Death Penalty: New report shows four countries carry out 84% of executions

The new figures, published in the Amnesty International report Death penalty worldwide, show that last year at least 1,146 people were executed in 28 countries. At least 2,756 people were also sentenced to death in 63 countries in 2003.

In the preceding year for which figures are available (2002), at least 1,526 people were executed in 31 countries - compared with over 3,048 people executed in 31 countries in 2001.

In China, limited and incomplete records available to Amnesty International indicated that at least 726 people were executed, but the true figure was believed to be much higher. A senior Chinese legislator suggested last month that China executes “nearly 10,000” people each year. At least 108 executions were carried out in Iran; 65 people were executed in the USA; and at least 64 people were executed in Vietnam.

These four countries alone accounted for 84% of all executions known to have taken place in 2003. However, many executions in places like China take place in conditions of near-secrecy and Amnesty International warned that known figures are certainly less than the actual ones.

Releasing the execution figures at the UN Commission on Human Rights, currently meeting in Geneva, Amnesty International called for countries meeting at the UN to agree to end the annual death toll of prisoner executions.

Last year the Commission called on countries that retained capital punishment to establish a moratorium on executions and Amnesty International is urging all states to support a similar resolution this year.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

“The intense secrecy that surrounds use of the death penalty in many countries makes this depressing log of last year’s executions an underestimate of the true extent of the use of this outdated punishment early in the 21st century.

“In China alone we fear that many thousands of people – possibly as many as 10,000 – are being executed in secret each year, the majority after shockingly unfair trials.

“While the historical trend is overwhelmingly toward abolition of this cruel and unnecessary punishment, we need to see ‘pariah’ countries like China coming clean over how often they execute prisoners as the next step toward a death penalty-free world.

“The USA’s defiant stance over executing those convicted for crimes committed as Children's rights is one particular area of concern, sending a dangerous message around the world. We call on the USA to abandon child offender executions as a first measure toward ending all judicial killing.”

In 2003 two child offenders were executed, one in China and one in the USA. The USA, however, is the only country to officially support such executions as lawful.

Amnesty International is opposed to all executions, seeing them as a serious human rights violation, while also noting that the death penalty always carries the risk of executing innocent prisoners.

Since 1973, 113 prisoners have been released from death row in the USA after evidence emerged of their innocence. Some came close to execution after spending many years under sentence of death. Recurring features in their cases include:

  • prosecutorial or police misconduct;
  • use of unreliable witness testimony, physical evidence, or confessions; and
  • inadequate defence representation.

Other US prisoners have gone to their deaths despite serious doubts over their guilt.

In February Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen visited a Scottish man, Kenny Richey, who has spent over 17 years on death row in the US state of Ohio. Kenny Richey, who was convicted of arson and murder in 1986, is appealing against his death sentence, attempting to have evidence heard that might help prove his innocence.

Amnesty International is urging the Ohio state authorities to allow Kenny Richey the opportunity to have this fresh evidence heard. This may mean that his case is re-tried, that he is accorded a new evidentiary hearing or a re-sentencing hearing is allowed.

Speaking after her visit to Mr Richey in February, Kate Allen said:

“Kenny has endured over 17 years on death row and Amnesty International has deep concerns about his case that go beyond our usual opposition to the death penalty.

“His case is one of the most compelling cases of apparent innocence that human rights campaigners have ever seen.”

Executions in 2003

China: 726+ (including two men executed by lethal injection in converted execution vans introduced in March)
Iran: 108+
USA: 65 (including two men with long mental illness histories and one child offender)
Vietnam: 64+ (including four men and one woman executed in front of one thousand onlookers in November)
Saudi Arabia: 50+ (including 26 for drugs offences)
Yemen: 30+
DRC: 15
Sudan: 10+
Singapore: 10
Chad: 9
Pakistan: 8+
Taiwan: 7+
Jordan: 7
Uzbekistan: 6+
Botswana: 4
Kazakhstan: 4
Thailand: 4
Zimbabwe: 4
Uganda: 3+
Cuba: 3
Bangladesh: 2
Belarus: 1+
Japan: 1
Egypt: e
Iraq: e
Mongolia: e
North Korea: e
Somalia: e

Note: a “+” symbol indicates that the figure is a minimum one; the true figure is at least the figure shown, but may be higher.

Note: a “e” symbol indicates that there were executions (at least one) but that Amnesty International does not know how many.

Relevant information

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