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Executions Worldwide at Highest Point in Almost a Decade, New Report Shows

Demonstrators hold signs protesting capital punishment in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington on June 29, 2022. (Photo: CNS/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — The number of executions around the world increased 30% from 2022 to 2023 when it was also at its highest point in eight years, according to an Amnesty International annual report on global use of the death penalty. 

The report issued May 29 showed that 1,153 executions took place in 2023, in a year when fewer countries carried out executions. The total number, the highest since 2015 when 1,634 people were reported to have been executed, does not include the thousands believed to have been put to death in China.

The five countries with the highest number of executions in 2023 were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the U.S. Iran alone accounted for 74% of all recorded executions while Saudi Arabia accounted for 15%. Somalia and the U.S. carried out an increased number of executions in 2023.

The report noted that from 2022 to 2023 executions rose in the U.S. from 18 to 24 and that during that time several states passed legislation to expand how executions are carried out — from adding firing squads to expanding substances used in lethal injections.

“A select number of U.S. states demonstrated a chilling commitment to the death penalty and a callous intent to invest resources in the taking of human life,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general. She also noted that states, such as Alabama, began using nitrogen gas as an execution method.

“President Biden must stop delaying his promise to abolish the federal death penalty,” she added.

The report said the spike in recorded executions was primarily due to numbers from Iran. Callamard said the country’s authorities demonstrated a “complete disregard for human life” particularly with “ramped up executions for drug-related offenses.”

The report notes that despite the setbacks with the recent number of executions, “countries that are still carrying out executions are increasingly isolated.” It said that  “campaigning against this abhorrent punishment works,” and that the group would continue its efforts “until we have put an end to the death penalty.”

Amnesty International notes positive steps in some areas around the world such as Pakistan, where the death penalty for drug offenses was repealed, and Malaysia, where the mandatory death penalty for 11 crimes was abolished.

As of today, 112 countries are fully abolitionist and 144 have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Church leaders from U.S. bishops to popes have spoken out against the death penalty.

In 2018, the Vatican announced that it had formally changed the official Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, calling capital punishment “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and deeming it “inadmissible” in all cases.