Death Penalty Use Down 31% Globally

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The execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in Oct. 2014.
Source: Josh Sanburn, “Oklahoma Votes to Add Death Penalty to Its Constitution,”, Nov. 9, 2016

According to Amnesty International, use of the death penalty dropped 31% worldwide in 2018, with the lowest number of executions in a decade.

The number of executions fell to at least 690 in 2018, compared to at least 993 in 2017. Amnesty International counts total execution numbers as “at least” largely because China and North Korea keep death penalty data secret. With China leading with thousands of executions, the top five executing countries include Iran (at least 253 executions), Saudi Arabia (149), Vietnam (at least 85), and Iraq (at least 52).

Iran, Iraq, Pakistan (at least 14), and Somalia (13) each had a “significant reduction” in the number of executions. Iran, for example, changed anti-narcotics laws and reduced death penalty use by 50%.

However, executions rose in Belarus (at least four), Egypt (at least 43), Japan (15), Singapore (13), South Sudan (at least seven), and the United States (25). Thailand resumed executions after almost a decade of not implementing the punishment, executing one person. In the United States, eight states carried out executions in 2018: Alabama (2), Florida (2), Georgia (2), Nebraska (1), Ohio (1), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (3), and Texas (13). The 2018 US executions continue an upward trend since 2016 but are still within historic lows.

Amnesty International notes that 106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and an additional 28 abolished the death penalty in practice. In the United States, 20 states have banned the death penalty and an additional three currently have moratoriums.

In 2018, there were 20 known executing countries: Afghanistan, Belarus, Botswana, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Taiwan, Thailand, United States, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Discussion Questions
1. Should the death penalty be legal in the United States? Why or why not?

2. For which crimes should the death penalty be a possible punishment? Why?

3. If the death penalty should be banned, what punishments would be acceptable alternatives? Why?


Amnesty International, “Death Penalty 2018: Dramatic Fall in Global Executions,”, Apr. 10, 2019

Amnesty International, “Death Sentences and Executions 2018,”, 2019

Niall McCarthy, “Amnesty International Reports 31% Fall in Global Executions in 2018,”, Apr. 10, 2019

AJ Willingham, “Executions Worldwide Are at a 10-Year Low. But in the US, They Rose,”, Apr. 10, 2019