Amnesty International's annual death penalty report finds that executions have decreased worldwide. The trend is overshadowed by a new law in Brunei that allows authorities to kill people for homosexual activities.
Amnesty International (AI) has published its annual report on global executions. "The main finding of our report is that the number of global executions has been falling — has gone down to reach the lowest figures we have reported in at least a decade," said Chiara Sangiorgio, an advocate against the death penalty with AI. The organization notes that significantly fewer executions were carried out in countries such as Iran, Pakistan and Iraq in the past year than in previous years.
The incremental improvement, however, is overshadowed by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah's recent declaration that people said to have engaged in homosexual or adulterous activities in Brunei would be put to death.
Bolkiah's announcement sparked global outrage and drew widespread condemnation. UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urges the government of Brunei to scrap a law "that will provide the death penalty for a broad number of offenses, including adultery" and "consensual sex between homosexuals." She also called on the country not to introduce flogging and amputations as punishments. Brunei's ambassador was summoned to Berlin by the German government, which expressed grave concern over the introduction of such draconian Sharia, or Islamic law.
Across the globe, LGBTQ+ communities have voiced their anger at the new law. US actor George Clooney even called for a boycott of luxury hotels owned by Brunei autocrat Bolkiah. Yet despite all this, the new legislation came into effect on April 3.
Brunei's new death penalty law has sparked an international boycott, supported by US actor George Clooney
Sangiorgio said the law would make conditions more perilous for LGTBQ+ communities in Southeast Asia and added that some activists in Brunei had already gone into hiding out of fear.
She said there were at least 10 countries that kill people for engaging in homosexual activities. Yet she notes that it is practically impossible for an outsider to ascertain whether someone has been raped, or if a person engaged in homosexual intercourse, or if someone committed adultery. Sangiorgio also says that religious and regular law can differ in some countries.
For almost 60 years, AI has drawn attention to rights violations and advocated for the abolition of the death penalty. Its efforts have proven successful, with ever more countries scrapping executions.
In December, 121 of the 193 UN member states voted for a moratorium on the death penalty. Only 35 states opposed the motion, while 32 abstained from the vote. This promising step led AI to declare that we are "getting closer the global abolition of the death penalty."
Last year, Burkina Faso abolished the death penalty. Gambia has issued a moratorium on executions and is considering doing away with the death penalty altogether.Malaysia's new government, meanwhile, has effectively suspended executions, albeit without officially confirming the move. And the US state of Washington has ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. Though despite this, 25 prisoners were put to death in the US last year.
Fewer executions in Iran and Pakistan
AI found that Iran executed 253 people in 2018 — half as many as in 2017. The organizations says the main reason for this is Iran's amended drug law, which means individuals must now carry more drugs on them to face the death penalty.
The number of executions also significantly dropped in Pakistan, according to the report. Last year, 14 people were ordered killed by the country, whereas in 2017 250 individuals were executed.
AI once again lists China as the country with the greatest number of executions worldwide. The organization estimates that China kills thousands of people each year. Exact figures, however, are impossible to come by as China keeps this a secret.
Last year, Saudi Arabia reported executing 149 individuals, some of them by public beheading. The monarchy says it publishes these figures to deter potential criminals.
Egypt, meanwhile, executed 43 people in 2018 and sentenced 717 to death, many of them for "politically motivated violence" and "terrorism."
According to the Vietnamese government, 85 people were put to death last year in the country. And Japan and Singapore executed 15 and 13 people, respectively — many more than in previous years.
There were just four countries in sub-Saharan Africa that carried out the death penalty last year: Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Botswana. Seventeen African countries have done away with this form of punishment.
Overall, Sangiorgio said she was optimistic that more countries would put a stop to executions. After all, when the UN was founded in 1945, just eight of the 51 member states had scrapped the death penalty — today, 103 out of 193 UN members have outlawed the practice.
"It is not time to let up pressure as the development in Brunei itself has shown us," Sangiorgio said. But, she added, AI will continue its work to make the death penalty history.