Global executions reach decade high in 2023, watchdog reports

Executions worldwide soared to their highest level in nearly a decade in 2023, driven by a sharp increase across the Middle East, Amnesty International reported on Wednesday.

The organization provided data on Afghanistan based on U.N. reports, noting that one public execution took place in the country in May 2023. However, the report did not provide detailed figures on the total number of executions in Afghanistan as it did for other countries.

Six countries in the region—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, North Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam—were known to have carried out executions in 2023, a decrease from eight in 2022. The report reiterated that Iran alone accounted for 74 percent of all recorded executions, with Saudi Arabia accounting for 15 percent.

The human rights organization revealed that at least 1,153 executions were carried out in 2023. This tally does not include the thousands believed to have been conducted in China, marking an increase of more than 30 percent from 2022. The figures represent the highest number recorded by Amnesty International since 2015, when 1,634 people were known to have been executed.

“The huge spike in recorded executions was primarily down to Iran. The Iranian authorities showed complete disregard for human life and ramped up executions for drug-related offenses, further highlighting the discriminatory impact of the death penalty on Iran’s most marginalized and impoverished communities,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“Despite the setbacks that we have seen this year, particularly in the Middle East, countries that are still carrying out executions are increasingly isolated. Our campaigning against this abhorrent punishment works. We will continue until we have put an end to the death penalty,” Ms. Callamard added.

The report identified China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the United States as the five countries that conducted the highest number of executions in 2023. “Iran alone accounted for 74 percent of all recorded executions, while Saudi Arabia accounted for 15 percent,” the report stated. “Somalia and the USA also saw an increase in the number of executions in 2023.”

Amnesty International noted a 20 percent increase in the number of death sentences handed out globally in 2023, bringing the total to 2,428. The report highlighted that at least 853 people were executed, marking a 48 percent rise from 576 in 2022.

“The executions disproportionately impacted Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority, who accounted for 20 percent of recorded executions despite making up around 5 percent of Iran’s population,” the report stated. “At least 24 women and at least five people who were children at the time of the crime were executed.”

The report revealed that of the recorded executions in Iran, at least 545 were unlawfully carried out for acts that should not result in the death penalty under international law, including drug-related offenses, robbery, and espionage.

In the United States, the number of executions increased by 33 percent, rising from 18 in 2022 to 24 in 2023, according to the report. However, Amnesty International noted that the Asia-Pacific region continued to have the highest number of executions in the world.