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Death penalty worldwide: USA bucks trend with rise, as global figures show drop in 2002

These annual figures, published as Death sentences and executions in 2002, show that in 2002 at least 1,526 people were executed in 31 countries - compared with over 3,048 people executed in 31 countries in 2001.

Most executions were recorded for China (1,060), followed by Iran (113) and the USA (71) - these countries alone accounting for over 80 per cent of known executions in 2002. Three executions of juvenile offenders are known to have taken place in 2002 - each in the USA. In Iran two people - one man and one woman - were reportedly stoned to death.

The overall total of executions recorded for 2002 amounted to a halving of the previous year's figures, yet Amnesty International cautioned that - in light of secrecy surrounding death penalty statistics in some countries - the figures should be seen as minimum figures only.

Moreover, 2002's figures were actually higher than those for 2000, giving rise to the concern that - leaving aside 2001's extremely high number (the highest since 1981) - the death penalty is still considered a viable punishment in countries around the world.

Amnesty International also recorded over 3,248 instances of people sentenced to death in 67 countries during 2002. Those condemned included mother of four Amina Lawal in Nigeria, sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, and 88 people in Sudan, including two 14-year-old boys.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'Compared to the huge number of executions in 2001, last year's figures show a significant drop in the use of this cruel and unnecessary punishment, yet every execution is an execution too many.

'Worryingly, executions are higher now than they were at the start of the millennium, and much remains to be done to remove the death penalty's bloody stain in judicial systems across the globe. 'During a year that saw a large overall drop in recorded executions, it is particularly disturbing that the USA bucked the trend and pressed ahead with the judicial killing of 71 death row prisoners.

'Despite grave concern at sub-standard trials leading to death sentences - and in the teeth of opposition over the execution of juvenile offenders and the mentally ill, America's shameful death penalty role is cause for deep concern.

'While, overall, we are relieved that recorded executions dropped last year, the underlying fear is that countries like China, Iran and Saudi Arabia are actually executing much larger numbers in secret.

'The veil of secrecy surrounding the death penalty's use needs to be ripped away. We call on all countries to publish full death penalty information and to urgently impose moratoria on its use.'

In line with previous years and reflecting its enormous population, the newly published statistics show that recorded executions in China dwarfed numbers for all other capital punishment states. The ten countries for which the highest execution rates were recorded in 2002 are:

  • China: 1,060+
  • Iran: 113+
  • USA: 71
  • Saudi Arabia: 48+
  • Sudan: 40+
  • Iraq: scores
  • Vietnam: 34+
  • Tajikstan: 28+
  • Egypt: 17+
  • Jordan: 14+

Amnesty International is releasing the death penalty figures at the UN Commission on Human Rights, currently meeting at Geneva, and is requesting that the UN take strong action to establish a universal moratorium on executions.

The human rights organisation has welcomed recent moves toward moratoria around the world. For example:

  • In January 2003 George Ryan, the outgoing governor of Illinois in the USA, followed his two-year death penalty moratorium by commuting the sentences of all 167 prisoners on the state's death row.
  • In 2002 suspension of executions were announced in Guatemala, the Philippines and the US state of Maryland (later overturned)
  • In Kyrgysztan the president announced in January 2003 that the country's moratorium on executions would be extended for another year.

Amnesty International welcomed the decision by the president of Tanzania in April 2002 to commute the death sentences of 100 people convicted of murder, and the commutation of 17 death sentences in Saudi Arabia in December.

By the end of 2002, 111 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. During 2002, Cyprus and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) abolished the death penalty for all offences. Turkey abolished the death penalty in practice.

Figures with a + sign indicate minimum known executions, with the true figure is believed to be significantly higher.

Further information about Amnesty International's campaign against the death penalty is available online.

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