Death penalty: Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco/Western Sahara must abolish the death penalty in law

  • Executions and death sentences recorded globally declined after record-high peaks of previous years
  • Iran and Malaysia adopted legislative amendments to reduce the death penalty for drug-related offences
  • Positive steps seen across sub-Saharan Africa, with Guinea becoming 20th abolitionist state, substantial decreases in death sentences and ongoing legislative developments
  • Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco/Western Sahara have not executed since the early 1990s, but none have abolished the death penalty in law.

In North Africa, only Egypt carried out executions in 2017. Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco/Western Sahara have not carried out executions since the early 1990s. However, none of them have committed to abolishing the death penalty in law. Several legal provisions in each of these countries still proscribe the death penalty, bucking the international trend in favour of abolishing the death penalty and respecting the right to life.

While no executions have been carried out in Tunisia since 1991, Amnesty International has recorded 25 death sentences imposed by the courts following trials related to national security, compared to 44 people in 2016, in what seems to be a decreasing trend. At the end of 2017 at least 77 people were under the sentence of death in Tunisia.

In 2017, the organisation recorded 27 death sentences in Algeria, less than the 50 recorded in 2016. But the true extent of the imposition of death sentence in Algeria is unknown as official data was not revealed by State authorities. For Morocco/Western Sahara, in 2017 courts handed down at least 15 death sentences, according to information provided by the government, compared to at least 6 in 2016. At least 95 people were under the sentence of death at the end of 2017.

“With governments in the region continuing to take steps to reduce and repeal the death penalty well into 2018, the isolation of the world’s remaining executing countries could not be starker.” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty.

“Now that 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, it is high time that the rest of the world follows their lead and consigns this abhorrent punishment to the history books.”

Elsewhere in Africa, there was a recorded drop in the number of executing countries across sub-Saharan Africa, from five in 2016 to two in 2017, with only South Sudan and Somalia known to have carried out executions. However, with reports that Botswana and Sudan resumed executions in 2018, the organization highlighted that this must not overshadow the positive steps being taken by other countries across the region.     

 Significant progress all around

While Amnesty International reported a reduction in the use of the death penalty in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2017 compared to 2016, Egypt imposed most of the confirmed death sentences in the region. At least 402 people were sentenced to death by ordinary and military courts following grossly unfair mass trials, compared to 237 in 2016. In Egypt, recorded death sentences increased by about 70% compared to 2016.

Significant steps to reduce the use of the death penalty were also taken in countries that are staunch supporters of it. In Iran, recorded executions reduced by 11% and drug-related executions reduced to 40%. Moves were also made to increase the threshold of drug amounts required to impose a mandatory death penalty. In Malaysia, the anti-drug laws were amended, with the introduction of sentencing discretion in drug trafficking cases. These changes will likely result in a reduction in the number of death sentences imposed in both countries in the future.

“The fact that countries continue to resort to the death penalty for drug-related offences remains troubling. However, steps taken by Iran and Malaysia to amend their anti-drugs laws go a long way towards showing that cracks are appearing, even in the minority of countries that still execute people,” said Salil Shetty.

“Despite strides towards abolishing this abhorrent punishment, there are still a few leaders who would resort to the death penalty as a ‘quick-fix’ rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies. Strong leaders execute justice, not people,” said Salil Shetty.

Although the overall number of executing countries remained the same, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates resumed executions after a hiatus.

Looking forward

With at least 21,919 people known to be under sentence of death globally, now is not the time to let up the pressure.

Positive steps were taken in 2017 and the full impact will be seen in the coming months and years. However, with some countries taking steps backwards – or threatening to – the campaign against the death penalty remains as essential as ever.

Amnesty International calls on the authorities in Morocco/Western Sahara, Algeria and Tunisia to commute all death sentences, with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

“Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen a huge positive shift in the global outlook for the death penalty, but more urgent steps need to be taken to stop the horrifying practice of state killing,” said Salil Shetty.

“The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. We know that by galvanizing the support of people worldwide, we can stand up to this cruel punishment and end the death penalty everywhere.”


For more information, please see factsheet for detailed statistics and regional breakdowns.

Three simultaneous press conferences will be organized in Rabat and Tunis on the 12 April 2018, during the official launch of the international report on the death penalty in 2017.