The number of worldwide executions increased from 2010 to 2011 [AI report, PDF], while the number of recorded death sentences decreased, according to an annual death penalty [JURIST news archive] report published Tuesday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. There were 676 executions globally in 2011, with 18,750 people currently sentenced to death. Although three fewer countries used capital punishment last year than in 2010, a sharp rise in executions in Iran, Iraq and Saudia Arabia accounted for much of the worldwide increase. Political unrest and violence stemming from last year's Arab Spring uprisings [JURIST news archive] in Libya, Syria and Yemen prevented adequate investigation. AI also acknowledged that China and Iran may have executed more people, but the figures were not reported. Executions decreased in the US, the only country in the Americas that executed prisoners last year. Only 10 percent of the world's countries currently use the death penalty and despite the recent increase in executions, the report noted an ongoing "global momentum toward abolition of the death penalty."
This year's report marks a change from previous years, since the number of executions decreased in 2010 and 2009 [JURIST reports]. Last month, JURIST guest columnist Nadia Bernaz of Middlesex University Law Department said Iraq is not complying with its obligation to respect international law on the right to life, and the UN should, at a minimum, demand that Iraq limit its use of the death penalty [JURIST op-ed]. Last year, Illinois became the sixteenth US state to abolish the death penalty [JURIST report]. Also last year, China dropped the death penalty [JURIST report] for 13 non-violent crimes, including teaching crime-committing methods and robbing ancient cultural ruins.