The London-based human rights organization Amnesty International says momentum against the death penalty is gaining ground around the world. The assessment is part of the group’s data-based report titled Death Sentences and Executions in 2010.
The total number of executions officially recorded by Amnesty International last year was at least 527.
This, however, does not include a very high number of executions in China, as Amnesty’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director Laura Moye explains. "It is difficult given the incredible secrecy that surrounds the death penalty, but from the information that we do have, we are convinced that the numbers are in the thousands," she said.
Despite these numbers, Moye says there are signs of a downward trend in China, like elsewhere in the world.
"It seems that in China there has been a move to limit the number of crimes punishable by death. So some of the white collar crimes have been eliminated - or at least there is a proposal to eliminate them - from the list of capital crimes. So we are hopeful that China is also heeding the message from the international community and from human rights proponents that the death penalty start to be whittled down toward its elimination," she said.
Amnesty International did not come up with numbers for other Asian countries which carried out executions, including Malaysia, North Korea and Vietnam.
For the countries Amnesty International did include, Iran had the most reported executions with at least 252, followed by Yemen with at least 53, and the United States with 46.
But, as part of its assessment that executions are gradually being reduced worldwide, the report notes that Illinois this month became the 16th U.S. state to abolish the death penalty.
The only country that joined the list of countries abolishing the death penalty in 2010 was the central African nation of Gabon.
Amnesty says 139 countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. A human rights campaign is currently under way for another African country, Ghana, to take the death penalty off its own books as it revises its constitution.
Moye says Amnesty International is also closely looking at the volatile situation in the Middle East, where many countries caught up in unrest, including Yemen, Libya and Syria, were in the top ten last year for most executions.
But she says the region also has countries which had very few or no executions. "In the Middle East, while Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, have often been at the top of the list as far as number of executions, there are many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa that have not been actively executing its citizens in recent years. That includes Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Western Sahara and the United Arab Emirates as well as Tunisia. So overall in the region we are seeing signs of progress," she said.
In December, a resolution renewing the United Nations General Assembly call for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty was adopted with 109 votes in favor, 41 against and 35 abstentions. This was a slight increase in favor of the moratorium compared to previous votes on the same issue in the world body in recent years.