, the number of States that abolished death penalty by law or in practice rose to 142. Only 23 States – as in 2016 – have continued carrying out death sentences, some of which after a period of suspension. However, despite important strides, for Amnesty International it’s not yet time to lower the guard given that at least 21,919 people were known to be on death row at the end of 2017.

In Africa, for example, Kenya abolished the death penalty for murder while Burkina Faso and Chad also took steps towards abolition of the death penalty under new or proposed laws. In 2016 five States in the region were recorded by Amnesty to have carried out executions compared to only two – South Sudan and Somalia – in 2017, although Botswana and Sudan have continued to carry out executions. Gambia signed an international protocol that commits the country not to carry out executions and to take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction, and in February 2018 its President established a moratorium on executions. “The progress in sub-Saharan Africa reinforced its position as a beacon of hope for abolition. The leadership of countries in this region gives fresh hope that the abolition of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is within reach”, said Amnesty International General Secretary Salil Shetty.

At global level. 

2,591 death sentences were recorded in 53 countries in 2017, down from the record-high of 3,117 recorded in 2016.

Unfortunately these figures don’t include the number of death sentences and executions in China, because of the restrictions on access to information in the Country, although according to Amnesty’s available information this practice is carried out against thousands of people each year. Significantly, the Report records a noticeable decrease in the overall number of executions carried out for drug-related offences in Countries that are staunch supporters of the use of the death penalty for such offences. In Iran, states the Report, executions decreased by 11% compared to 2016, while the number of executions for drug-related offences dropped by 40%. Malaysia has adopted legislative amendments that could reduce the use of the mandatory death penalty for drug-trafficking. Indonesia, where four people were sentenced to capital punishment for drug-related offences in 2016, recorded no executions in 2017, coupled by a slight decrease in the total number of death sentences.

The black list. The black list of Countries imposing death penalty includes 15 States, with a record-high in the Middle East and North Africa, while Asia/Pacific is reconfirmed the area with the highest number of States imposing death penalty for the above-mentioned offences.

Most executions for drug-related offences took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

Malaysia and Viet Nam made available limited information on the use of death penalty for drug-related offences. Singapore carried out eight executions for drug-related offences, twice as many compared to 2016. The same trend was recorded in Saudi Arabia, where public executions for drug-related offences increased from 16% of all executions carried out in 2016 to 40% in 2017. Moreover, many governments breached several other international prohibitions relating to capital punishment in 2017. According to Amnesty International at least five people in Iran were executed for crimes committed when they were under 18 years of age. At the end of 2017 at least 80 more people were on the death row in Iran. People with mental or intellectual disabilities were executed or remained under sentence of death in several countries including Japan, Maldives, Pakistan, Singapore and the USA. Amnesty’s Report states that in several countries – including Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – some convictions and death sentences were based on “confessions” that may have been extracted through torture or other ill-treatment. In Iran and Iraq some of these “confessions” were broadcast on television. “In the last 40 years we have seen positive changes in the global use of the death penalty – Shetty concluded -, but other urgent measures are needed to stop the horrific practice of state murder.”

“Death penalty is the symptom of a culture of violence, not the solution to stop it.”

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