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International death penalty use declining: AI

Use of the death penalty [JURIST news archive] is on the decline across the world, according to a report [text] released Monday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. Excluding China, which keeps its death penalty statistics secret, the number of executions worldwide decreased from 714 in 2009 to 527 in 2010. The report further estimates that China executed "thousands" of individuals in 2010, more than the rest of the world combined. Although seven countries or territories re-instituted the death penalty after a break or expanded the scope of its current death penalty laws in 2010, fewer than half the countries that retain the death penalty have executed anyone since 2003. Salil Shetty, Secretary-General of AI, stated [AI blog]:

Countries that insist on using the death penalty continue to claim that they use it only in accordance with international law. But most of their actions blatantly contradict these claims.

In reality, many of these countries use the death penalty as a convenient way of getting rid of troublesome people and showing that authorities are tough on crime. It is often imposed after unfair trials and based on confessions extracted through torture. It is often used against political opponents, poor people, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities. It is sometimes even used against people who allegedly committed crimes when they were under 18 or who have significant mental impairments.

Shetty argues that, for these reasons, "[a] world free of the death penalty is not only possible, it is inevitable."

This is the second year in a row that the number of executions has decreased [JURIST report]. The 110 executions carried out in the US in 2010 represented only approximately a third as many as were being carried out in the mid 1990s, and Illinois became the sixteenth state to abolish the death penalty [JURIST report] in March. Illinois' death penalty ban is set to go into effect in July. Also this year, China dropped the death penalty [JURIST report] for 13 non-violent crimes in February, including teaching crime-committing methods and robbing ancients ruins. In October, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] China, Iran and the US to abolish the death penalty [press release].

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