For the first time since 2006, the United States is no longer one of the five countries carrying out the most executions in the world, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
The number of U.S. executions hit a quarter-century low last year, when the country put 20 people to death.
Across the globe, documented executions were also down 37 percent. Some 1,032 people were executed in 23 countries in 2016, after a record 1,634 people were put to death in 2015.
Amnesty International says the total number of global executions is likely much higher, but figures from countries in conflict, like Syria, or those with secretive governments, like China and North Korea, are unreliable ― if released at all.
Read the full report from Amnesty International below.
China continues to lead the world in the use of the death penalty. Amnesty International reports that annual executions there likely number in the low thousands. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq trail China, in that order. Pakistan has moved into fifth place, a spot the U.S. held for years. The U.S. now ranks seventh globally, behind Egypt.
Amnesty International excludes China’s numbers from its year-end estimate of total executions worldwide since the Chinese government treats executions as a state secret and more precise numbers are unavailable. But according to Amnesty International’s research, the number of executions in China easily surpasses the combined total of all other countries combined.
The rough estimate for China relies on several sources. One is China Judgments Online, an official website for Chinese court decisions. But that database has records for just 700 approved death sentences over a five-year span. The remaining numbers come from local news reports of executions and local researchers and scholars.
“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,” William Nee, Amnesty International’s China researcher, told CNN on Monday.
The report also notes that while global executions declined last year, the number of death sentences spiked, even though more countries have abolished or otherwise abandoned capital punishment.
The use of the death penalty in the U.S. completely undermines our supposed position as a human rights leader. James Clark, Amnesty International USA
Meanwhile, human rights activists and international legal groups have long criticized the U.S. for its robust use of the death penalty and its outlier status among industrialized democracies as a top executioner.
The U.S. is the only country in the Americas currently carrying out executions. Along with Japan, it is the only member of the G8 (now the G7 after Russia’s suspension) to do so.
“The use of the death penalty in the U.S. completely undermines our supposed position as a human rights leader,” James Clark, the senior death penalty campaigner for Amnesty International USA, previously told The Huffington Post.
A series of legal and logistical setbacks have contributed to the decline of the death penalty in the United States. Midazolam, a controversial sedative commonly used in three-drug lethal injection protocols, has been blamed for botched executions in states like Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma. The possibility of lawsuits and the drug’s general lack of availability have frustrated states’ efforts to execute prisoners.
Yet by the end of this month, the U.S. is poised to outpace the total number of executions it carried out during the same period last year.
Six U.S. prisoners have already been executed in three states in 2017. Arkansas has drawn international attention for its plans to carry out four double executions ― two executions in a single day, on four different days ― from April 17 to April 27. A federal judge has already halted one of the executions.
Dale Baich, an assistant federal defender in Arizona who specializes in death row cases, was emphatic about Arkansas’ double execution schedule during a previous interview with HuffPost.
“In the U.S. we don’t do mass executions,” Baich said.