The global death penalty rate is skyrocketing. According to the latest tallies, published today by Amnesty International, at least 1,634 people were put to death last year, a 54 percent increase from the previous year. That’s the highest number of recorded executions in more than a quarter century, and it’s not even counting deaths in China, the world’s top executioner, where death penalty data is treated as a state secret.
Most of those deaths were in the Middle East: Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia accounted for nearly 90 percent of all executions in 2015. The vast majority of Iran’s executions were for drug-related crimes, while Pakistan lifted a moratorium on civilian executions in 2014 to more aggressively punish suspected terrorists. In Saudi Arabia, the justice system is so opaque that it’s hard to know what’s driving executions, but since the new king came to power last year, the country has drawn increasing international condemnation for its crackdown on dissidents.
While executions surged in those three countries, the trend elsewhere was more heartening. Four more countries abolished the death penalty last year, which means that for the first time ever, more than half of all nations have legally abolished it. (Other countries have abandoned it in practice, after not executing anyone for at least a decade.)
And where does the United States stand? Just like in 2014, it ranked fifth on the list of the world’s top executioners last year. The country recorded 28 executions, its lowest annual amount since 1991, and 52 new death sentences, the lowest since 1977. Since 1846, 19 states have abolished the death penalty, but even though lethal punishment here is on the decline, we’re still the only country in the Americas to execute people.
You can read Amnesty International’s full report here.