Death penalty in 2019: Facts and figures

Global death penalty figures

Amnesty International recorded 657 executions in 20 countries in 2019, a decrease of 5% compared to 2018 (at least 690). This is the lowest number of executions that Amnesty International has recorded in at least a decade.

Most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt – in that order.

China remained the world’s leading executioner – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret; the global figure of at least 657 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.

Excluding China, 86% of all reported executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt.

Bangladesh and Bahrain resumed executions last year, after a hiatus in 2018. Amnesty International did not report any executions in Afghanistan, Taiwan and Thailand, despite having done so in 2018.

Executions in Iran fell slightly from at least 253 in 2018 to at least 251 in 2019. Executions in Iraq almost doubled from at least 52 in 2018 to at least 100 in 2019, while Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people from 149 in 2018 to 184 in 2019.

Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Kazakhstan, Kenya and Zimbabwe either took positive steps or made pronouncements in 2019 which may lead to the abolition of the death penalty.

Barbados also removed the mandatory death penalty from its Constitution. In the United States, the Governor of California established an official moratorium on executions in the US state with biggest death row population, and New Hampshire became the 21st US state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.

Gambia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan continued to observe official moratoriums on executions.

At the end of 2019, 106 countries (a majority of the world’s states) had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes, and 142 countries (more than two-thirds) had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Amnesty International recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 24 countries: Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco/Western Sahara, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Singapore, Sudan, Thailand, UAE, USA, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

At least 11 exonerations of prisoners under sentence of death were recorded in two countries: USA and Zambia.

Amnesty International recorded at least 2,307 death sentences in 56 countries compared to the total of 2,531 reported in 54 countries in 2018. However, Amnesty did not receive information on official figures for death sentences imposed in Malaysia, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, countries that reported high official numbers of death sentences in previous years.

At least 26,604 people were known to be under sentence of death globally at the end of 2019.

The following methods of execution were used across the world in 2019: beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.

At least 13 public executions were recorded in Iran. At least six people – four in Iran, one in Saudi Arabia and one in South Sudan – were executed for crimes that occurred when they were below 18 years of age. People with mental or intellectual disabilities were under sentence of death in several countries, including Japan, Maldives, Pakistan and USA.

Death sentences were known to have been imposed after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards in countries including Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Viet Nam and Yemen.

Regional death penalty analysis

Americas

For the 11th consecutive year, the USA remained the only country to carry out executions in the region. Trinidad and Tobago was the only country to retain the mandatory death penalty for murder.

The number of executions (from 25 to 22) and death sentences (from 45 to 35) recorded in the US decreased compared to 2018.

More than 40% of all recorded executions were carried out in Texas, which remained the leading executing state in the country (from 13 to nine). Missouri carried out one execution in 2019 after none in the previous year. Conversely, Nebraska and Ohio did not put anyone to death in 2019 after carrying out executions in 2018 (one in each state).

Outside the USA, the progress towards ending the use of the death penalty continued. Barbados removed the mandatory death penalty from its constitution while Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Guatemala, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia did not have anyone on death row and no reports of new death sentences.

Asia-Pacific

For the first time in almost a decade, the Asia-Pacific region saw a decrease in the number of executing countries, with seven countries carrying out executions during the year.  

Without a figure for Viet Nam, the number of recorded executions (29) showed a slight decrease due to drops in Japan (from 15 to three) and Singapore (from 13 to four). This regional total, as in previous years, does not include the thousands of executions that were believed to have been carried out in China and is affected by ongoing secrecy in this country as well as in North Korea and Viet Nam.

Although Bangladesh resumed executions (two), hiatuses were reported in Afghanistan, Taiwan and Thailand, which all executed people in 2018. Malaysia continued to observe its official moratorium on executions established in July 2018.

Recorded executions in Pakistan in 2019 represented the same total as in the previous year with at least 14 men hanged in the country. Death sentences in the country increased significantly to at least 632, after additional courts became operational to deal with a backlog of cases.

The number of executions in Japan was down from 15 in 2018, when the country reported its highest yearly figure since 2008, to three in 2019. Two Japanese men were executed on 2 August and a Chinese national was executed on 26 December. All men had been convicted of murder.

Singapore reported 4 executions in 2019, from a record-high of 13 in 2018.

The Philippines attempted to reintroduce the death penalty for “heinous crimes related to illegal drugs and plunder”.

At least 1,227 new death sentences across 17 countries were known to have been imposed, a 12% increase compared to 2018.

Europe and Central Asia

At least two executions were recorded in Belarus in 2019, compared to at least four in 2018. The last time another country in the region carried out executions was in 2005.

Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan continued to observe official moratoriums on executions. Kazakhstan also announced measures to start the process of joining the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which commits states to abolishing the death penalty.

Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa region reported a 16% increase in the number of executions, from 501 in 2018 to 579 in 2019, bucking the trend that has seen a decline in the region’s recorded use of the death penalty since 2015.

This was mainly due to a sharp increase in the use of the death penalty in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Iraq almost doubled the number of executions from at least 52 in 2018 to at least 100 in 2019, while Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people – 184 -- in 2019 compared to 149 people in 2018. Together with Iran, they accounted for 92% of the total number of recorded executions in the region.

Seven countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen – were known to have carried out executions last year.

There were 707 recorded death sentences in 2019, a 40% drop compared to 2018, when 1,170 death sentences were recorded in the region. 

Egypt again imposed the most confirmed death sentences in the region, but the 2019 number (at least 435) was dramatically lower from at least 717 people sentenced to death in 2018. The number of death sentences the Iraqi authorities imposed during the course of the year was also significantly lower -- at least 87 in 2019 compared to at least 271 in 2018.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Four countries – Botswana, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan – carried out 25 executions in 2019. Overall recorded executions in the region increased by one compared to 2018.

For a second year in a row, South Sudan saw an alarming increase in executions, putting to death at least 11 people in 2019; the highest recorded number in any year since the country’s independence in 2011. Of the people executed, three were from the same family, one was a child at the time of the crime and was about 17 when he was sentenced to death.

Recorded death sentences rose by 53% from at least 212 in 2018 to 325 in 2019.

The number of countries that imposed death sentences increased to 18 from 17 recorded in 2018.

 

Key facts

106

countries had completely abolished the death penalty by the end of 2019

657

people were executed in 2019 (excluding China) – down 5% from 2018

1,000s

of people were likely executed in China, but the numbers remain classified