A "sharp global spike" in executions in 2013 bucked an overall decrease in the death penalty over the last few decades, raising concerns among human rights campaigners that countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, U.S., and Iran are stubbornly holding on to the practice.
"Alarming levels of executions in an isolated group of countries in 2013—mainly the two Middle Eastern states [Iraq and Iran]—saw close to 100 more people put to death around the world compared to the previous year, a jump of almost 15 per cent," reports Amnesty International in their annual death penalty review.
“The virtual killing sprees we saw in countries like Iran and Iraq were shameful. But those states who cling to the death penalty are on the wrong side of history and are, in fact, growing more and more isolated,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Among those states, the U.S. remained high on the list—with the fifth highest number of executions (39). The U.S. followed China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia on that list.
Excluding China, which Amnesty said may have executed thousands last year alone but kept its execution numbers mostly hidden, at least 778 other executions occurred in 2013, compared to 682 in 2012.
Citing a previous decline in the death penalty over recent decades, wherein the last twenty years saw the number of countries who implement the death penalty decrease from 37 to 22, Shetty stated:
The long-term trend is clear – the death penalty is becoming a thing of the past. We urge all governments who still kill in the name of justice to impose a moratorium on the death penalty immediately, with a view to abolishing it.
According to Amnesty, while there was a slight decline in executions in the U.S. since 2012, it was the only country to carry out executions in the Americas in 2013.
Forty-one per cent of those executions occurred in Texas, while progress was made in Maryland, which became the 18th U.S. state to abolish the death penalty.
Additionally, according to a report released this week by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, there are stark racial disparities in the use of the death penalty in the U.S. that "affects disproportionately African Americans, exacerbated by the rule that discrimination has to be proven case-by-case."
"It is further concerned by the high number of persons wrongly sentenced to death," the committee continues, "despite existing safeguards, and by the fact that 16 retentionist states do not provide for compensation for the wrongfully convicted and other states provide for insufficient compensation."
Lastly, the Committee "notes with concern reports about the administration by some states of untested lethal drugs to execute prisoners and the withholding of information on such drugs."