We know that, together, we can end the death penalty everywhere.

Every day, people are executed and sentenced to death by the state as punishment for a variety of crimes – sometimes for acts that should not be criminalized. In some countries, it can be for drug-related offences, in others this cruel punishment is reserved for terrorism-related acts and murder.

Some countries execute people who were under the age of 18 when the crime for which they have been convicted was committed, others use the death penalty against people with mental and intellectual disabilities and several others apply the death penalty after unfair trials – in clear violation of international law and standards. People can spend years on death row, not knowing when their time is up, or whether they will see their families one last time.

The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.

About the death penalty

Amnesty International holds that the death penalty breaches human rights, in particular the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Both rights are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948.

Over time, the international community has adopted several instruments that ban the use of the death penalty, including the following:

  • The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
  • Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning the abolition of the death penalty, and Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.
  • The Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Although international law says that the use of the death penalty must be restricted to the most serious crimes, meaning intentional killing, Amnesty International believes that the death penalty is never the answer.

Our campaigning against this abhorrent punishment works. We will continue until we have put an end to the death penalty.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International

Juvenile Executions

The use of the death penalty for crimes committed by people younger than 18 is prohibited under international human rights law, yet some countries still resort to the death penalty in these situations. Such executions are few compared to the total number of executions recorded by Amnesty International each year.

However, their significance goes beyond their number and calls into question the commitment of the executing states to respect international law.

Since 1990 Amnesty International has documented at least 168 executions of people who were below the age of 18, in 10 countries: China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, the USA and Yemen.

Several of these countries have changed their laws to exclude the practice. Iran has executed more than twice as many people who were below the age of 18 at the time of the crime as the other nine countries combined. At the time of writing Iran has executed at least 118 of them since 1990.

Execution Methods used in 2023

  • Beheading
  • Hanging
  • Lethal injection
  • Shooting


countries had abolished the death penalty in law by the end of 2023


the number of executions Amnesty International recorded in 2023 – up 31% from 2022


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

Where do most executions take place?

In 2023, the countries with the highest number of executions were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the USA – in that order.

China remained the world’s leading executioner – but the true extent of its use of the death penalty is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret; the global figure of at least 1,153 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out there.

Excluding China, 89% of all reported executions took place in just two countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia.

The global view: death sentences and executions 2010-2023

*This map indicates the general locations of boundaries and jurisdictions and should not be interpreted as Amnesty International’s view on disputed territories.

**Country names listed reflect nomenclature in May 2024

How many death sentences and executions take place each year?

Death sentences

Amnesty International recorded at least 2,428 death sentences in 52 countries in 2023, a slight decrease from the total of 2,016 reported in 2022. At least 27,687 people were known to be under sentence of death globally at the end of 2023.


Amnesty International recorded at least 1,153 executions in 16 countries in 2023, up by 31% from 2022 (when there were at least 883 executions).

Why should the death penalty be abolished?

The death penalty is irreversible and mistakes happen

Execution is the ultimate, irrevocable punishment: the risk of executing an innocent person can never be eliminated. Since 1973, for example, more than 197 people sent to death row in the USA have later been exonerated or released from death row on grounds of innocence. Others have been executed despite serious doubts about their guilt.

The death penalty does not deter crime

Countries who execute commonly cite the death penalty as a way to deter people from committing crime. This claim has been repeatedly discredited, and there is no evidence that the death penalty is any more effective in reducing crime than life imprisonment.

The death penalty is often used within skewed justice systems

In many cases recorded by Amnesty International, people were executed after being convicted in grossly unfair trials, on the basis of torture-tainted evidence and with inadequate legal representation. In some countries death sentences are imposed as the mandatory punishment for certain offences, meaning that judges are not able to consider the circumstances of the crime or of the defendant before sentencing.

The death penalty is discriminatory

The weight of the death penalty is disproportionally carried by those with less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds or belonging to a racial, ethnic or religious minority. This includes having limited access to legal representation, for example, or being at greater disadvantage in their experience of the criminal justice system.

The death penalty is used as a political tool

The authorities in some countries, for example Iran and Sudan, use the death penalty to punish political opponents or quash dissent.

Case Study: Taking a stand against the death penalty

It’s critical to act because every two months the state executes someone else. It’s an issue of life and death.

TJ Riggs

Twenty-year-old TJ Riggs is a student at Samford University and Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator in Alabama. He is passionate about fighting for those on death row, racial justice in the US state and the power of letter writing.

Over the past year, TJ has been campaigning on behalf of Rocky Myers, a Black man with an intellectual disability, who is under sentence of death for murder, despite no evidence directly linking him to the crime scene and the retracted statement of a key witness. The judge imposed a death sentence against the jury’s wishes. He was later abandoned by his lawyer, missing key deadlines to appeal for review at federal level. Racism and socio-economic bias affected proceedings against him.

In my freshman year of college at Samford University, I was tasked with taking over our chapter of Amnesty International. Student groups do all sorts of different activism. I really got involved and plugged into the Alabama death penalty network. After that initial year of being president of the student chapter, I was asked to apply and serve in the role of Amnesty’s Alabama State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator.

Alabama is in a uniquely bad state for executions, especially recently in terms of both legislation and in terms of process. There are things happening in this state that weren’t happening in other states, and Alabama is changing the norm on capital punishment in a way that unfortunately is being modelled by other state governments. It’s critical to act because every two months the state executes someone else. It’s an issue of life and death.

However, I firmly believe that change is possible. One of the best parts about the job is how well connected and organized Alabama death penalty activism is. There are a lot of organizations in the state that are really dedicated to fighting the death penalty and to fighting Alabama’s long history of racial injustice, specifically when it comes to how the justice system operates in terms of the death penalty.

For those who want to support Amnesty’s campaign to end the death penalty, write a letter to someone on death row. Write a letter to our government. I’ve written countless letters at this point, and I think a lot of people in this state have. For Rocky Myers’ birthday, we do birthday cards. We do Christmas cards for him and that’s all run through Amnesty’s Rocky Myers page. It makes such an incredible difference in their lives when they receive a birthday card or a Christmas card from someone that they’ve never met, just wishing them well and hoping things work out for the best.”

What is Amnesty International doing to abolish the death penalty?

For over 45 years, Amnesty International has been campaigning to abolish the death penalty around the world.

Amnesty International monitors its use by all states to expose and hold to account governments that continue to use the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. We publish a report annually, reporting figures and analysing trends for each country. Amnesty International’s latest report, Death Sentences and Executions 2023, was released in May 2024.

The organization’s work to oppose the death penalty takes many forms, including targeted, advocacy and campaign based projects in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific, Americas and Europe and Central Asia , and Middle East and North Africa regions; strengthening national and international standards against its use, including by supporting the successful adoption of resolutions by the UN General Assembly on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty; and applying pressure on behalf of people facing imminent execution. We also support actions and work by the abolitionist movement, at national, regional and global level.

When Amnesty International started its work in 1977, only 16 countries had totally abolished the death penalty. Today, that number has risen to 112 – more than half the world’s countries. More than two-thirds are abolitionist in law or practice.