Special Report

The 18 Countries Still Enacting the Death Penalty

Amnesty International counted 579 executions in 18 countries in 2021. Although executions rose 20% from the 483 recorded in 2020, the most recent number represents the second lowest figure since 2010. 

To determine the countries that allow execution, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Amnesty International’s Death Penalty 2021: Facts and Figures report to compile a list of countries that carried out executions in 2021. In total, 55 nations still allow for capital punishment, but death penalty cases are often commuted. In several countries, Amnesty International was able to corroborate reports of executions, but could not verify a reliable minimum figure. 

Leading all countries were China, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, but China remains by far the world’s leading executioner. Even such, Amnesty notes the extent of executions in the country is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret. Similarly, figures for North Korea and Vietnam are incomplete because of secrecy. 

The death penalty also continued to be used in ways that violated international law and standards. For example, there were executions of people who carried out their crimes when they were younger than 18 years of age, or of people with mental or intellectual disabilities, or of those who confessed following torture. Other executions were for crimes that did not meet the “most serious crimes” threshold. For example, there were at least 134 executions for drug-related offenses in China and Iran.

In the U.S., 11 prisoners were executed by lethal injection in 2021. However, capital punishment laws vary by state. The U.S. government and the military retain the death penalty along with 27 states, reports Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization analyzing capital punishment issues.

The term “capital crime” comes from the Latin word for head – “caput.” A capital offense is, therefore, one where the defendant could lose his or her head. So what qualifies an offense punishable by death in the U.S.? The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines capital punishment as one given “for the most serious crimes.” Congress and state legislatures determine what crimes are eligible for the death penalty, and in modern times, it has been exclusively for murder. (Find out if the death penalty was the end of the most depraved serial killers in history.)

Meanwhile, 144 countries across the globe have abolished the death penalty in their laws or in practice. Of those, a total of 108 countries have fully struck down the death penalty for all crimes, while eight have retained the death penalty only for special purposes. Another 28 are abolitionist in practice, meaning they have the death penalty on the books but have not carried out an execution in 10 years. (Both Norway and Venezuela have abolished the death penalty, but one ranks as the safest and one ranks as the world’s most dangerous country.)

Click here to see the 18 countries still enacting the death penalty

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