Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] announced [press release] Wednesday that the use of the death penalty declined worldwide in 2012 despite some setbacks. In its annual review of death sentences and executions [report, PDF], AI concluded that at least 682 individuals were executed in 2012. Twenty-one countries carried out the death penalty in 2012, down from 28 in 2003. The countries employing the death penalty most frequently in 2012 were China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the US. Iran saw a dramatic increase in executions, and India, Japan and Pakistan resumed capital punishment after execution-free periods. Methods of executions included hanging, beheading, firing squad and lethal injection. AI publishes estimates of death penalty statistics for some nations because several governments do not record or publish data on death sentences and executions. AI does not include an estimate of executions carried out in China where the data is kept secret, though the advocacy group believes that thousands of people are executed there. AI opposes capital punishment in all circumstances and campaigns for the complete abolition of the death penalty.
Application of the death penalty has remained a controversial issue around the globe. Earlier this week the UN General Assembly [official website] approved a draft resolution [press release] urging all nations to establish a moratorium [JURIST report] on the death penalty with a view towards abolishing its application worldwide. In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Christof Heyns urged [JURIST report] the Indonesian government to restrict the use of capital punishment to comply with international human rights obligations. Also in March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the executions of seven people in Saudi Arabia as a violation of international safeguards on the use of the death penalty. The men were executed by firing squad after convictions for theft, looting and armed robbery. In February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his call for global support against the use of death penalty [JURIST report], stressing that its application is inconsistent with the most fundamental human right principle: the right to life. A moratorium on the death penalty was first approved [JURIST report] by the UN General Assembly in 2007 and, as of December 2012, has gained the support of 111 countries, with 41 against and 34 neither supporting nor opposing.