Amnesty International recently released a report detailing the death sentences and executions that took place in 2014.
Overall, the report found that 607 executions were carried out worldwide, down 22 percent from 2013. Conversely, there was a 28 percent in the amount of death sentences issued, with a total of 2,466 sentences across 55 countries. 19,094 people were considered under a sentence of death by the year's end.
On the whole, these numbers are relatively low. They signify that the world seems to be moving away from death sentences and execution, towards more humane forms of incarceration and rehabilitation. The data, however, is also inexact. Amnesty International excluded Belarus, China and Vietnam from their report, claiming that death penalty statistics in those nations are classified as state secrets. Other nations, like North Korea and Syria, also have imprecise numbers due to political instability during 2014. The report still estimates that China carried out 1,000 executions, the highest of any nation.
China excluded, the report shows that the United States is fourth on the list of countries issuing the highest amount of executions. With 35 reported executions in 2014, the U.S. is behind only Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq on Amnesty International’s list. Following the U.S. are Sudan with 23 executions, Yemen with 22, Egypt with 15, Somalia with 14 and Jordan with 11. The U.S. is a relatively large country, but it's high place on that list is still a startling statistic.
Out of the 50 U.S. states, only seven made use of the death penalty in 2014. Four of those states — Texas, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma — were responsible for 89 percent of all executions in the U.S. This shows that the problem is contained in certain pockets of the country, but it still represents an issue that affects the United States as a whole. People don’t always choose where they live, and the fact that some states have such a high prevalence of the death penalty shows that there is a problem that demands to be addressed by the federal government. As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder once said: “I think fundamental questions about the death penalty need to be asked.” It's time the government heeded Holder's words and began considering the issue more seriously at the federal level.
The Amnesty International report also claimed that many of the executions were used as a way to combat terrorism, a trend which the organization describes as “disturbing.” The report references North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia as guilty of using the death penalty to suppress political dissent. The U.S. has seen an increased crackdown on political dissent in response to whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, as well as a growing trend of punishing citizens that show sympathy towards groups like ISIS. It’s tough to avoid the slippery slope of an argument that the U.S. will soon start executing suspected terrorism, but the fact remains that the death penalty has a fundamental flaw: if it’s wrong even once, a major injustice has occurred. In terms of how the U.S. responds to acts of terror, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s impending sentence will be a telling sign. For now, it’s obvious that the U.S. is well-behind the rest of the world when it comes to humanely treating its incarcerated citizens. It inevitably won’t be, but this report should be the wake-up call that the country needs in order to enact true reform of its capital punishment system.
Image Source: Amnesty International