New death penalty figures show fewer countries executing, but sharp rise in Middle East

Report delivers message to executing countries -
'You are out of step with the rest of the world on this issue’ (Salil Shetty)

Countries that carried out executions in 2011 did so at an alarming rate but the number of countries using capital punishment has decreased by more than a third compared to a decade ago, said Amnesty International today (27 March), as it published its annual report on global death sentences and executions.

In total 20 countries carried out executions in 2011, down from 23 in 2010. Amnesty emphasised that only 10% of the world’s countries carried out executions last year.

Amnesty’s 74-page report Death Sentences and Executions in 2011 shows that at least 676 executions are known to have been carried out worldwide in 2011 (compared to 527 the previous year), largely due to a steep rise in recorded executions in three Middle Eastern countries. There were at least 360 judicial killings in Iran (up from 252+ in 2010), at least 82 in Saudi Arabia (up from 27+), and at least 68 in Iraq (up from 1+). However, as in previous years, the figures do not include the thousands of prisoners thought to have been executed in China, and Amnesty has also received credible reports that a large number of unacknowledged executions took place in Iran, executions that would almost double the number of 'official' ones there.

Executions were also recorded in 2011 in: USA (43), Yemen (41+), North Korea (30), Somalia (10), Sudan (7+), Bangladesh (5+), Vietnam (5+), South Sudan (5), Taiwan (5), the Occupied Palestinian Territories (3), Belarus (2), Egypt (1+), UAE (1), Malaysia (exact number unknown) and Syria (exact number unknown).

Amnesty’s report shows that most countries either hanged or shot their condemned prisoners, but there were also beheadings in Saudi Arabia and lethal injections in China, Taiwan and the USA. In violation of international law, Iran executed at least three juvenile offenders (those convicted of committing crimes when they were aged under-18), with a further four unconfirmed executions of juvenile offenders reported in Iran and one in Saudi Arabia. (See note on Iran juvenile offenders execution film below).

In 2011 prisoners were executed for a range of offences, including adultery and sodomy in Iran, blasphemy in Pakistan, sorcery in Saudi Arabia, and drugs offences in more than ten countries.

Meanwhile, at least 1,923 people were known to have been sentenced to death in 63 countries in 2011, down from the 2010 figure of 2,024-plus death sentences. Last year’s death sentences included those handed down in July against three people in the Republic of Congo after a court convicted them of trafficking human bones. Overall, at least 18,750 people were under sentence of death worldwide at the end of 2011.

In the majority of countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the trials did not meet international fair trial standards. In some cases this involved the extraction of “confessions” through torture or other duress, including in China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Public executions took place in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia, while prisoners were not informed of their forthcoming execution, nor were their families or lawyers, in Belarus and Vietnam.

Despite an increase in recorded executions in 2011, Amnesty’s report emphasised that even in countries carrying out executions some progress was made. For example, in China the government eliminated the death penalty for 13 mainly “white collar” crimes, and measures were also proposed to reduce the number of cases of torture in detention, strengthen the role of defence lawyers and ensure suspects in capital cases are represented by a lawyer. In the USA, where the number of executions and new death sentences has dropped dramatically from a decade ago, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty, and a moratorium was announced in Oregon.

Overall, 140 countries worldwide - more than two-thirds of the world’s countries - are now abolitionist in law or practice.
Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

“The vast majority of countries have moved away from using the death penalty.

“Our message to the leaders of the isolated minority of countries that continue to execute is clear: you are out of step with the rest of the world on this issue and it is time you took steps to end this most cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

“Even among the small group of countries that executed in 2011, we can see gradual progress. These are small steps but such incremental measures have been shown ultimately to lead to the end of the death penalty.

“It is not going to happen overnight but we are determined that we will see the day when the death penalty is consigned to history.”

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.The organisation considers that the death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Regional overviews and trendsd

Countries bucking global trend toward abolition

Last year the USA was again the only country in the Americas and the only member of the G8 group of leading economies to execute prisoners - 43 in total, including Troy Davis in Georgia in September.

Belarus, which executed two people in 2011 and two more earlier this month, is the only country in Europe and Central Asia to still use capital punishment. The Pacific region was death penalty-free in 2011 except for five death sentences in Papua New Guinea.

Africa (sub-Saharan)

There was significant progress in this region in 2011. Benin adopted legislation to ratify the key United Nations treaty aimed at abolishing the death penalty; Sierra Leone declared, and Nigeria confirmed, official moratoriums on executions; and the Constitutional Review Commission in Ghana recommended the abolition of the death penalty. There were at least 22 executions in three countries in sub-Saharan Africa: in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. Only 14 of the 49 countries in the region are classified as retaining the death penalty.


Positive signs were evident throughout this region in 2011. Excluding the thousands of executions thought to have taken place in China, at least 46 executions were reported in seven countries in the Asia region, and some 828 new death sentences were known to have been imposed in 17 countries in the region. No executions were recorded in Singapore nor, for the first time in 19 years, in Japan. The authorities in both countries have previously shown strong support for capital punishment.


In 2011 this was an execution-free region, with the number of countries imposing new death sentences in decline. Only three countries are known to have handed down a total of six death sentences: Guyana, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.


Thousands of people were executed in China in 2011, more than the rest of the world put together. Precise figures on the death penalty are a state secret. Amnesty has stopped publishing figures it collects from public sources in China as these are likely to grossly underestimate the true number. The organisation renewed its challenge to the Chinese authorities to publish data on those executed and sentenced to death, in order to confirm Chinese claims that changes in law and practice have led to a significant reduction in the use of the death penalty in the country over the last four years.

Middle East and North Africa

Four countries - Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen - accounted for 99% of all recorded executions in the Middle East and North Africa last year. Overall, at least 558 executions were confirmed in eight countries, and at least 750 death sentences were imposed in 15 countries. Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco/Western Sahara and Qatar imposed death sentences, but each of these countries continued a recent trend of refraining from carrying out executions. Meanwhile, violence in countries such as Syria, Libya and Yemen made it particularly difficult to gather adequate information on the use of the death penalty in these countries. For example, no information was available about judicial executions in Libya and no death sentences are known to have been imposed. Extrajudicial executions, torture and arbitrary detention were often resorted to instead.

  • Download report:  Death Sentences and Executions in 2011 (PDF)

Animated films launched

To coincide with the report’s publication, Amnesty has also produced a two-minute animated film (watch at the top of this page).

Iran film

In conjunction with The Guardian, Amnesty has today launched a five-minute online film about the execution of juvenile offenders in Iran It tells the story of Behnoud Shojaee, who was executed in Tehran’s Evin Prison in October 2009 after being convicted of an offence committed when he was 17.

The film is based on the experiences of his lawyer, Mohammed Mostafaei, who also represented Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery. Mostafaei fled the country in 2010 after a campaign of harassment by the authorities against him. His first-person narrative is voiced in the film by the British actor Paul Bettany. Watch the film /p>

  • Find out more about our work on the death penalty at /li>

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