National Geographic News
An execution chamber.

Bullet holes are visible in the wood panel behind the execution chair at Utah State Prison, where convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in June 2010.

Photograph by Trent Nelson, Pool/AP

Alexis Manning

National Geographic News

Published April 12, 2013

Amnesty International released their 2012 annual report on capital punishment this week, highlighting information on the differing ways countries handle execution around the world.

Here are five of the most interesting death penalty facts from last year:

1. The United States ranked fifth for the highest number of executions.

The U.S. takes a spot behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia for the most executions in the world last year, sitting ahead of Yemen and the Sudan.

This ranking comes as no surprise to Brian Evans, Amnesty International's acting director on the Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, who said the same countries are in the top eight every year. (See video: "Inside Death Row.")

But why is the U.S.—which seems like somewhat of an outlier politically, culturally, and geographically—always in the top five?

According to Evans, the U.S. has a strict attitude toward punishment in general. Having a severe attitude toward the death penalty is only natural when you consider that the U.S. leads the world in mass incarceration of prisoners and holds records for solitary confinement and sentences to life in prison.

2. Saudia Arabia saw the execution of one man by "crucifixion."

Methods of execution vary between regions based on culture and available technology, and they usually include standard tactics, such as hanging, beheading, firing squad, and lethal injection. In Saudi Arabia, however, one accused man was put on display after being beheaded in a practice known as crucifixion, according to the country's state news agency, SPA.

The reasoning behind executions also vary around the world. In Papua New Guinea, for example, a woman and her two daughters are currently being held captive with charges of sorcery and risk a death sentence. It's common in the Pacific country for those accused of sorcery, especially women, to face horrific acts of violence that often end in death.

3. China keeps its execution numbers secret.

The Chinese government is notorious for keeping statistics about their criminal executions secret, and in past years, Amnesty International was forced to rank China based on the minimum number of executions that researchers could confirm. Since that number was always drastically lower than the assumed reality, researchers now use reliable media sources and human rights groups—rather than official government sources—to estimate the number of executions in China.

Using this data, the 2012 report estimates that thousands of criminals were killed in China last year alone, while the tally for the rest of the world combined stands at 682.

4. Japan's executions actually increased in 2012 after a long hiatus.

While the global trend for the death penalty is actually declining around the world, Japan—and other notable countries such as India and Pakistan—resumed executing criminals after a long stint of being execution-free. At least seven death row inmates were killed in Japan last year, ending a 20-month period without executions.

Why the change? "It all depends on which political party is in power," Evans said. One prime minister will come into power and abolish the practice, then the next will just reinstate it, leaving the lives of criminals in the hands of changing political whims.

5. Just 21 countries in the world carried out the death penalty last year.

In the broad scope of things, only a fraction of the world's total countries (the total being 195 by National Geographic's count) actually used execution as a means of punishment last year. That number is down from 28 countries just a decade earlier, suggesting a downward trend in the global practice.

The few countries that do still practice execution are situated in "regional pockets" around the world, Evans noted. Just four countries in the Middle East, for example, are responsible for all the executions in the region. And in the U.S., death penalty laws differ by state, with hotbeds of execution in the U.S. South, Ohio, and Arizona.

In December 2012, 111 countries—or more than half the world's countries—voted in favor of a United Nations resolution that would declare a global moratorium on executions.

As for the other countries? "They'll come around when they take a longer look at their death penalties," Evans said, "but it'll be a while."

31 comments
Tânia Monteiro
Tânia Monteiro

Next friday i have a debate based on this topic death penalty and i am in favor, what  u guys think about this "polemic issue"

Peyton Smith
Peyton Smith

The opposite of justice is privilege.  The privileged are insulated with money race and class.  everyone else  is exposed to  an unjust erroneous system.  

Jeff Moreau
Jeff Moreau

Life in prison is no solution, unless the inprisoned pays for it themselves.  Why should I be expected to keep a criminal alive?  What about the risk, ever so slight, that they may escape prison?  If a criminal has no concern for the life of another, whether it was taken or destroyed, then society should show no mercy toward the offender.  If more executions were conducted, for even lesser crimes, prison populations would decline and I do believe execution would be a deterent.

Jeff Moreau
Jeff Moreau

Life in prison is no solution, unless the inprisoned pays for it themselves.  Why should I be expected to keep a criminal alive?  What about the risk, ever so slight, that they may escape prison?  If a criminal has no concern for the life of another, whether it was taken or destroyed, then society should show no mercy toward the offender.  If more executions were conducted, for even lesser crimes, prison populations would decline and I do believe execution would be a deterent.

Michael Nitschke
Michael Nitschke

Like many I mimicked the words of death penalty proponents up until the time I worked for a prison system and got to see a couple of executions up close and personal. It was at that time I discovered something interesting and very thought provoking about human nature. As much as we talk with bravado about scoundrels and low lives who commit despicable crimes, when you come face to face with death, you tend to turn away from it with an instinctive reaction of horror. I think there is something innately human in our reaction, that is Hitler himself would step into our path from between a couple of parked cars we would hit the brakes involuntarily.


I realized at that time that the governor had denied clemency that it wasn't the fate of the murderer I was dreading, it was the barbaric act my state was about to commit on my behalf. I realized at that time that if America were to be a country more tolerant of human life that it would have to set an example for the sanctity of life, not simply respond in kind with one barbaric act as reciprocity for another.

I have come to believe that the most effective deterrent to capital crimes is to NOT respond as they would, I find it morally repugnant to think that the state owes me a revenge killing to serve justice. In the end what good does it do to elevate the sanctity of life? Instead let the murderer spend their lives as a caged animal and look over a wall at a free society that they have proved themselves unfit to live in. To me that would be the greatest deterrent, and for that reason would want the prisoner to live a long life behind bars.

T H
T H

The US has the highest incarceration rate because of the Unions. Many harmless citizens r in jail for marijuana possession or the likes. Those laws and practices will never change since the unions hold an iron grip on who gets elected, how they vote and they will never let their "business" (of extortion) be weakened or let alone finally abolished.

The US is in dire need of a direct democracy where "We the people" vote directly on federal issues, and frankly with the availability of the internet, we do not need political parties anymore. Parties and elected officials had a purpose 100 yrs ago when there was no way to tally the votes of every citizen. 

Likewise the unions had a purpose during those times, when there were company towns taking unfair advantage of its citizens. But todays world is vastly different, primarily smaller. All industries where the jobs can be moved are rapidly becoming union free if it hasn't already happened. Either the industry changes or goes away (i.e goes to China or another union free, more cost effective place).
Unfortunately we can not move the government sector abroad, although it probably would be a good idea to move some, like mundane handling of paperwork    or incarceration to lower cost jurisdictions and use the savings to make the US marketplace attractive once again, and thereby truly create jobs. 

Gonçalo Silva
Gonçalo Silva

Portugal was the first country to abolish death penalty in Europe and one of the first in the world... That's something that makes me proud of being Portuguese.

Jayita Thakur
Jayita Thakur

Death penalties per se would not seem like a good form of punishment. But, when trying to judge it as an unwanted evil or a necessary one, all the factors have to be taken into consideration. Countries of the developing nations in particular would have a heavy economic burden to carry, if a person is given a life-long sentence instead of a death penalty. Like, in case of a terrorist attack, where masses have been killed, is there any point in a poor nation trying to feed the terrorists life-long on the tax payer's hard earned money instead of just executing them?

Debra Hall
Debra Hall

I wonder what the Per Capita rating is ? There are many more people in China that in Iran or Iraq , If population is taken into account , what , if anything changes ?

ZEINEB MESSAOUDI
ZEINEB MESSAOUDI

man has the obligation to protect his brothers " health, eduction, safety, ..."kill some one is equal to rob a house which was supposed to be Under his guard

Melanie V
Melanie V

It seems to me that the death penalty is much more about a desire for revenge and very little about true safety or justice.

Skye Antibes
Skye Antibes

@Jeff Moreau  

1. The death penalty costs a lot more money than holding someone in prison for life.

 2. Obviously the death penalty isn't a deterrent for murders, what makes you think it'll deter lesser crimes?  Most of China's executions ARE for lesser crimes, such as fraud or drug dealing.

3. Some of the "crimes" that'll get you the death penalty in a country like Iran or Saudi Arabia are extramarital sex or being gay.


4. Innocent people are wrongly convicted of murder all the time. Do you actually have absolute faith in the justice system to give it absolute power over someone's life?  What it it was YOU who was wrongly accused of committing a murder?

Karen Daw
Karen Daw

It costs taxpayers up to 3x as much just to SEEK the death penalty than to try a non-capital case, in the trial and sentencing phase alone. The burden of proof on the prosecution is tremendous, and if the defendant has a public defender, which many do, given that poor people are much more likely to be prosecuted, the price tag goes up. It costs about 76% more on average to execute a person than to incarcerate that person for life.

Kim Brown
Kim Brown

Research supports that execution does not and has never worked as a deterrent. In the past, the death penalty was actually used for lesser offense than capitol offense, but that was shown to be cruel and unusual punishment. And research also shows that it cost much more money for the tax payers to carry out executions than it does for life in prison without the chance of parole. You are not accounting the average amount of time that people sit on death row which is approx. 12 years. During this time there are multiple appeals and court processes that go on, which is on the tax payer, the reason for this process is simply because they have rights in our criminal justice system (so you can't really be upset at that unless you want to lessen your rights as a citizen as well) If that person was just sentence to life in prison w/o parole, where they would spend the rest of their lives rotting in prison (which most people don't/can't escape from- it is very rare and is sensationalized by the media) and not spend thousands of dollars tying up their cases in court. Finally, over population is not due to people in prison for life. A majority of people are in prison for drug offense. If you look at crime rates they are not increase, they are actually decreasing, but incarceration rates are increasing.

Cassidy Titus
Cassidy Titus

What about all the people who have been exonerated due to DNA?

Demitria McDuff
Demitria McDuff

@Michael Nitschke Well stated, Michael. I have always been puzzled by why we find deliberately taking another's life so morally repugnant EXCEPT when it is taken by the State...?

Kiyu Gabriel
Kiyu Gabriel

@Michael Nitschke Appropriate consequences.  As a society we must say for this crime, the appropriate consequence is that.  The appropriate consequence for murder and violent rape is, in my opinion, death.  Even more so for serial offenders.  

Intentional criminals know, in the back of their minds, the potential consequence for their actions.  When a person is contemplating the risk-reward scenario around committing murder or violent rape, I want them to know that their action may cost them their lives.  The pain of "life in prison" is difficult to comprehend. This vagueness makes it an inherently weak deterrent.  Death, on the other hand, is simple to comprehend and thus a stronger deterrent.   

As far as this article goes, it is obviously wrong.  First, it implies that only 21 countries in the world killed a criminal.  Criminals are killed in every country in the world, period.  Maybe they aren't killed "officially", but I can assure you that, for the appropriate crime, the societies in which they committed their crimes put them to death in one way or another.  

Second, the article is clearly defining the death penalty as a barbaric practice, shows that those countries who practice it are, in the world, in the minority, and that the trend is declining.  Therefore, we the readers should deduce that the rest of the world is more civilized or enlightened than the 21 remaining hold outs.  

How many of the countries which have outlawed execution are essentially at war?  How many have populations living below the standard of "life in prison"?  

Third, the article talks about countries which carried out the death penalty.  The death penalty is still a viable deterrent in a much larger number of countries.  http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777460.html  

Michael Fors
Michael Fors

@T H Jobs move to China because the wages there are lower, not because people are more efficient. If anything, people are more efficient in the industrialized world. The wages are lower because of a lower cost of living and laxer labor laws.

Skye Antibes
Skye Antibes

@T H

Take your first two paragraphs only.  Replace the word "unions" with "big business".  NOW you're onto something.  Otherwise, your rant is the post of a crazy and deranged person, as Bobby noted.




Bobby Ticknor
Bobby Ticknor

@T H Well this certainly makes sense, and is clearly not the incoherent ramblings of a deranged person.

Paul Appleyard
Paul Appleyard

@Melanie V That pretty much sums up the correctional systems of the countries where the death penalty is still being practiced; they all seem to have a strong fundamentalist religion population as well.

Ashley Anthony
Ashley Anthony

@Skye Antibes @Jeff Moreau What makes you think 3 meals a day, a free degree, cable, and internet are a deterrent?  People get away with murder all the time and never see a day inside of prison, yes innocent people will go to prison or die by the death penalty, but right and wrong happens all the time to the people who don't deserve it.  If YOUR mother was shot by someone, would YOU like them getting away with it?  Repeat offenders get to repeat their crimes because they are still alive.

Adam Matthews
Adam Matthews

@Skye Antibes @Jeff Moreau

Jeff,


The reason why the death penalty isn't as good a deterrent as it should be is because of the fact that the death penalty isn't used enough!  And the cost is so high due to appeal after appeal being submitted and having so many court costs, along with housing the inmate, while they are waiting to be executed.


No, I do not have absolute faith in the justice system; but then again, I won't be put in a position where I will face the death penalty or a life in prison sentence. 


But, I ask you, have you ever spent any time in a prison?  I'm not just talking about what you see on these "reality" shows, I mean, actually going into a prison, a maximum security prison and hanging out and talking with some of our nations finest rapists and murderers?  Do that for 8 hours a day and then tell me what you feel about the death sentence. 

Adam Matthews
Adam Matthews

@Kim Brown

I'm glad you decided to mention that argument (cost); the ONLY reason the death penalty costs so much money is due to those who oppose the death penalty, groups such as Amnesty International, who keep appealing case after case or the numerous lawyers who keep submitting appeals and lengthening the time in prison an inmate on death row stays before they are finally executed. 


Justice is NOT swift, and the length of time an inmate sits on death row is proof. 


I am a Correctional Officer, and seeing the easy lives that inmates have is a joke!  These are the same people who raped, killed/murdered individuals, but yet, you think they should get Life In Prison because you "think" the death penalty is inhumane.  Wow.  I wish you would spend a year inside of a maximum security prison and see first hand just how wonderful these people are that you want to defend.  Tell me, if your closest loved one was murdered right in front of you, what would you do?  Or, better yet, that person was apprehended and taken to court; you would prefer that person spend life in prison (about 30 years, if that) rather than face the death penalty? 

Adam Matthews
Adam Matthews

@Kim Brown

I'm glad you decided to mention that argument (cost); the ONLY reason the death penalty costs so much money is due to those who oppose the death penalty, groups such as Amnesty International, who keep appealing case after case or the numerous lawyers who keep submitting appeals and lengthening the time in prison an inmate on death row stays before they are finally executed. 


Justice is NOT swift, and the length of time an inmate sits on death row is proof. 


I am a Correctional Officer, and seeing the easy lives that inmates have is a joke!  These are the same people who raped, killed/murdered individuals, but yet, you think they should get Life In Prison because you "think" the death penalty is inhumane.  Wow.  I wish you would spend a year inside of a maximum security prison and see first hand just how wonderful these people are that you want to defend.  Tell me, if your closest loved one was murdered right in front of you, what would you do?  Or, better yet, that person was apprehended and taken to court; you would prefer that person spend life in prison (about 30 years, if that) rather than face the death penalty? 

Adam Matthews
Adam Matthews

@Cassidy Titus That's great that they have been exonerated due to DNA!  But, how many people have been wrongfully executed?  There is no proof that anyone who has been executed by the death penalty has been wrongfully executed. 



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