LONDON - Recorded executions soared to their highest number in almost a decade in 2023 with a sharp rise across the Middle East and in Somalia, where executions increased by more than six times, Amnesty International said today as it released its annual report on the global use of the death penalty.

Globally, a total of 1,153 known executions took place in 2023, which does not include the thousands believed to have been carried out in China, marking an increase of more than 30% from 2022. It was the highest figure recorded by Amnesty International since 2015, when 1,634 people were known to have been executed. Despite this increase, the number of countries that carried out executions reached the lowest figure on record with Amnesty International.

In 2023, the sub-Saharan Africa region experienced a setback following progress made against the death penalty in the previous year. There was a surge in both recorded executions and recorded death sentences in the region in 2023, and no country has abolished the death penalty since 2022.

“Recorded executions in sub-Saharan Africa more than tripled from 11 in 2022 to 38 in 2023, although all of them were recorded in one single country – Somalia. Despite a reduction in executing countries – from two in 2022 to one in 2023 – the 38 executions recorded was the highest total recorded in the region since 2015, while recorded death sentences increased sharply by 66%, from 298 in 2022 to 494 in 2023,” said Tigere Chagutah Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

The five countries with the highest number of executions in 2023 were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the USA. Excluding China, Iran alone accounted for 74% of all recorded executions while Saudi Arabia accounted for 15%. The USA also carried out an increased number of executions in 2023.

There was a 20% increase in the number of known death sentences imposed globally in 2023, taking the total to 2,428.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Amnesty International recorded death sentences in 14 countries, two countries fewer than recorded in the previous year. Compared to 2022, there were increases in recorded death sentences in the following countries: Cameroon (0 to 1); Ethiopia (2 to 3); Ghana (7 to 10); Kenya (79 to 131); Mali (8 to 13); Niger (4 to 8); Nigeria (77 to 246); Somalia (10 to 31); and Zimbabwe (0 to 3).

“Capital punishment is irreversible and is a gross violation of human rights. Somalia and the few remaining countries in Africa that still retain the death penalty must heed the progressive regional trend and abolish the punishment once and for all,” said Tigere Chagutah.

“At the end of 2023, bills to repeal this cruel punishment were pending in the parliaments of Kenya, Liberia and Zimbabwe providing renewed hope that it is just a matter of time before the world completely gets rid of the death penalty,”


State secrecy


Due to state secrecy, Amnesty’s numbers do not include the thousands of people believed to have been executed in China, which remains the world’s lead executioner. Similarly, the organization was unable to put forward figures for North Korea and Viet Nam, countries believed to resort to executions extensively.

However, the limited number of official reports that did emerge from these countries sent clear messages to the public that crime or dissent would be punished by death, showing that the death penalty continued to be a tool in the state weaponry to maintain control and repress dissent.

In China, reports in state media were used to remind people that crimes such as drug trafficking and bribery would be harshly punished and result in execution, while North Korea published a new law that included the death penalty as possible punishment for those who did not use the native Korean language. Meanwhile, military authorities in Myanmar continued to impose death sentences in military-controlled courts, in secretive and grossly unfair proceedings.

Despite setbacks, progress continued

Despite the actions of a few, progress continued. As of today, 112 countries are fully abolitionist and 144 in total have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Executions were recorded in 16 countries, the lowest number recorded by Amnesty International. No executions were recorded in Belarus, Japan, Myanmar and South Sudan, all of which carried out executions in 2022.

In Asia, Pakistan repealed the death penalty for drug-related offences, while the mandatory death penalty was abolished in Malaysia. The authorities of Sri Lanka confirmed that the President did not intend to sign execution warrants, abating concerns of executions resuming.

“The death penalty will again come under scrutiny at this year’s UN General Assembly. Amnesty International urges all governments to rally behind the UN’s call to end the use of the death penalty in a vital show of commitment to human rights,” said Tigere Chagutah.