For the first time in 10 years, the United States is not among the world’s top five executioners, according to NBC News. It’s fair to wonder how long these statistics will remain, though, because although advocates are working very hard to eliminate the death penalty, it’s feared the practice could return with a vengeance this year.
These activists at anti-death penalty rallies in Little Rock know death row best — they were exonerated https://t.co/y44YmRT3Ep #Daily360 pic.twitter.com/ULHGSutPPP– The New York Times (@nytimes) April 17, 2017
According to a newly released Amnesty International report, only 20 people were put to death in the United States last year, which is the lowest figure since 1991. The U.S. is just one of 23 countries that endorse capital punishment.
James Clark is a death penalty expert for Amnesty International. He believes the reason there’s been a general reduction in executions is because jurisdictions are realizing that capital punishment does not deter crime, plus it’s a costly exercise.
“Prosecutors are charging the death penalty less, jurors are less inclined to hand down death sentences and that trend to stop using the death penalty trickles upward to result in a downward trend in executions we’re seeing.”
In 2016, death sentences were contained to just five states in the U.S. – Florida, Alabama, Texas, Missouri, and Georgia. Two years prior, there were seven states using the death penalty.
“Even states that are able to execute are doing it far less frequently. Those few states that are pursuing executions are becoming an isolated minority.”
Then there’s the question about lethal injection protocols. Pending litigation has slowed down and even halted executions in some states because inmates on death row claim that the sedative known as Midazolam is not effective: Midazolam is used prior to injecting more painful lethal drugs.
In fact, Midazolam has been blamed for botched executions in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Arizona. Both the possibility of lawsuits and the lack of availability of the drug have stymied states waiting to execute prisoners.
It was just last month that a federal judge ruled that lethal injections in Ohio could be too painful to be considered constitutional. This ruling prompted Governor John Kasich to postpone the executions of eight inmates.
Activists now fear that when these legal challenges have been resolved, executions could increase this year. It’s understood that there are currently almost 3,000 inmates on death row in the United States.
Arkansas is just one of 12 states that hasn’t been deterred by the pending legal challenges; they’re planning to execute seven people over a 10-day period very soon because one of their lethal injection drugs is due to expire by the end of April.
James Clark is the senior death penalty campaigner for Amnesty International U.S.A., and he says that some states have put executions on hold or instigate “legal challenges that have prevented executions” after several executions resulted in “agony and pain.”
“But not every state has slowed down as a result of that. We’re calling on authorities to look rationally at the justice system rather than whipping up a sense of fear.”
Anti-death penalty crusader Sister Helen Prejean to speak at #DePaul Wednesday as part of panel discussion.https://t.co/dHHsq1LLbk pic.twitter.com/pcHPdDW7g9– DePaul Newsroom (@DePaulNewsroom) April 17, 2017
The Huffington Post reported that plans to execute seven inmates over a 10-day period in Arkansas has drawn a lot of international attention.
In 2016, 1,032 people were executed in 23 countries, while the year before, a record 1,623 people were executed. According to Amnesty International, however, figures from countries like North Korea and China, and countries in conflict like Syria, are unreliable at best.
In its full report, Amnesty International said that China leads the world in the use of the death penalty, followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Next, comes Pakistan, Egypt, then the United States. Even though the Chinese government considers executions to be a state secret, Amnesty International believes that China easily surpasses the combined total of all countries.
William Nee is Amnesty International’s researcher in China.
“The United Nations and other bodies have asked every country that executes around the world for information on the number of people given death sentences and executed, but China has not cooperated with these bodies for 40 years.”
Meanwhile, the United States has long been criticized by international legal groups and human rights activists for its use of the death penalty. In fact, it’s the only country in the Americas that currently carries out executions, and along with Japan, it’s the only member of the G8 to do so.
Lethal injection is the primary execution method in the US’ 31 death penalty states. But the drugs are drying up: https://t.co/wmVxlzPskO pic.twitter.com/J5zM0oKpvR– CNN International (@cnni) April 17, 2017
James Clark, the senior death penalty campaigner for Amnesty International U.S.A., believes that the United States’ “position as a human rights leader” is undermined by its use of the death penalty.
The International Business Times reported that even though the number of executions recorded worldwide last year reduced by more than one-third compared to the previous year, death sentences are at a record high.
The reduction in executions worldwide was largely driven by fewer executions recorded in Pakistan and Iran.
Even though progress in the area of abolishing capital punishment is slow, it does seem that progress is being made. One hundred and forty-one countries are either no longer using it or have completely abolished executions.
Amnesty claims that in most countries where people were executed or sentenced to death, capital punishment was imposed following proceedings that did not comply with international fair trial standards. Their research claims that in countries like China, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, some death sentences have been based solely on confessions that could well have been extracted by means of torture.
Kate Allen is the United Kingdom’s director of Amnesty International, and she believes that the U.K. has toned down its long-standing foreign policy of urging other countries to abolish the death penalty, and that “trade and security issues” are getting in the way of larger human rights issues, in particular regarding countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
“When, shockingly, Bahrain executed three men after deeply unfair trials recently, the Foreign Secretary could muster only the mildest of rebukes. At its best the U.K. does some very important work in encouraging countries to end capital punishment, but with death sentences running at record levels around the world, now is not the time to go quiet on the issue. If governments in Beijing, Manama, Islamabad, and Riyadh see there’s very little public outrage over executions, then they’re going to think they’ve got a green light to carry on killing.”
However, a spokesperson for the Foreign Office said that the United Kingdom opposes the death penalty.
“We condemn and do not support it under any circumstances. The global trajectory is towards abolition and the UK supports this trend. We will continue to back the UN global moratorium on the use of the death penalty as a first step towards ultimate abolition.”
[Featured Image by View Apart/Shutterstock]