Death Penalty in 2022
The death penalty continued to decline in 2022 as polls showed public support stayed near historic lows. In the USA, 18 people were executed while botched executions in Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi illustrated problems with prescribed protocols.
Meanwhile, six countries abolished the death penalty fully (Kazakhstan and Papua New Guinea) or partially (Equatorial Guinea and Zambia). Executions in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Singapore increased dramatically for drug-related crimes.
In 2022, US jurisdictions carried out 18 executions — the fewest in any year outside of 2020 and 2021, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). And five of this year’s botched executions (link is external) “significantly deviated from or illustrated problems with prescribed execution protocols,” DPIC’s year-end report finds.
States continued to struggle to get drugs for lethal injections, a major issue in recent years, as manufacturers balked at providing them. And some states, including Idaho, Florida and Mississippi, expanded laws granting secrecy around the administration of executions.
Despite the botched executions, overall, the use of the death penalty in the United States continued to decline this year as public support stayed near historic lows. Meanwhile, California, Oregon and Florida pushed ahead with their moratoriums on executions. Those moves bolster an end-goal of abolition, which aligns with dwindling public support for the penalty. This year, a handful of states that retained it also made progress by reviving abolition initiatives or reopening appeals for abolition-minded prisoners.
China remains the world’s leading executioner, but the country’s shadowy death penalty system leaves it difficult for Amnesty International to track cases. It is estimated that it executed at least 1,000 people in 2022, although the figure is likely to be much higher.
In China, executions for drug-related offences more than doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year and accounted for 37% of the global total recorded by Amnesty International. Executions of rich and powerful people convicted for economic crimes are also on the rise. In response, China enacted a law on legal aid in January 2022 that sets up a national system providing pro bono services for all citizens who are facing death penalties.
Amnesty International welcomes the move and urges other countries to follow suit. Nevertheless, the country is failing to respect international standards by imposing excessively harsh sentences and by delegating death penalty reviews to local courts, which lack procedural justice safeguards.
Middle East and North Africa
The Middle East and North Africa accounted for 94% of the world’s known executions in 2022, up 53% from last year. Iran and Saudi Arabia were responsible for the increase, with the latter “going on a killing spree”, according to Amnesty International.
Outside China, the highest number of executions in a single country came from three MENA states: Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In Iran, executions soared from 314 in 2021 to 576, while figures tripled in Saudi Arabia as the regime cracked down on protests.
Amnesty International continues to document due process violations in the region, including arbitrary arrest and detention, lack of adequate legal assistance, torture-tainted confessions and unfair trials. However, the region also saw an uptick in commutations or pardons. In addition, six countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea – abolished the death penalty altogether in 2022. This is in line with the global trend away from the death penalty, which in 2022 saw a record number of countries vote for a resolution at the UN General Assembly calling for a moratorium on the use of capital punishment.
In Europe, the number of countries that executed people dropped significantly. Only a minority of 18 states, or 9% of all UN Member States, continued to carry out executions this year.
The death penalty is an inhuman and degrading punishment that violates human dignity. It does not serve as a deterrent to crime and is prone to judicial errors. We will not stop our work until all countries abolish it.
We welcome progress towards abolition in Kazakhstan, where the death penalty was abolished completely, and in Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea, where it was largely abolished for ordinary crimes. However, the overall trend in the region is in the opposite direction, which seriously affects the chances of global abolition. This is despite some attention paid to this issue in intergovernmental fora and by some states. Moreover, there are continuing delays in addressing the death penalty for drug offences. This is a matter of urgency and needs to be addressed by all actors.