[JURIST] Italian advocacy group Hands off Cain [advocacy website] released a report [summary] on Friday revealing that the number of deaths by capital punishment increased despite a general global trend toward capital punishment abolition. The organization reports that there are currently 161 countries and territories that, to different extents, have renounced the death penalty, and 37 countries continue to use the punishment. The number of executions in 2013 rose to 4,106 executions, compared to at least 3,967 in 2012. China leads the world in the number of executions followed by Iran and Iraq, while the US remains the only country in the Americas to continue implementing capital punishment. Five countries in Africa continue to use the death penalty, and Belarus continues to be the only European country implementing executions. The report finds that the increase in executions for 2013 can be explained by the increased numbers in Iran and Iraq. Though China's execution numbers remain high, overall the country has reduced the number of executions by 50 percent since 2007 due to legal reforms requiring convictions to be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court [official website].
Use of the death penalty [JURIST backgrounder] has been a controversial issue throughout the US and internationally. In June a group of independent UN human rights experts condemned [JURIST report] Iran's execution of a political prisoner, calling for the country to end the death penalty. In May the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] urged the US to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty following a botched execution [JURIST reports] performed in Oklahoma the previous week. In April UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus Miklos Haraszti [official profile] called [JURIST report] for Belarus, currently the only European nation that has retained the death penalty, to end the practice. Earlier that month the OHCHR urged [JURIST report] Somali authorities to place a moratorium on the death penalty. In March China's National People's Congress [JURIST news archive] announced [JURIST report] that it was considering limiting the use of the death penalty by restricting the punishment to fewer crimes.