Executions at a new all-time high in 2023

Sign with writing Amnesty International
The number of countries that execute people is at its all-time historic low. (Source: IMAGO / Pond5 Images)

The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has documented at least 1,153 executions in 16 countries in 2023. Furthermore, there is presumably a high number of unknown cases that would add to this number since no information exists from some countries. Such countries include China, where it is likely that more people are executed than in any other country.

According to the report, the number of globally documented executions has risen 31 percent, as 883 executions were documented in 2022 by Amnesty. Additionally, the number of executions this past year was higher than it had been for almost a decade: In 2015, 1,634 executions were registered.

According to the report, a few countries in particular were responsible for the increase in numbers. Almost three quarters of all registered executions took place in Iran: At least 853 people were killed there.

Amnesty accuses the Iranian authorities of making greater use of the death penalty to invoke fear and terror in the population and to consolidate their power. Furthermore, more than half of the executions are enforced for actions that are not punishable by death according to international law – in particular, drug offences. There were also public executions in the country – also a violation of international law. The organisation continues to criticise that the Baloch ethnic minority is often disproportionately affected by the death penalty. Although they only make up approximately five percent of the Iranian population, they account for 20 percent of all executions in Iran.

With 172 executions, Saudi Arabia is also responsible for a significant portion of the figures recorded by Amnesty – although there was a slight decrease compared to the 196 enforced death penalties from the previous year. Amnesty criticises that people in the country also receive death sentences for actions that should not be punished by death according to international law. Death sentences are imposed after unfair trials with extorted confessions.

Julia Duchrow, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Germany criticises: "The Iranian authorities showed a gross disregard for human life in 2023. Saudi Arabia, which repeatedly boasts its own reform efforts, imposes death sentences in part for trivial acts such as taking down social media posts critical of the government.”

Increasing numbers in Somalia and in the USA

The human rights organisation also recorded a dramatic increase of numbers in Somalia: The number of executions increased sixfold from six in 2022 to at least 38 in 2023. No other country in Sub-Saharan Africa imposed the death penalty – the number of sentences imposed in the region has, however, increased from 298 in 2022 to 494 in 2023.

And the USA also imposed more death sentences (24) in 2023 than in the previous year. In Florida, the first execution since four years was carried out. In the US states, Idaho and Tennessee, bills were introduced that would permit firing squad executions. In contrast, 23 states in the US have abolished the death sentence for all crimes.

For the 15th year in a row, the country is the only one in the region that carries out executions. Guyana as well as Trinidad and Tobago also impose death sentences – but have not carried them out.

Death penalty: A state secret

China is, however, missing from the figures published by Amnesty International since the government there treats information regarding the death penalty as a state secret. However, the organisation assumes that the most executions in the world occur there in the country – likely thousands of people. Therefore, Amnesty speaks of China being the world’s “leading executioner” and demands that authorities publish information about the use of capital punishment in the country.

For similar reasons, there are also no figures available from North Korea and Vietnam. However, the organisation also assumes that people in both countries are killed on a large scale by order of the state. Therefore, the organisation notes that the report only partially describes the actual extent of executions carried out globally.

Graphic global executions
Recorded global executions 2014 to 2023. (Source: Amnesty International)

Of the 1,153 killed, at least 31 were women: 24 were executed in Iran, six in Saudi Arabia and one in Singapore. Women were also killed in China as well – the number is, however, unknown.

In 2023, Amnesty International did not register any executions in Belarus, Japan, Myanmar and in South Sudan. These countries still allowed people to be killed in 2022.

Fewer countries carrying out the death penalty

According to the report, 16 countries in total carried out executions – in 2022 it was still 20. This is the lowest number of countries since Amnesty began recording global figures for executions.

In total, 52 countries imposed 2,428 new death sentences this past year. This is the highest amount since 2018 (then 2,531). In some countries in particular, there werevconsiderably more sentences imposed than in the previous year: Egypt sentenced 590 people to death and at least 248 new sentences were handed out in Bangladesh. There was also an increase in Iraq as well (at least 138) and Kenya (131).

At the end of 2023, there were at least 27,687 people sentenced to death globally.

Amnesty International fundamentally rejects the death penalty without any exceptions and demands that it be abolished globally.

Julia Duchrow explains: “More and more countries depart from the inhumane practice of the death penalty. For Amnesty International, the global abolishment of death penalty will only be over once no person falls victim to state executions.”

According to details provided by Amnesty, 144 countries had abolished the death sentence by law (112 countries) or in practice (32 countries) by the end of 2023. (js)