Amnesty International’s latest report on capital punishment indicates that the world still executed roughly the same number of people, from roughly the same number of countries, as it did in 2011.
New in 2012, though, is a dramatic doubling of executions in Iraq and reversals of long-standing death penalty moratoriums in countries such as Japan and India.
First, the numbers: Twenty-one countries carried out executions in 2012, the same as 2011. Those countries — of which China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are the biggest offenders — executed at least 682 people, or two more than in 2011. That's not including China, which is thought to execute far more prisoners than any other country. Some 58 countries also imposed 1,722 death sentences – just the sentence, not the actual execution – versus 63 countries and 1,923 sentences the year before.
To put those numbers in context, they’re all down from a decade ago, when more than 30 countries carried out executions. But in the short term, it’s hard to see a global trend in either direction — the number of executions and imposed sentences have both swung unpredictably, especially since 2005.
On a country-by-country basis, though, some trends are pretty clear. The spike of executions in Iraq is particularly striking. Amnesty confirmed at least 129 executions there in 2012 (up from 68 in 2011), including some “batch” executions of as many as 34 people in one day. Many of the executions appear linked to Iraq’s post-Saddam transitions — the former dictator’s bodyguard was among those executed this year, and the country’s former foreign minister and deputy prime minister are on death row.
India, Japan, Pakistan and Gambia also carried out executions in 2012, after long periods without them. Gambia promised to drop capital punishment again following an international outcry in August.
As the report points out, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Yemen remain the biggest users of capital punishment. We don’t even know how many people China executes each year — those numbers are considered state secrets.
The U.S., on the other hand, executed 43 people in 2012, which — as the report notes several times — puts the country at odds with both its neighbors and much of the Western world. That becomes particularly clear in maps like this one.
Read the full report, in PDF form, here.