In 2021, the resort to the death penalty by a minority of states was on the rise, with some of the world’s most prolific executioners returning to business as usual and courts unshackled from Covid-19 restrictions.
Most known executions took place in China, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria – in that order.
“Instead of building on the opportunities presented by hiatuses in 2020, a minority of states demonstrated a troubling enthusiasm to choose the death penalty over effective solutions to crime, showing a callous disregard for the right to life even amid urgent and ongoing global human rights crises”– Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International
Despite these setbacks, the total number of recorded executions in 2021 constitutes the second-lowest figure, after 2020, that Amnesty International has recorded since at least 2010.
Australia and the Asia Pacific region
Despite having a comprehensive plan to end the death penalty in the region, the Australian government has been almost entirely absent from recent campaigns against executions.
“Abolishing the death penalty is beyond the election cycle. Whoever forms government in Australia has the human rights obligation, to renew its commitment to creating a death penalty free region and end this cruel and inhuman punishment that does not have the deterrent effect its supporters claim”– Rose Kulak, Amnesty International Australia campaigner
There was almost a 60% increase compared to 2020 in sentencing people to death – largely linked to increases seen in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Viet Nam.
Death penalty as a tool of state repression
In several countries in 2021, the death penalty was deployed as an instrument of state repression against minorities and protestors.
In Myanmar, death sentences were passed under martial law at an alarming rate; in Egypt, mass executions often followed unfair proceedings before special courts; in Iran, a disproportionate number of those executed belonged to the Baluchi minority.
Positive signs towards global abolition
Positive signs of a global trend toward abolition continued throughout 2021. Sierra Leone, Kazakhstan and the US state of Virginia adopted legislation to abolish the death penalty. A temporary moratorium on federal executions was established in the USA.
Although the global trend remains unmistakably in favour of abolition, the recorded increases in 2021 should act as a warning that it is not yet time to let off pressure. A world without the death penalty is within reach, but the fight for it must continue. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.
Find out more about Amnesty International Australia’s campaigns to end the death penalty and how you can help save lives today.
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