Editorial: Amnesty International releases annual report
On 21 April, we published our annual report on the global use of the death penalty, which shows that in 2020 the world got one step closer to freeing itself from this cruel punishment.
Known executions decreased by 26% compared to 2019, continuing the year-on-year reduction that we recorded since 2015 and reaching the lowest figure in more than 10 years. This does not include the thousands of executions that we believe continued to be carried out in China, which classifies data on the death penalty as a state secret, as well as executions in countries where access to information is very limited.
The significant drop in known executions was primarily linked to decreases in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, where recorded executions halved and reduced by 85%, respectively, compared to 2019. Known executions for drug-related offences in Saudi Arabia reduced from 84 in 2019 to just five in 2020.
To a lesser degree, hiatuses in court proceedings and executions that took place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic were also a factor behind this global fall in recorded executions; and impacted the number of known death sentences imposed in many countries – leading to an overall 36% reduction compared to 2019.
In 2020, as the world focused on the pandemic and protecting people’s lives, we also recorded alarming increases in the resort to executions by some states. Egypt more than tripled its yearly figure; in the USA the Trump administration resumed federal executions and put 10 men to death over five and a half months. India, Oman, Qatar and Taiwan also resumed state killings. In China, the authorities announced a crackdown on criminal acts that affected Covid-19 prevention efforts, resulting in at least one man going from arrest to execution at chilling speed. Restrictions on the use of the death penalty under international human rights law and standards continued to be violated in many countries.
We also saw Chad and the US state of Colorado fully abolished the death penalty, followed this year by the US state of Virginia and Malawi; and a record number of states (123) supporting the biennial resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the UN General Assembly. In 2020, the global trend continued to be in favour of abolition. 2021 ought to be no different.