Recorded executions worldwide in 2022 reached the highest figure in five years. According to the Amnesty International Death Penalty Report released today, the Middle East and North Africa’s most notorious executioners carried out killing sprees. China remains the world’s leading executioner.
- Recorded executions skyrocketed to the highest figure in five years.
- China remained the world’s leading executioner.
- Outside of China, just three countries carried out 90% of the world’s known executions: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
- Six countries abolished the death penalty either fully or partially.
In 2022, twenty countries executed at least 883 people, marking a rise of 53% over 2021. This spike in executions outside China was led by countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Figures there rose from 520 in 2021 to 825 in 2022.
“Countries in the Middle East and North Africa region violated international law as they ramped up executions in 2022, revealing a callous disregard for human life. The number of individuals deprived of their lives rose dramatically across the region; Saudi Arabia executed a staggering 81 people in a single day. Most recently, in a desperate attempt to end the popular uprising, Iran executed people simply for exercising their right to protest,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
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Countries in the Middle East and North Africa region violated international law as they ramped up executions in 2022, revealing a callous disregard for human life.Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General
Disturbingly, just three countries in the region carried out 90% of the world’s known executions outside China. Recorded executions in Iran soared from 314 in 2021 to 576 in 2022. Figures tripled in Saudi Arabia, from 65 in 2021 to 196 in 2022, the highest recorded by Amnesty in 30 years. Meanwhile, Egypt executed 24 individuals.
Global executions and death sentences
The use of the death penalty remained shrouded in secrecy in several countries, including China, North Korea, and Viet Nam. These countries use the death penalty extensively — meaning the true global figure is far higher. The precise number of those killed in China is unknown. However, the country remained the world’s most prolific executioner, ahead of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the USA.
Executions resumed in five countries in 2022 — Afghanistan, Kuwait, Myanmar, the State of Palestine and Singapore. Iran (314 to 576), Saudi Arabia (65 to 196), and the USA (11 to 18) also recorded an increase.
The recorded number of people executed for drug-related offences more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021. Drug-related executions violate international human rights law. China, Saudi Arabia (57), Iran (255) and Singapore (11) carried out drug-related executions that amounted to 37% of total executions. Viet Nam likely carried out executions for drug-related offences, yet these figures remain state secrets.
It’s often those from disadvantaged backgrounds that are disproportionately affected by this callous punishment.Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General
“In a cruel twist, close to 40% of all known executions were for drug-related offences. Importantly, it’s often those from disadvantaged backgrounds that are disproportionately affected by this callous punishment,” said Agnès Callamard. “It’s time for governments and the UN to up the pressure on those responsible for these blatant human rights violations and ensure international safeguards are put in place.”
While executions were up, the total number of recorded death sentences imposed on people remained essentially the same. It slightly decreased from 2,052 in 2021 to 2,016 in 2022.
A glimmer of hope
Against this bleak backdrop, there was a glimmer of hope as six countries fully or partially abolished the death penalty.
Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic abolished the death penalty for all crimes. In contrast, Equatorial Guinea and Zambia abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only.
As of December 2022, 112 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Meanwhile, nine countries had abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only.
The positive momentum continued as Liberia and Ghana took legislative steps toward abolishing the death penalty. At the same time, the authorities of Sri Lanka and the Maldives said they would not give death sentences. The Malaysian Parliament also tabled bills to abolish the mandatory death penalty.
“As many countries continue to consign the death penalty to the dustbin of history, it’s time for others to follow suit. The brutal actions of countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia as well as China, North Korea and Viet Nam are now firmly in the minority. These countries should urgently catch up with the times, protect human rights, and execute justice rather than people,” said Agnès Callamard.
“With 125 UN member states — more than ever before — calling for a moratorium on executions, Amnesty International has never felt more hopeful that this abhorrent punishment can and will be relegated to the annals of history. But 2022’s tragic figures remind us that we can’t rest on our laurels. We will continue to campaign until the death penalty is abolished across the globe.”
Global executions by country
Amnesty International recorded 883 executions in 20 countries in 2022, a 53% increase from 579 recorded in 2021. This figure represents the highest number of executions Amnesty International recorded in the past five years. In 2017, Amnesty recorded 993 executions.
Country names listed reflect nomenclature in May 2023. This map indicates the general locations of boundaries and jurisdictions and should not be interpreted as Amnesty International’s view on disputed territories.’
China remained the world’s leading executioner. However, the true extent of the death penalty in this country remains unknown as it’s classified as a state secret. Amnesty International’s figure excludes thousands of executions believed to be carried out in China, Viet Nam, and North Korea. In these countries, Amnesty International believes the death penalty was resorted to extensively.
Most known executions took place in China (1000s), Iran (at least 576), Saudi Arabia (196), Egypt (24), and the USA (18).
- In 2022, Amnesty recorded 93% of known global executions (excluding China) were carried out in the Middle East and North Africa.
- The report found 196 executions in Saudi Arabia were the highest yearly total known for this country in 30 years.
- A total of 13 women were known to have been executed in the world: Iran (12) and Saudi Arabia (1).
- Amnesty International recorded executions in 20 countries, compared to 18 countries in 2021.
Violating international law
Amnesty recorded 325 executions for drug-related offences: 255 in Iran; 57 in Saudi Arabia; 11 in Singapore; and China (+). In calculating the global total of drug-related executions, Amnesty counted two for China in accordance with our research methodology.
In Afghanistan (1+) and Iran (2), Amnesty recorded at least three public executions. Iran executed at least five people for crimes that occurred when they were below 18 years of age.
Executions resumed in five countries: Afghanistan, Kuwait, Myanmar, Palestine (State of) and Singapore. Botswana, UAE and Oman carried out executions in 2021 but did not do so in 2022. Countries used beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting as the most common methods of execution.
Global death sentences
Worldwide, countries imposed at least 2,016 new death sentences across 52 countries in 2022. In 2021, there were at least 2,052 in 56 countries.
- Amnesty International recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 26 countries.
- Five countries — Bahrain, Comoros, Laos, Niger and South Korea — handed down death sentences after a hiatus.
- Amnesty International recorded at least 28 exonerations of prisoners sentenced to death.
- Exonerations took place in four countries: Kenya (20), Morocco/Western Sahara (1), the USA (2), and Zimbabwe (5).
Globally, at least 28,282 people were under sentence of death at the end of 2022.
Abolishing the death penalty
Four countries fully abolished the death penalty (Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, and the Central African Republic. Two partially abolished the death penalty (Equatorial Guinea and Zambia, which abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only).
At the end of 2022, 112 countries were abolitionists for all crimes, while nine were for ordinary crimes only.
For the 14th consecutive year, the United States of America remained the only country in the region to carry out executions.
- The number of executions in the USA increased by 64%, from 11 in 2021 to 18 in 2022.
- The outgoing Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, commuted all remaining death sentences in the state.
- For the sixth consecutive year, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and the USA were the only countries in the region that imposed new death sentences.
The death penalty in the United States
In Asia-Pacific, eight countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Myanmar, North Korea, Singapore and Viet Nam) carried out executions in 2022. This represents an increase from five in 2021.
- The number of new death sentences recorded regionally increased by 5%, from 819 in 2021 to 861 in 2022.
- Military authorities carried out the first executions in Myanmar in four decades, including the execution of two high-profile opposition politicians.
- Executions also resumed after a hiatus in Afghanistan and Singapore.
Papua New Guinea became the 21st country in Asia-Pacific to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.
Europe and Central Asia
Belarus carried out one execution in 2022. It was the only country in Europe and Central Asia to do so.
Kazakhstan abolished the death penalty for all crimes and ratified a key UN treaty on abolition.
Russia and Tajikistan continued to observe moratoriums on executions.
Middle East and North Africa
The number of executions recorded in the Middle East and North Africa increased by 59%.
- In 2021, there were 520 executions and in 2022, 825.
- Iran (70%) and Saudi Arabia (24%) carried out 94% of executions recorded in the region.
- Executions resumed in Kuwait and the State of Palestine for the first time since 2017.
Recorded death sentences in the region decreased slightly from 834 in 2021 to 827 in 2022. Sixteen countries imposed the death penalty in 2022, compared to 17 in 2021.
Recorded executions in the region decreased by 67%, from 33 in 2021 to 11 in 2022.
- Amnesty recorded the only known executions in Somalia and South Sudan.
- Recorded death sentences fell by 20%, from 373 in 2021 to 298 in 2022.
- Amnesty recorded death sentences in 16 countries in 2022, compared to 19 in 2021.
Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea and Zambia abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only.
- Death Penalty Report 2021: State-sanctioned killings rise as executions spike in Iran and Saudi Arabia
- Death Penalty Report 2020: Despite Covid-19, some countries ruthlessly pursued death sentences and executions
- Death Penalty Report 2019: Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people last year amid a decline in global executions
|Banner Image: Activists attend a candlelight vigil against the impending execution of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, sentenced to death for trafficking heroin into Singapore, outside the Singaporean embassy in Kuala Lumpur on November 8, 2021. (Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images)|