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Lethal injection table in New Mexico State Penitentiary Lethal injection table in New Mexico State Penitentiary  (Copyright © Ken Piorkowski 2012)

Amnesty International reports new decline in capital punishment

The human rights group says the number of reported executions has dropped to below a thousand, reflecting consensus around Pope Francis' words that "the death penalty is inadmissable because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person"

By Philippa Hitchen

State sponsored executions are declining in most regions of the world and the number of reported uses of the death penalty dropped to its lowest level last year.

The encouraging statistics are contained in Amnesty International’s latest report, released on Thursday. They show at least 993 recorded executions in 23 countries throughout 2017, down by 4 percent from the previous year and down by 39 percent from 2015.

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The report shows that most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. But Amnesty notes that the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown and thousands of state sanctioned executions are still believed to be carried out.

Countries moving towards abolition

In 2017, two countries, Guinea and Mongolia, abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes, and a number of other moved decisively to end the use of capital punishment.

By the end of last year, the report says, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes, while 142 countries had eliminated executions in law or in practice.

For the 9th consecutive year, the USA remained the only country to carry out executions in the Americas, while in Europe and Central Asia, Belarus was the only country to execute its citizens.

Church's changing attitude

In October last year, Pope Francis spoke about the Catholic Church’s changed attitude towards capital punishment, saying “It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity”.

“It is per se contrary to the Gospel”, he continued, “because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator”.

Development of Catholic doctrine

Emphasising the development of Catholic doctrine, he said: “It is necessary, therefore, to reaffirm that no matter how serious the crime that has been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person”.

12 April 2018, 12:53