China Still Global Leader in Death Penalty Use

Amnesty International released the 2012 “Death Sentences and Executions” report this week, showing that a global trend towards abolishing capital punishment is continuing. From Amnesty International’s press release:

Only 21 of the world’s countries were recorded as having carried out executions in 2012 – the same number as in 2011, but down from 28 countries a decade earlier in 2003.

In 2012, at least 682 executions were known to have been carried out worldwide, two more than in 2011. At least 1,722 newly imposed death sentences in 58 countries could be confirmed, compared to 1,923 in 63 countries the year before.

But these figures do not include the thousands of executions that Amnesty International believes were carried out in China, where the numbers are kept secret.

China aside, the Amnesty International report notes that the Asia Pacific region as a whole saw “disappointing setbacks” towards their goal of global abolishment: India saw its first execution since 2004, Japan executed seven people after a nearly two-year hiatus, and Pakistan also resumed use of  the death penalty. From The Guardian:

[…A] number of countries in Asia Pacific that had not carried executions for a number of years did so in 2012, such as India, which executed one person, Japan seven, Pakistan one and Gambia nine.

“The regression we saw in some countries this year was disappointing, but it does not reverse the worldwide trend against using the death penalty. In many parts of the world, executions are becoming a thing of the past,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary general.

The Supreme People’s Court claims that use of the death penalty in China has significantly decreased since a regulation was enacted in 2007 requiring each case to be reviewed individually, and human rights advocacy group Dui Hua’s estimates support that assertion, showing 6,500 in 2007 and 4,000 in 2011. While enforced regulation may continue to reduce the use of capital punishment in China, The South China Morning Post quotes a criminal law expert who believes that shifting public support will be more difficult:

Hao Xingwang, a criminal law expert at Beijing’s Renmin University, believed that the number of executions would likely continue to fall as Beijing tightens its regulations. Public support for the death penalty, however, would remain strong for some years, he said.

“Most Chinese people believe the death penalty is necessary, but don’t really understand the risks and drawbacks. The concept of an eye-for-an-eye has been well established since ancient times and will take a long time to change,” Hao said.

Also see infographics and a concise data summary of the Amnesty International report, via The Guardian. For more on the death penalty in China, see prior CDT coverage.

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