Number of executions worldwide decreases but tripled in Egypt

2020 had the lowest number of executions in 10 years. Worldwide, the number of executions decreased by 26% compared to 2019 and by 70% compared to the peak year 2015. Amnesty International reports in their annual report on the death penalty.

Amnesty International recorded 483 executions in 18 countries in 2020, disregarding those countries that regard death penalty data as state secrets or for which there is limited information. Examples include China, North Korea, Syria, and Vietnam.

According to the human rights organization, this decrease is due to a reduction in some countries that apply the death penalty. To a lesser extent, it is also due to an interruption due to the corona crisis. Methods used to carry out an execution were decapitation, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection, and shooting with firearms.

Top five

Yet, there are also countries that have increased the number of executions. For example, three times more people were executed in Egypt than in 2019. The top five countries with the most executions were China (estimate: thousands), Iran (246+), Egypt (107+), Iraq (45+), and Saudi Arabia (27).

It is estimated that there are thousands of executions every year in China. However, these cannot be included in the grand total because the data is state secret. At least one person was also executed in China for a corona violation.

Several people in Egypt were executed for matters related to political violence. This happened after unfair trials in which confessions were coerced. On the other hand, Iran used the death penalty against dissidents, protesters, and ethnic minority groups.

In the United States, federal executions resumed under the Trump administration. This happened after a 17-year Hiatus. It was the only country in the Americas to carry out the death penalty in 2020. Ten people were executed in less than six months. Oman, India, Qatar, and Taiwan have also resumed executions.

The corona measures also affected access to legal aid in several countries. This is also the case in the US, where lawyers indicated that they could not do investigative work and were not allowed to have personal contact with their clients.

“The death penalty is a disgusting punishment, and continuing to carry out executions in the midst of a pandemic further accentuates its inherent cruelty. Resisting an execution is difficult in normal times. The pandemic made it impossible for many death row inmates to see a lawyer or legal representative in person. Anyone who wanted to provide assistance had to expose themselves to major – but completely avoidable – health risks. Using the death penalty in these circumstances is a very blatant attack on human rights,” says Wies De Graeve.


But there is also other news. Bahrain, Belarus, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore, and Sudan had no executions in 2020, while they did in 2019. The number of death sentences handed down has also fallen. The death penalty was handed down 1,477 times, of which Amnesty International is aware. That is a decrease of 36% compared to 2019. 2020 is the third year in a row with the lowest number of executions in 10 years.

Chad and the US state of Colorado abolished the death penalty in 2020. In 2021, the US state of Virginia was added. By April 2021, 144 countries had removed the death penalty in law or in practice. One hundred eight of these had the death penalty dropped for all crimes. Amnesty International expects this trend to continue.

“More countries than ever – 123 – support the UN General Assembly’s call for a moratorium on executions. As a result, the pressure on the other countries to join this is increasing. In the US, Virginia was recently the first southern state to abolish the death penalty, and Congress is debating bills that should lead to an abolition of the death penalty at the federal level. We call on the US Congress to support legislative initiatives to abolish the death penalty. We urge the leaders of countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty to put a definitive end to these state-approved killings by 2021. We will continue to campaign until the death penalty is abolished, everywhere, once and for all,” concludes Wies De Graeve.

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