Amnesty International’s overall assessment of the use of the death penalty in 2018 indicates that the global trend towards abolishing the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment continues apace, despite regressive steps from a small number of countries.
Most strikingly, the number of known executions dropped by over 30% and reached the lowest figure Amnesty International has reported in the past decade. This reflected a significant reduction in some of the world’s lead executing countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia. Similarly, the number of countries known to have carried out executions also reduced.
Some of the countries bucked the overall positive trend, however. Thailand carried out its first execution since 2009 and several other countries reported increases in their yearly totals, including Belarus, Japan, Singapore, South Sudan and USA. Additional concerns were further added by important rises in the number of death sentences imposed in some countries, most notably Egypt and Iraq. Rare figures made publicly available by the authorities of Viet Nam showed the extent of its resort to the death penalty, placing the country among the world’s top executioners. Secrecy continued to surround the use of the death penalty in China, which Amnesty International believed continued to sentence to death and execute thousands of people.
On the other hand, several countries advanced their journeys towards full abolition of the death penalty during the year. Burkina Faso abolished the death penalty in its Penal Code in June. In February 2018, the President of Gambia declared an official moratorium on executions and in September the country became a state party to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. The Government of Malaysia established a moratorium on executions in July and announced it would reform its death penalty laws in October. During the same month, the death penalty statute in the US state of Washington was declared unconstitutional.
These positive steps were supported by further advances at international level. On 17 December, the UN General Assembly adopted – with record-high support – its seventh resolution calling on states that still retain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing this punishment. Of the 193 UN member states, 121 voted in favour of the resolution while 35 voted against and 32 abstained. For the first time, Dominica, Libya, Malaysia and Pakistan changed their vote to support the resolution, while Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana and South Sudan moved from opposition to abstention. Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Mauritius, Niger and Rwanda once again voted in favour of the call for a moratorium on executions, having not done so in 2016. Five countries reversed their 2016 votes, however, with Nauru moving from voting in favour to voting against and Bahrain and Zimbabwe switching from abstention to opposition. Congo (Republic of) and Guinea changed from voting in favour to abstention.
The increased support for the 2018 resolution constitutes a further indication that a global consensus is building to consign the death penalty to the history books.