For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

AIUSA media office, 202-544-0200 x302,
or Brian Evans, 202-544-0200 x496, mobile: 646-853-9623,  

New Amnesty International Report Cites United States Mirroring Global Progress Toward Death Penalty Abolition

WASHINGTON - -Amnesty International (AI)
reported today that the global trend toward eliminating capital punishment
continued in 2008 and that "[t]here is increasing evidence that the United
States itself is slowly turning away from the death penalty."

AI's new report, Death Sentences and
Executions in 2008
, which provides a global overview of the death penalty,
found that only 25 out of the 59 countries that retain the death penalty
executed in 2008.  In the United States, only nine of the 36 states
that retained the death penalty in 2008 actually carried out executions,
and the vast majority of these executions took place in one region: the
South.  Texas accounted for, in essence, half (18 of 37) of the U.S.
executions in 2008.

"Executions in the United States are increasingly
a regionally isolated phenomenon.  Elsewhere, concerns about cost,
the possibility of executing the innocent and racial bias have led to a
significant decline in support for capital punishment," said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn,
director of AIUSA's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign.  On March 18,
2009, New Mexico became the 15th state to become death penalty-free
as a result of these concerns. Currently Nebraska, New Hampshire, Colorado
and Montana are considering a variety of abolition bills.

Amnesty International's report disclosed
that executions are also a regional phenomenon at the international level,
as the vast majority of executions in 2008 occurred in Asia and the Middle
East.  Europe and Central Asia are now virtually free of the death
penalty--with the exception of Belarus. The United States is the only country
in the Americas that consistently executes.  In December of 2008,
St. Kitts and Nevis carried out the first execution in the Americas outside
the United States since 2003.  There were only two recorded executions
in sub-Saharan Africa in 2008, though at least 362 people were sentenced
to death.

The report found that between January and
December 2008, at least 2,390 people were executed around the world with
at least 8,864 sentenced to death in 52 countries.  China remained
the world's leading executioner by a wide margin, accounting for at least
1,718 executions--near three-quarters of all executions--although the figure
is believed to be much higher as statistics on death sentences and executions
remain state secrets.  As in previous years, the United States was
also one of the world's top executing nations, behind only China, Iran,
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Together, the five countries accounted for 93%
of all documented executions worldwide.  

"While it is rewarding to see the United
States progressing toward death penalty abolition, the United States should
be at the forefront of this movement, not bringing up the rear," said

The report addresses the discriminatory manner
with which the death penalty was often applied in 2008, with a disproportionate
number of sentences handed down to the poor, and to members of racial,
ethnic or religious minority communities in countries such as Iran, Sudan,
Saudi Arabia and the United States.  It also discusses the continuing
risk of executing the innocent, as highlighted by the four prisoners released
from death rows in the United States on grounds of innocence. The four
were Kennedy Brewer (Mississippi), Glen Edward Chapman (North Carolina),
Levon "Bo" James (North Carolina) and Michael Blair (Texas).


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