Archive for April 29, 2021


This is an extract from Amnesty’s annual death penalty report for 2020 which, overall, is good news with a decline in the use of the penalty around the world. It excludes China which executes thousands of its citizens but does not publish figures which are a state secret.

Once again the number of known executions has fallen (by 26%) and at 483 is now at its lowest for 10 years.  The number of known death sentences imposed has also fallen. Much of the fall in execution numbers has been driven by significant reductions in Saudi Arabia (down 84%) and Iraq (down over 50%).  However, these falls have been offset by a tripling of executions in Egypt to at least 107.

The five countries that executed the most people are China (1,000s), Iran (at least 246), Egypt (at least 107), Iraq (at least 45) and Saudi Arabia (27). In the USA the picture is mixed with state executions significantly down but this was negated by a surge in federal executions ordered by the outgoing Trump administration.  The USA remains the only country in the Americas to execute people.

The number of known death sentences handed down has also fallen from 2,307 to 1,477 although some of this reduction appears to be due to delays in proceedings in response to the pandemic.

18 countries are known to have carried out executions in 2020, a reduction of 2 since 2019.  Chad and the US state of Colorado abolished the death penalty and Kazakhstan committed to its abolition. On the other hand executions were resumed in India, Qatar, Oman and Taiwan.

Some of the more disturbing trends in 2020 included the following:

  • The Trump administration executed 10 people at the federal level in less than six months
  • China used the death penalty to crack down on offences related to Covid-19 prevention efforts
  • In some countries, including the USA, defence lawyers said that they had been unable to meet clients face to face because of Covid restrictions.

Asia-Pacific countries were notable for imposing death sentences for crimes not involving intentional killing, which is in violation of international law. This included drug offences in China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam, corruption in China and Viet Nam and for blasphemy in Pakistan. In the Maldives five people under the age of 18 at the time of their offences remain under sentence of death.

Nevertheless the trend remains positive. 144 countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.  123 countries supported the UN General Assembly’s call for a moratorium on executions.  In the USA the state of Virginia recently became the first southern state to abolish the death penalty and several bills to abolish it at federal level are pending before Congress.

Amnesty continues to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances and will continue to campaign until the death penalty is abolished everywhere for good.