Capital punishment is being stamped out across the globe—yet death sentences are still on the rise

Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Fewer people are being executed for crimes as more countries abolish capital punishment. Still, last year an increased number of death sentences were handed down.

Some 1,032 executions were carried out last year, compared to 2015 when 1,634 executions—a 26-year record—were recorded in 25 countries, according to data compiled by Amnesty International, the human rights group. Amnesty’s data does not include executions in China where details of the use of the death penalty are considered a “state secret.” Amnesty believes executions carried out in China number in the thousands. Globally, death sentences handed down increased last year,  but Amnesty attributes the increase to spikes in 12 countries and to cases like Thailand, where newly available information was considered.

Two more countries, Benin and Nauru, abolished capital punishment by law, taking the total number of countries to end the practice to 104.

For the first time in a decade, the US did not feature among the five biggest executioners. America’s 20 executions were its lowest since 1991, Amnesty says.

Fewer executions were carried out across regions. Mainly due to a 73% decrease in Pakistan, over 200 fewer executions were recorded in Asia-Pacific in 2016. In Middle East and North Africa (MENA), executions fell by 28%.

In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), even though executions fell by around half, death sentences more than doubled due to a spike in death sentences issued in Nigeria. The country handed down 527 death sentences in 2016—more than any other country except China, compared to 171 sentences in 2015. For inmates in Nigeria, the risk of being executed for crimes they did not commit is also high. Last year the country also accounted for half of the exonerations recorded globally.