[JURIST] The number of countries using the death penalty [JURIST news archive] continued to drop during 2009, according to an annual report [text, PDF] published Monday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. According to the report, more than 700 people were executed last year in 18 countries, with the most executions carried out in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the US. Regionally, the majority of executions occurred in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, while the US was the only country in the Americas to execute prisoners last year. AI's figures exclude the estimated thousands of executions conducted in China [press release], where the government refuses to release death penalty statistics. AI challenged China and other nations to disclose information about executions and condemned all forms of capital punishment:
Amnesty International believes that the death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state. Research demonstrates that the death penalty is often applied in a discriminatory manner, being used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities. The death penalty is often imposed after a grossly unfair trial. But even when trials respect international standards of fairness, the risk of executing the innocent can never be fully eliminated - the death penalty will inevitably claim innocent victims, as has been persistently demonstrated.
Despite the continued use of the death penalty in some countries, there is a growing movement toward international abolition. For the first time since AI started publishing its report, there were no executions in Europe for the year. Burundi and Togo also eliminated the death penalty last year, bringing the total number of abolitionist countries to 95. More than two-thirds of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.
Earlier this month, Taiwanese Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng [official profile] resigned in defense of her position against the death penalty [JURIST report]. Though Taiwan has not executed a criminal since 2005, Wang said she would not sign the execution warrants of any of the 44 prisoners still on death row. Last month, a South Korean high court ruled that the death penalty does not violate the South Korean constitution [JURIST report]. The court's decision could lead to a reinstatement of the death penalty in South Korea, which has held an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment since 1998. Earlier this year, Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia [official profile] announced that he would suspend the death penalty [JURIST report] and commute the sentences of all prisoners currently on death row to 30 years in prison. UN Under-Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze [official profile] has praised the increase in the number of countries [JURIST report] that have suspended or abolished the death penalty. Speaking at the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty [FIDH backgrounder] in Geneva last month, Ordzhonikidze expressed hope that countries that have not abolished the death penalty would adopt the 2007 UN Resolution 62/149 [text], placing a moratorium on the use of capital punishment.